Trent and Wells, eds. Colonial Prose and Poetry. 1901.
Vol. II. The Beginnings of Americanism: 16501710
Narratives Dealing with Bacons Rebellion
NO event in the Southern Colonies, before the Revolution, stimulated greater literary activity, or was more characteristic of the independent temper bred in Englishmen by their new surroundings than the popular uprising in 1676 known as Bacons Rebellion, just one hundred years before not dissimilar causes brought about the general Colonial Declaration of Independence. During the English Protectorate, Governor Berkeley, who had taken the Royal side, had been forced to resign his authority in 1651. He was reinstated at the Restoration, in 1660, and surpassed his royal master in persecution, especially of the Baptists and Quakers, and in taxation, from which the large personal estates were exempted. He abolished also the biennial election of Burgesses. This led to popular discontent, intensified by the conduct of the king, who treated Virginia as his personal property, making large grants to Court favorites, and countenancing laws that produced great uncertainty and distress among the planters. The Assembly, assuming to be a perpetual body, sought to make itself independent of Colonial legislation by a permanent impost on imported tobacco. Vain protests were made to the king against the invasion of popular liberties, and legislation, which reduced the price of tobacco to Colonial currency and burdened trade by Parliamentary restraints. This, added to the corruption, tyranny, and inefficiency of Governor Berkeley, who seemed unable or unwilling to accord the Colonists adequate protection from Indian massacres and raids, produced a growing discontent that needed only the presence of a sturdy leader to burst into overt rebellion. Such a leader the Colonists found in Nathaniel Bacon, a young man of wealth and the best English training, who in defiance of the Governor took the field against the Indians and was enthusiastically supported by the mass of the people and the smaller planters. This was in April, 1676. The same month Charles II, in response to Colonial protest ordered the preparation of a liberal charter. In May, Berkeley proclaimed Bacon a traitor. In June, however, the assembly enacted the so-called Bacon Laws a series of Reform measures, and that leader was appointed Commander in Chief against the Indians. In July the Reform party seem to have achieved a legislative triumph, and in August a popular convention met at Williamsburg, voted to sustain Bacon against the Indians and to prevent, if possible, a civil war; but the sudden sickness and death of Bacon in October deprived the popular party of its only efficient leader, and Berkeley reëstablished his tyranny by such general hurried and indecent executions that the king is said to have exclaimed The old fool has taken more lives in his naked country than I for my fathers murder. The character of his administration till his enforced recall in 1676 may be gathered from his often quoted saying Thank God there are no free schools nor printing presses, and I hope there will be none for an hundred years, for learning has brought disobedience and heresy and sects into the world and printing has divulged these and other libels. The rebellion had a romantic character that seemed to beckon the historian as it has the romancer. There is an anonymous History of Bacons and Ingrams Rebellion, known as The Burwell Papers, printed by the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1814 and again more correctly in 1866. Though incomplete it is a thoroughly readable narrative, a little pedantic and affected and pronounced in its sympathy with the aristocratic party. The writer has been conjecturally identified with a planter, Cotton of Acquia Creek, possibly the author of the concise account that heads our selections. Another shorter account written in 1705 by a certain T. M., probably Thomas Matthews, a Burgess of Stafford County, and a man of genial credulity, has furnished us interesting material. But neither of these writers approaches, in literary power, that unknown Bacons man who wrote upon his master a really noble epitaph. All these documents may be found in Vol. I. of Forces Tracts.
A Succinct Account. [From Strange News from Virginia, London, 1677. Possibly by Cotton.]
THERE is no nation this day under the copes of Heaven can so experimentally speak the sad effects of men of great parts being reduced to necessity, as England; but not to rake up the notorious misdemeanors of the dead, I shall endeavor to prevent the sad effects of so deplorable a cause, by giving you an account of the remarkable life and death of this Gentleman of whom I am about to discourse. And because when a man has once engaged himself in an ill action, all men are ready to heap an innumerable aspersions upon him, of which he is no ways guilty, I shall be so just in the history of his life as not to rob him of those commendations which his birth and acquisitions claim as due, and so kind both to loyalty and the wholsome constituted laws of our kingdom, as not to smother anything which would render him to blame.
