Author: Virginia Bernhard


John Cotton (d. after October 24, 1683)

John Cotton wrote about the events of Bacon’s Rebellion (1676–1677). Little is known about Cotton before 1657, when he witnessed a will in York County with his wife, Ann Cotton. He owned a plantation on Queen’s Creek and often acted as an agent and attorney in the local courts. He was in Jamestown early in June 1676 when the governor arrested and released Nathaniel Bacon, after he had attacked a group of Virginia Indians. It is not known whether Cotton witnessed all the events he wrote about in his long narrative of the rebellion. His name is not attached to any surviving documents signed by Bacon’s supporters nor on the official list of those who suffered property losses as a consequence of their support for the governor. Cotton last appears in the York County records in 1683, but the date and place of his death are unknown. Passed down through the Burwell family, Cotton’s narrative was first published in 1814 in the Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society.


Ann Cotton (fl. 1650s–1670s)

Ann Cotton wrote one of the earliest personal accounts of Bacon’s Rebellion (1676–1677). Nothing is known about her life until 1657, when she and her husband, John Cotton, witnessed a will in York County, where they lived. Unlike most other women in colonial Virginia, she was educated and literate. After the events of Bacon’s Rebellion, she composed a highly personal narrative of the rebellion for a friend in England. The time and place of Cotton’s death are unknown. The whereabouts of her original letter is not known. It was first published in the Richmond Enquirer in 1804 and in the first volume of Peter Force‘s Tracts and Other Papers, Relating Principally to the Origin, Settlement and Progress of the Colonies in North America in 1836, making it one of the first personal accounts of the rebellion to be published.


Edmund Cheesman (d. 1677)

Edmund Cheesman was a participant in Bacon’s Rebellion (1676). He had become a York County justice of the peace by 1670 and a major in the county militia by 1676. When Bacon’s Rebellion began in the latter year, Cheesman supported Nathaniel Bacon. His father had marched against the Pamunkey Indians in 1644, and Cheesman may have embraced Bacon’s plans to make war on Virginia’s Indians. Described as one of the principal actors, he was captured in November 1676, about a month after Bacon’s death, and accused of treason. Cheesman’s wife pleaded with Governor Sir William Berkeley to spare her husband’s life on the grounds that she had been responsible for his choice. She failed to persuade the governor. Before his trial could take place, however, Edmund Cheesman died in prison on an unrecorded date.