PRIMARY DOCUMENT

“Chapter XIII 1675.—Continued. Bacon’s Rebellion.—Continued.” (1908)

CONTEXT

In this textbook, The History of Virginia for the Use of Schools, Mary Tucker Magill writes about Bacon’s Rebellion from a Lost Cause perspective. Notably, in this telling, she leaves out the contributions of enslaved people, and she does not distinguish between Native nations. The Virginia State Board of Education required the use of this textbook, written for students in the fourth and fifth grades, in teaching Virginia history for more than forty years, beginning in 1873, when it was initially published.

FULL TEXT

Nathaniel Bacon had scarcely accomplished this victory over the Indians, before he received intelligence which again turned his attention to the enemy in his rear. Giles Bland and William Carver, two of Bacon’s followers, had seized a ship of four guns, which was commanded by one Captain Laramore. Putting a number of men on board of her, they proceeded down James River and into Chesapeake Bay, which they crossed, and anchored near Accomac County, in the neighborhood of Governor Berkeley’s refuge The object of this expedition was nominally to intercept supplies going to the governor, as Bacon had ordered all vessels to be seized which were found thus employed. Now, though this was their avowed object, it is not improbably that they intended, should the opportunity occur, to take possession of the person of the governor and, by carrying him to Jamestown, force him to make a peace which would secure Bacon from the annoyance of an enemy in his rear.

Laramore’s Treachery.—Bland had already seized several vessels, and was cruising in the bay, near the shores of Accomac, when Captain Laramore secretly sent a message to the governor, that if he would send a sufficient force, under an officer of tried fidelity, that he would promise to put him in possession of the ship, whose capture could easily be followed by that of the entire squadron belonging to the rebels. This measure threw

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the governor into a state of great agitation. On the one hand, Laramore was known to be an unprincipled and profligate man, and it was not improbable that this very message might be part of a plan to decoy him into the hands of his enemy; on the other hand, his condition was desperate; few of the Virginians still clung to him in his fallen fortunes, and his personal safety was every day becoming more insecure. His spirits rose at the mere thought of the great advantages which would accrue to his cause were Laramore only true to his promises.

The Ship taken.—While he was in this state of indecision, Philip Ludwell, one of his most devoted followers, sought an interview with him, and begged that he might have the management of the affair. The governor consented, and Ludwell, securing two boats, embarked at midnight, with twenty-six of his friends. Laramore had promised them a certain signal, and they were encouraged by seeing it as they neared the fleet. Guided by it, they were soon alongside the ship, which they boarded before their presence was discovered. Bland and his men, roused from their slumbers by the unusual noises on deck, rushed from their cabins, only to find themselves prisoners in the hands of their foes; and in a few hours the whole navy fell a prey to the governor’s forces.

Berkeley returns.—Nothing could exceed the delight of Sir William Berkeley at this success, which gave him an opportunity to retrieve his depressed fortunes. He at once embarked for Jamestown, which he knew could make no resistance, as Bacon was far away on his Indian expedition with the flower of his army. With the greatest exultation, the governor took possession of his former home, proclaimed Bacon a rebel, and commanded his followers to surrender him and disperse, if they would not themselves be punished as traitors. He then called a

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meeting of the Council, filling it up with only such men as he knew to be devoted to his cause.

His Success.—Inspired by the example of Ludwell, many now flocked to Jamestown, anxious to show their zeal for the king; and in a few days Sir William Berkely found himself at the head of an army of near a thousand men. This was the news that struck Bacon like an electric shock, as he was returning victorious from his Indian expedition. In a moment he saw the full danger of the situation. His followers, under the impression that since the defeat of the Indians there could be no immediate call for their services, had many of them dispersed to their homes; and Bacon found himself with an army of scarcely three hundred men, worn down with the fatigues of their Indian campaigns, in want of the bare necessaries of life, in the face of an enemy of more than three times their number, and provided with everything necessary for their comfort and success.