This Gentleman who has of late beckoned the attention of all men of understanding who are any ways desirous of novelty, [or] care what becomes of any part of the world besides that themselves live in, had the honor to be descended of an ancient and honorable family, his name Nathaniel Bacon, to which to the long known title of Gentleman, by his long study [at] the Inns of Court he has since added that of Esquire. He was the son of Mr. Thomas Bacon of an ancient seat known by the denomination of Freestone-Hall in the County of Suffolk, a gentleman of known loyalty and ability. His father as he was able so he was willing to allow this his son a very gentile competency to subsist upon, but he as it proved having a soul too large for that allowance, could not contain himself within bounds; which his careful father perceiving, and also that he had a mind to travel (having seen divers parts of the world before) consented to his inclination of going to Virginia, and accomodated him with a stock for that purpose, to the value of 1800l Starling, as I am credibly informed by a merchant of very good wealth, who is now in this city, and had the fortune to carry him thither.
He began his voyage thitherwards about three years since, and lived for about a years space in that continent in very good repute, his extraordinary parts like a letter of recommendation rendering him acceptable in all mens company, whilst his considerable concerns in that place were able to bear him out in the best of society. These accomplishments of mind and fortune, rendred him so remarkable, that the worthy Governor of that Continent thought it requisite to take him into his Privy Council.
That Plantation which he chose to settle in is generally known by the name of Curles, situate in the upper part of James River and the time of his Revolt was not till the beginning of March, 1675/6. At which time the Susquo-hannan Indians (a known enemy to that country) having made an insurrection, and killed divers of the English, amongst whom it was his fortune to have a servant slain; in revenge of whose death, and other damage(s) he received from those turbulent Susquo-hanians, without the Governors consent he furiously took up arms against them and was so fortunate as to put them to flight, but not content therewith; the aforesaid Governor hearing of his eager pursuit after the vanquished Indians, sent out a select company of soldiers to command him to desist; but he instead of listening thereunto, persisted in his revenge, and sent to the Governor to entreat his commission, that he might more cheerfully prosecute his design; which being denied him by the messenger he sent for that purpose, he notwithstanding continued to make head with his own servants, and other English then resident in Curles against them. In this interim the people of Henrica had returned him Burgess of their County; and he in order thereunto took his own sloop and came down towards James Town, conducted by thirty odd soldiers, with part of which he came ashore to Mr. Laurences house, to understand whether he might come in with safety or not, but being discovered by one Parson Clough, and also it being perceived that he had lined the bushes of the said town with soldiers, the Governor thereupon ordered an alarm to be beaten through the whole town, which took so hot, that Bacon thinking himself not so secure whilst he remained there within reach of their fort, immediately commanded his men aboard, and towed his sloop up the river; which the Governor perceiving, ordered the ships which lay at Sandy-point to pursue and take him; and they by the industry of their commanders succeeded so well in the attempt, that they presently stopt his passage; so that Mr. Bacon finding himself pursued both before and behind, after some capitulations, quietly surrendred himself prisoner to the Governors Commissioners, to the great satisfaction of all his friends; which action of his was so obliging to the Governor, that he granted him his liberty immediately upon parole, without confining him either to prison or chamber, and the next day, after some private discourse passed betwixt the Governor, the Privy Council, and himself, he was amply restored to all his former honors and dignities, and a commission partly promised him to be general against the Indian army; but upon further enquiry into his affairs it was not thought fit to be granted him; whereat his ambitious mind seemed mightily to be displeased; insomuch that he gave out, that it was his intention to sell his whole concerns in Virginia, and to go with his whole family to live either in Merry-land or the South, because he would avoid (as he said) the scandal of being accounted a factious person there. But this resolution it seems was but a pretence, for afterwards he headed the same runnagado English that he formerly found ready to undertake and go sharers with him in any of his rebellions, and adding to them the assistance of his own slaves and servants, headed them so far till they toucht at the Occonegies town, where he was treated very civilly, and by the inhabitants informed where some of the Susquehannos were inforted, whom presently he assails, and after he had vanquished them, slew about seventy of them in their fort. But as he returned back to the Occoneges, he found they had fortified themselves with divers more Indians than they had at his first arrival; wherefore he desired hostages of them for their good behavior, whilst he and his followers lay within command of their fort. But those treacherous Indians grown confident by reason of their late recruit, returned him this answer, That their guns were the only hostages he was like to have of them, and if he would have them he must fetch them. Which was no sooner spoke, but the Indians sallied out of the fort and shot one of his sentinels, whereupon he charged them so fiercely, that the fight continued not only all that day, but the next also, till the approach of the evening, at which time finding his men grow faint for want of provision, he laid hold of the opportunity, being befriended by a gloomy night, and so made an honorable retreat homewards .
