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Sunday, May 14, 2017

Bacon's Rebellion and the men of Henrico


n 1676, like many of the colonists in the frontier area of the colony, William Byrd I sided with Nathaniel Bacon, the nephew of Governor Berkeley. Berkeley had sent Byrd and Bacon out on trading expeditions together in the past. As tensions rose between Indians and whites in the colony,  and Indian raids approached the falls of the James, Byrd and many Henrico settlers sided with Bacon, who felt the governor was too lax in his dealing with the Indians. Eventually Bacon independently gathered and lead a militia from Charles City and Henrico to conduct raids against the Indians. He persuaded the friendly Occaneechi tribe, who had been important trade partners, to attack the Susquahannocks. When the Occaneechis returned with Susquahannock captives, Bacon turned on them and massacred the inhabitants of the Occaneechi village.

Governor Berkeley declared him a rebel and expelled him from the council in Jamestown, but Henrico was loyal to Bacon, and elected him as their Burgess. By now, much of the colony supported him. However, when Bacon and his supporters rode to Jamestown, he was captured, but forgiven by his uncle the Governor, who agreed to pardon all previous "treasonous activity" by his followers. However, the tensions between Bacon and Berkeley continued and eventually Bacon marched his men on loyalists  at Middle Plantation (now Williamsburg.) Governor Berkeley fled.

It is said that Byrd rode with Bacon on an attack on Warner Hall (home of the grandparents of George Washington.) A true civil war had erupted between the followers of Bacon and those loyal to the Governor. The capitol of Jamestown took the brunt of this; in September Bacon felt he could not hold it, so he burned it to the ground.

 This act may have been the point at which Byrd's support of Bacon faded and he returned his loyalty to the Governor. By October, Bacon was dead of the "bloody flux." Not knowing of his death, and fearing the continued rebellion, King Charles II sent a fleet of ships, and a thousand soldiers under Col. Herbert Jeffreys to squash the uprising.

By Christmas day, the loyalists had convinced several key leaders to switch sides (including Byrd) and the rebellion was over. Governor Berkeley took harsh actions against the rebels, confiscating lands and hanging conspirators. The royal commissioners present found fault with his actions, and eventually King Charles II recalled him to London, where he died of illness before facing the King.

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