Bacon’s Advance.—It is no wonder that for a moment the heart of the young leader failed him; but it was only for a moment. Nathaniel Bacon was of too brave a spirit and too sanguine a temper for despondency to master him; indeed, the very difficulties he had to encounter but stimulated his ardor. He made a stirring speech, the eloquence of which so fired the enthusiasm of his men that they rallied around him, professing their determination to follow him without reinforcements, and never to seek repose until he had led them to a victory which would be the last blow to the hopes and machinations of their tyrants. Their enthusiasm rose when they commenced their march; want and fatigue were all forgotten, and they listened only to their indignation as they thought of Jamestown, the cradle of the infant colony in the New World, now in the hands of the man who was plotting against their freedom. The army, as it passed through

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the country, presented the appearance of a triumphal procession. In the centre were placed their Indian captives, with the arms and plunder which had been taken in battle, covered over with flags and other gaudy displays of military pomp, by which they proclaimed those past achievements upon which they based their hope of coming victory. In their front, upon a spirited steed, rode a gallant figure, whose animated countenance and courageous bearing proclaimed him one well qualified to inspire an army to dare great deeds and win its way against any odds. This was Nathaniel Bacon, whose eloquence chased away despondency and revived the ardor of that army of which he was the idol.

Jamestown besieged.—The sun was just setting when

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The little army arrived in sight of Jamestown. From a neighboring height it overlooked the little town, now bring with the rays of the departing sun, and again the indignant blood flushed the cheeks of the war-worn patriots as they saw before them evidences of the presence of their hated foe. General Bacon ordered a cannon to be fired and trumpets to be sounded in token of defiance; then dismounting, with his own hands he drew the lines for intrenchments. In his moment of inaction for the weary men nature was loudly asserting her claims, and again the spirit-stirring voice of their leader entreated them not to give her hearing until they could rest securely without fear of their foes. He himself set the example, and soon all signs of weariness disappeared; their cherry and brave voices rose in mirth and exultation, patriotic songs mingled with the plaintive evening hymn, as their intrenchments rose like magic beneath the full light of an October moon. Their labor ended, they fell, with the implements of their work still in hand, beneath that master which would no longer be resisted, and slept in security behind the breastworks.

At dawn their labors again commenced. Refreshed by slumber, they pressed forward eagerly to receive the commands of their general.  A small party was despatched to skirmish near the enemy’s lines, in order to ascertain their strength, while the rest of the army waited in the rear. As patiently as they could, the onset of the governor’s troops.

Sir William Berkeley was by no means anxious to delay matters. A stern old soldier, in whom the courage of youth still lived despite his years, he believed that he was but performing his duty to his king in subduing this dangerous rebellion against lawful authority; he had nothing to gain by delay, as he did not expect reinforcements unless the king’s troops should arrive in time from England, which he had no reason to anticipate. Hearing

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That Bacon’s army was receiving hourly accessions to its numbers, the governor at once mustered his troops, and placed them under the command of Ludwell and Beverley, his two staunchest adherents.

They sallied forth; but soon the difference in the spirit of the two armies became apparent. Berkeley’s army was made up of men picked from the idle of dissolute, most of them without a foot of ground they could call their own, inspired only by their hopes of gain, and the promises of plunder and confiscations which the governor had made to them before they would engage in his service. Bacon’s men, on the other hand, fought for their firesides, and for that liberty of opinion and action, the love of which the free life in the wide forests of the New World seems to have inspired in the hearts of the colonists since the earliest settlement in Virginia.

The governor’s troops, under their leaders Ludwell and Beverley, advanced towards the intrenchments with a considerable show of ardor, but the contest lasted only a few minutes; for when these paid mercenaries received the steady and well-directed fire of Bacon’s patriotic little army, they ignominiously turned and fled back to Jamestown, although their officers implored them, with tears in their eyes, to turn and stand their ground, and thus wipe off this stain upon their courage. But such arguments had no effect upon the panic-stricken fugitives; on they fled, until they reached the protection of their batteries and the cannon from their ships.

Pursuit checked.—Bacon, surprised at this sudden result, suspected it was a trick to draw his men into an ambush, and checked the pursuit a short distance from his own lines. Had he not done so, the story of this contest might have been ended in a few words, as there is little doubt, so great was the panic, that if the little army had then pressed forward they might have entered Jamestown

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Almost without opposition, and Sir William Berkeley and all the other officers of the royal government falling into their hands, they might have dictated such a peace as would have placed the name of Nathaniel Bacon where that of George Washington stands one hundred years later, as the Father of Independence.