This being past, Mr. Bacon, about the 25th of June last, dissatisfied that he could not have a commission granted him to go against the Indians, in the night time departed the town unknown to any body, and about a week after got together between four and five hundred men of New-Kent County, with whom he marched to James-Town, and drew up in order before the House of State; and there peremptorily demanded of the Governor, Council, and Burgesses (there then collected) a commission to go against the Indians, which if they should refuse to grant him, he told them that neither he nor nere a man in his company would depart from their doors until he had obtained his request; whereupon to prevent farther danger in so great an exigence, the Council and Burgesses by much intreaty obtained him a commission signed by the Governor, an act for one thousand men to be listed under his command to go against the Indians, to whom the same pay was to be granted as was allowed to them who went against the fort. But Bacon was not satisfied with this, but afterwards earnestly importuned, and at length obtained of the House, to pass an act of indemnity to all persons who had sided with him, and also letters of recommendations from the Governor to his Majesty in his behalf; and moreover caused Colonel Claybourn and his son Captain Claybourn, Lieutenant Colonel West, and Lieutenant Colonel Hill, and many others, to be degraded for ever bearing any office, whether it were military or civil.
Having obtained these large civilities from the Governor, &c. one would have thought that if the principles of honesty would not have obliged him to peace and loyalty, those of gratitude should. But, alas, when men have been once flusht or entered with vice, how hard is it for them to leave it, especially it tends towards ambition or greatness, which is the general lust of a large soul, and the common error of vast parts, which fix their eyes so upon the lure of greatness, that they have no time left them to consider by what indirect and unlawful means they must (if ever) attain it.
This certainly was Mr. Bacons Crime, who after he had once lanched into rebellion, nay, and upon submission had been pardoned for it, and also restored, as if he had committed no such heinous offence, to his former honor and dignities (which were considerable enough to content any reasonable mind) yet for all this he could not forbear wading into his former misdemeanors, and continued his opposition against that prudent and established government, ordered by his Majesty of Great Britain to be duly observed in that continent.
In fine, he continued (I cannot say properly in the fields, but) in the woods with a considerable army all last summer, and maintained several brushes with the Governors party, sometimes routing them, and burning all before him, to the great damage of many of his Majestys loyal subjects there resident; sometimes he and his rebels were beaten by the Governor, &c. and forced to run for shelter amongst the woods and swamps. In which lamentable condition that unhappy continent has remained for the space of almost a twelve-month, every one therein that were able being forced to take up arms for security of their own lives, and no one reckoning their goods, wives, or children to be their own, since they were so dangerously exposed to the doubtful accidents of an uncertain war.
But the indulgent Heavens, who are alone able to compute what measure of punishments are adequate or fit for the sins or transgressions of a nation, has in its great mercy thought fit to put a stop, at least, if not a total period and conclusion to these Virginian troubles, by the death of this Nat. Bacon, the great molester of the quiet of that miserable nation; so that now we who are here in England, and have any relations or correspondence with any of the inhabitants of that continent, may by the arrival of the next ships from that coast expect to hear that they are freed from all their dangers, quitted of all their fears, and in great hopes and expectation to live quietly under their own vines, and enjoy the benefit of their commendable labors.
I know it is by some reported that this Mr. Bacon was a very hard drinker, and that he died by imbibing, or taking in too much brandy. But I am informed by those who are persons of undoubted reputation, and had the happiness to see the same letter which gave his Majesty an account of his death, that there was no such thing therein mentioned: he was certainly a person indued with great natural parts, which notwithstanding his juvenile extravagances he had adorned with many elaborate acquisitions, and by the help of learning and study knew how to manage them to a miracle, it being the general vogue of all that knew him, that he usually spoke as much sense in as few words, and delivered that sense as opportunely as any they ever kept company withal. Wherefore as I am my self a lover of ingenuity, though an abhorrer of disturbance or rebellion, I think fit since Providence was pleased to let him die a natural death in his bed, not to asperse him with saying he killed himself with drinking.
