Author: James Douglas Rice

professor of history at SUNY Plattsburgh. He is the author of Nature and History in the Potomac Country: From Hunter-Gatherers to the Age of Jefferson (2009) and Tales from a Revolution: Bacon's Rebellion and the Transformation of Early America (2012)
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Anglo-Powhatan War, Second (1622–1632)

The Second Anglo-Powhatan War was fought from 1622 until 1632, pitting English colonists in Virginia against the Algonquian-speaking Indians of Tsenacomoco, led by Opitchapam and his brother (or close kinsman) Opechancanough. After the First Anglo-Powhatan War (1609–1614), which ended with the marriage of Pocahontas and John Rolfe, the English colony began to grow. The headright system begun in 1618 granted land to new immigrants who, in turn, sought to make their fortunes off tobacco. As English settlements pressed up the James River and toward the fall line, Indian leaders devised a plan to push them back and, in so doing, assert their supremacy over the newcomers. On March 22, 1622, Opechancanough led a series of coordinated surprise attacks that concentrated on settlements upriver from Jamestown and succeeded in killing nearly a third of the English population. Perhaps assuming that the English were sufficiently humiliated, he did not pursue a final destruction of the colony. What followed, then, was a ten-year war in which the English repeatedly attacked the Indian food supply. After the conflict’s only full-scale battle, fought in 1624, colonists estimated that they had destroyed enough food to feed 4,000 men for a year. Peace finally arrived in 1632, but by then the balance of power in Virginia had tipped toward the English. The colonial population had grown significantly and Opechancanough’s power waned.

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Bacon’s Rebellion (1676–1677)

Bacon’s Rebellion, fought from 1676 to 1677, began with a local dispute with the Doeg Indians on the Potomac River. Chased north by Virginia militiamen, who also attacked the otherwise uninvolved Susquehannocks, the Indians began raiding the Virginia frontier. The governor, Sir William Berkeley, persauded the General Assembly to adopt a plan that isolated the Susquehannocks while bringing in Indian allies on Virginia’s side. Others saw in the Susquehannock War an opportunity for a general Indian war that would yield Indian slaves and lands, and would give vent to popular anti-Indian sentiment. They found a leader in Nathaniel Bacon, a recent arrival to Virginia and a member of the governor’s Council. Bacon demanded a commission to fight the Indians; when none was forthcoming, he led “volunteers” against some of Virginia’s closest Indian allies. This led to a civil war pitting Bacon’s followers against Berkeley loyalists. The conflict was often bitter and personal—at one point, Berkeley bared his chest and dared Bacon to kill him—and involved the looting of both rebel and loyalist properties. Berkeley expelled Bacon from the Council, reinstated him, and then expelled him a second time. After the governor fled Jamestown for the Eastern Shore, he returned, only to be chased away by Bacon’s army, which burned the capital. Bacon died suddenly in October 1676, but bitter fighting continued into January. The Crown dispatched troops to Virginia, which arrived shortly after the rebellion had been quelled. The causes of Bacon’s Rebellion have long been disputed. Today it is generally regarded as part of a general crisis in Virginia’s social, economic, and political arrangements. The argument that it should be seen as a revolt against English tyranny and a precursor to the American Revolution (1775–1783) has been discredited.

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