Another disappointment awaited Governor Berkeley. His army not only retreated disgracefully to Jamestown, but the troops threw down their arms, and declared their determination never to take them up again. In vain were threats of punishment, in vain were promises of reward; they were too much in the majority to fear the former, and the rewards were nothing in comparison to the danger to their miserable lives.

Berkeley’s Flight.—Thus the governor found himself in hourly expectation of an assault from the enemy, with only twenty men upon whom he could rely. Even then the proud old man, goaded by his misfortunes into recklessness, would have remained to meet his fate, and if need be have died at his post rather than retreat from it; but the arguments of his friends convinced him that it would be better to await at a distance another smile from that fortune which had been so fickle to him. At midnight he and the few friends who remained to him silently and sadly embarked upon the boats which, under cover of the night, had drawn in to the shore for the purpose, taking with them everything of value, and the fleet dropped quietly down the river to await further results.

The City deserted.—The astonishment of Bacon and his men, as these events disclosed themselves on the following morning, may be better imagined than described. They could scarce believe the evidence of their senses as they looked upon the deserted city, and missed first the sentinel from his post and the mustering soldier from the streets; then drum and the trumpet were silent, and, missing all other signs of an army of occupation, they drew nearer to interpret for themselves the meaning of the strange stillness.

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ing all other signs of an army of occupation, they drew nearer to interpret for themselves the meaning of the strange stillness. They found the desolation complete; only two or three frightened inhabitants crept from the houses to give them welcome, and to tell to their wondering audience the events of the past few hours.

Not only was the city deserted, but the houses were stripped of everything of value they contained which could be removed, and what could not be carried off was wantonly thrown into the river. The enraged and disappointed patriots looked, with burning cheeks and flashing eyes, upon their desolated heart-stones; while the fleet lay within their sight, but far out of their reach, down the river, calmly awaiting their departure in order that Berkeley might return and occupy the city.

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Jamestown burned.—But in this expectation he too was doomed to disappointment. “If Jamestown no longer affords a shelter for true Virginians it shall never be a harbor for her enemies,” said General Bacon, in burning words, to his soldiers. As usual, they caught the inspiration from his lips, and soon were seen hurrying with flaming torches from house to house. Many a hardy soldier stood upon his own hearth-stone with the firebrand in his hand and a tear in his eye, as the thought of wife and child and home joys rose before his mental vision; and then, as the flags of the fleet waving in the distance betrayed the presence of his enemy, and he tought of the oppressor of his country finding shelter under his roof, he cast down the torch and turned away, leaving it to do its work. Even the old church was not spared, where for nearly a hundred years prayers had ascended to God.

Sir William Berkeley viewed with astonishment and indignation this last desperate resort of a determined people, and vowed vengeance against the authors of the outrage.

Questions for Examination.

1. What is the date of the events contained in this chapter?

2. What news met Bacon when returning from the conquest of the Indians?

3. What did Bland and Carver intend to do?

4. What was the cause of the failure of their scheme?

5. Tell of the capture of Bland and Carver.

6. How did the governor receive his success?

7. Relate circumstances connected with his return to Jamestown.

8. What was Bacon’s condition when he heard the news?

9. What steps did he take?

10. How was his speech received?

11. Tell of the march to Jamestown.

12. Of their arrival at that place.

13. Of the preparations for battle.

14. Of the fight itself.

15. Of the retreat of the vanquished.

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16. What happened the next day?

17. What condition of things did Bacon and his men find when they entered Jamestown?

18. What course did they take?

CITE THIS ENTRY
APA Citation:
Magill, Mary Tucker. “Chapter XIII 1675.—Continued. Bacon’s Rebellion.—Continued.” (1908). (2023, August 21). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/primary-documents/chapter-xiii-1675-continued-bacons-rebellion-continued-1908.
MLA Citation:
Magill, Mary Tucker. "“Chapter XIII 1675.—Continued. Bacon’s Rebellion.—Continued.” (1908)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (21 Aug. 2023). Web. 29 Feb. 2024
Last updated: 2023, September 11
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