Causes of the Strife. [From the Burwell Papers. First Published by the Mass. Hist. Soc., 1814.]
THE PEOPLE chose Col. Bacon their General, which post he accepted. He was a man of quality and merit, brave, and eloquent; became much endeared, not so much for what he had yet done as the cause of their affections, as for what they expected he would do to deserve their devotion; while with no common zeal they sent up their reiterated prayers, first to himself, and next to heaven, that he may become their guardian angel, to protect them from the cruelties of the Indians, against whom this gentleman had a perfect antipathy.
It seems that at the first rise of the war this gentleman had made some overtures unto the Governor for a commission to go and put a stop to the Indians proceedings. But the Governor at present, either not willing to commence the quarrel (on his part) till more suitable reasons presented for to urge his more severe prosecution of the same, against the heathen; or that he doubted Bacons temper, as he appeared popularly inclined; a constitution not consistent with the times or the peoples dispositions, being generally discontented, for want of timely provisions against the Indians, or for annual impositions laid upon them too great (as they said) for them to bear, and against which they had some considerable time complained, without the least redress,for these or some other reasons the Governor refused to comply with Bacons proposals: which he looking upon as undervaluing as well to his parts as a disparagement to his pretensions, he in some elated and passionate expressions swore, commission or no commission, the next man or woman he heard of that should be killed by the Indians, he would go out against them though but twenty men would adventure the service with him. Now it so unhappily fell out that the next person that the Indians did kill was one of his own family. Whereupon having got together about seventy or ninety persons, most good housekeepers, well armed, and seeing that he could not legally procure a commission (after some strugglings with the Governor), some of his best friends who condemned his enterprises, he applies himself .
This rash proceeding of Bacon, if it did not undo himself, by his failing in the enterprise, might chance to undo them in the affections of the people; which, to prevent, they thought it conducible to their interest and establishment for to get the Governor in the mind to proclaim him a rebel, as knowing that once being done, since it could not be done but in and by the Governors name, it must needs breed bad blood between Bacon and Sir William, not easily to be purged; for though Sir William might forgive what Bacon as yet had acted, yet it might be questionable whether Bacon might forget what Sir William had done. However, according to their desires, Bacon, and all his adherents, was proclaimed a rebel, May the 29, and forces raised to reduce him to his duty; with which the Governor advanced from the Middle Plantation to find him out, and if need was to fight him, if the Indians had not knocked him and those that were with him in the head, as some were in hope they had done, and which by some was earnestly desired.
After some days the Governor retracts his march (a journey of some thirty or forty miles), to meet the Assembly, now ready to set down at our metropolis; while Bacon in the meanwhile meets with the Indians, upon whom he falls with abundance of resolution and gallantry (as his own party relates it) in their fastness, killing a great many and blowing up their magazines of arms and powderto a considerable quantity, if we may judge from himself; no less than four thousand weight. This being done, and all his provisions spent, he returns home, and while here submits himself to be chosen burgess of the county in which he did live, contrary to his qualifications, take him as he was formerly one of the Council of State, or as he was now a proclaimed rebel. However, he applies himself to the performance of that trust reposed in him by the people, if he might be admitted into the house. But this not saying according to his desire, though according to his expectation, and he remaining in his sloop (then at anchor before the town), in which was about thirty gentlemen besides himself, he was there surprised and made prisoner with the rest, some being put into irons, in which condition they remained some time, till all things were fitted for the trial. Which being brought to a day of hearing, before the Governor and Council. Bacon was not only acquitted and pardoned all misdemeanors, but restored to the Council table as before; and not only, but promised to have a commission signed the Monday following (this was Saturday) as General for the Indian war, to the universal satisfaction of the people, who passionately desired the same; witnessed by the general acclamations of all then in town.
And here who can do less than wonder at the mutable and impermanent deportments of that blind goddess Fortune, who in the morning leads men with disgraces, and, ere night, crowns him with honors; sometimes depressing, and again elevating, as her fickle humor is to smile or frownof which this gentlemans fate was a kind of epitome in the several vicissitudes and changes he was subjected in a very few days; for in the morning, before his trial, he was, in his enemies hopes and his friends fears, judged for to receive the guerdon due to a rebel (and such he was proclaimed to be), and, ere night, crowned the darling of the peoples hopes and desires, as the only man fit in Virginia to put a stop to the bloody resolution of the heathen. And yet again, as a fuller manifestation of Fortunes inconstancy, within two or three days, the peoples hopes and his desires were both frustrated by the Governors refusing to sign the promised commission: at which, being disgusted, though he dissembled the same so well as he could, he begs leave of the Governor to dispense with his services at the Council table, to visit his wife, who, as she had informed him, was indisposed; which request the Governor (after some contest with his own thoughts) granted, contrary to the advice of some about him, who suspected Bacons designs, and that it was not so much his ladys sickness as the troubles of a distempered mind which caused him to withdraw to his own house, and this was the truth, which in a few days was manifested, when that he returned to town with five hundred men in arms.
The Governor did not want intelligence of Bacons designs, and therefore sent out his summons for York train-bands to reinforce his guards then at town. But the time was so short, not above twelves hours warning, and those that appeared at the rendezvous made such a slender number, that under four ensigns there was not mustered above one hundred soldiers, and not one half of them sure neither and all so sluggish in their march, that before they could reach town, by a great deal, Bacon had entered the same, and by force obtained a commission, calculated to the height of his own desires. With which commission, being invested (such as it was), he makes ready his provisions, fills up his companies to the designed number (five hundred in all) and so applies himself to those services the country expected from him. And first, for the securing the same against the excursions of the Indians in his absence (and such might be expected), he commissioned several persons (such as he could confide in) in every respective county, with select companies of well-armed men, to ravage the forests, thickets, swamps, and all such suspected places where Indians might have any shelter for the doing of mischief. Which proceedings of his put so much courage into the planters, that they begun to apply themselves to their accustomed employments in their plantations: which till now they durst not do, for fear of being knocked in the head, as, God knows, too many were, before these orders were observed.
While the General (for so was Bacon now denominated by virtue of his commission) was sedulous in these affairs, and fitting his provisions about the head of York River, in order to his advance against the Indians, the Governor was steering quite different courses. He was once more persuaded (but for what reasons not visible) to proclaim Bacon a rebel again, and now, since his absence afforded an advantage to raise the country upon him so soon as he should return tired and exhausted by his toil and labor in the Indian war. For the putting this counsel in execution, the Governor steps over in Gloucester County (a place the best replenished for men, arms, and affection of any county in Virginia), all which the Governor summons to give him a meeting at a place and day assigned, where being met according to summons the Governors proposals was so much disrelished by the whole convention that they all disbanded to their own abodes, after their promise passed to stand by and assist the Governor against all those who should go about to wrong his person or debase his authority; unto which promise they annexed or subjoined several reasons why they thought it not convenient at present, convenient to declare themselves against Bacon, as he was now advancing against the common enemy, who had in a most barbarous manner murdered some hundreds of their dear brethren and countrymen, and would, if not prevented by God and the endeavors of good men, do their utmost for to cut off the whole Colony.
Therefore did they think that it would be a thing inconsistent with right reason if that they, in this desperate conjuncture of time, should go and engage themselves one against another; from the result of which proceedings, nothing could be expected but ruin and destruction unto both, to the one and other party, since that it might reasonably be conceived, that while they should be exposing their breasts against one anothers weapons, the barbarous and common enemy (who would make his advantages by our disadvantages) should be upon their backs to knock out their brains. But if it should so happen (as they did hope would never happen) that the General, after the Indian war was finished, should attempt any thing against his Honors person or government, that they would rise up in arms, with a joint consent, for the preservation of both.
Since the Governor could obtain no more, he was at present to rest himself contented with this, while those who had advised him to these undertakings, was not a little dissatisfied to find the event not answer their expectations. But he at present, seeing there was no more to be done, since he wanted a power to have that done, which was esteemed the main of the affairs now in hand to be done, namely, the gaining of the Gloucester men to do what he would have done, he thought it best to do what he had a power to do, and that was once more to proclaim Bacon a traitor, which was performed in all public places of meetings in these parts. The noise of which proclamation, after that it had passed the admiration of all that were not acquainted with the reasons that moved his Honor to do what he had now done, soon reached the Generals ears, not yet stopped up from listening to apparent dangers.
This strange and unexpected news put him, and some with him shrewdly to their trumps, believing that a few such deals or shuffles (call them which you please) might quickly wring the cards and game too out his hand. He perceived that he was fallen (like the corn between the stones), so that if he did not look the better about him, he might chance to be ground to powder. He knew that to have a certain enemy in his front, and more than uncertain friends in his rear, portended no great security from a violent death, and that there could be no great difference between his being wounded to death in his breast with bows and arrows, or in the back with guns and musket bullets. He did see that there was an absolute necessity of destroying the Indians, for the preservation of the English, and that there was some care to be taken for his own and soldiers safety, otherwise that work must be ill done where the laborers are made cripples, and compelled instead of a sword to betake themselves to a crutch.
It vexed him to the heart (as he was heard to say) for to think that while he was hunting wolves, tigers, and foxes, which daily destroyed our harmless sheep and lambs, that he and those with him should be pursued, with a full cry, as a more savage or a no less ravenous beast. But to put all out of doubt, and himself in some degree of safety, since he could not tell but that some whom he left behind might not more desire his death than to hear that by him the Indians were destroyed, he forthwith (after a short consultation held with some of his soldiers) countermarches his army, and in a trice came up with them at the Middle Plantation, a place situated in the very heart of the country.
BACON soon perceived what easy work he was likely to have in this service, and so begun to set as small an esteem upon these mens courages as they did upon their own credits. He saw, by the prologue, what sport might be expected in the play, and so began to dispose of his affairs accordingly. Yet not knowing but that the paucity of his numbers being once known to those in town, it might raise their hearts to a degree of courage, having so much the odds, and that many times number prevails against resolution, he thought it not amiss, since the Lions strength was too weak, to strengthen the same with the Foxs brains; and how this was to be affected you shall hear:
For immediately he dispatcheth two or three parties of horse and about so many in each party, for more he could not spare, to bring into the camp some of the prime gentlewomen, whose husbands were in town; where, when arrived, he sends one of them to inform her own, and the others husbands, for what purposes he had brought them into the camp, to be placed in the fore-front of his men at such time as those in town should sally forth upon him.
The poor gentlewomen were mightily astonished at this project; neither were their husbands void of amazements at this subtile invention. If Mr. Fuller thought it strange that the devils black guard should be enrolled Gods soldiers, they made it no less wonderful that their innocent and harmless wives should thus be entered a white guard to the devil. This action was a method in war they were not well acquainted with (no, not those the best informed in military affairs), that before they could come to pierce their enemies sides, they must be obliged to dart their weapons through their wives breast; by which means though they (in their own persons) might escape without wounds, yet it might be the lamentable fate of their better half to drop by gun-shot, or otherwise be wounded to death.
Whether it was these considerations, or some others I do not know, that kept their swords in their scabbards, but this is manifest: That Bacon knit more knots by his own head in one day than all the hands in town were able to untie in a whole week; while these ladies white aprons became of greater force to keep the besieged from falling out than his works (a pitiful trench) had strength to repel the weakest shot that should have been sent into his leaguer, had he not made use of this invention.
BACON having for some time been besieged by sickness, and now not able to hold out any longer, all his strength and provisions being spent, surrendered up that fort he was no longer able to keep, into the hands of that grim and all-conquering captain, Death, after that he had implored the assistance of the above-mentioned minister, for the well making his articles of rendition. The only religious duty (as they say) he was observed to perform during these intrigues of affairs, in which he was so considerable an actor, and so much concerned, that rather than he would decline the cause, he became so deeply engaged in the first rise thereof, though much urged by arguments of dehortations by his nearest relations and best friends, that he subjected himself to all those inconveniences that, singly, might bring a man of a more robust frame to his last home. After he was dead he was bemoaned in these following lines (drawn by the man that waited upon his person, as it is said), and who attended his corpse to their burial place, but where deposited till the general day, not known, only to those who are resolutely silent in that particular. There was many copies of verses made after his departure, calculated to the latitude of their affections who composed them; as a relish taken from both appetites I have here sent you a couple:
Bacons Epitaph, Made by His Man.
DEATH, why so cruel? What! no other way
To manifest thy spleen, but thus to slay
Our hopes of safety, liberty, our all,
Which, through thy tyranny, with him must fall
To its late chaos? Had thy rigid force
Been dealt by retail, and not thus in gross,
Grief had been silent. Now we must complain,
Since thou, in him, hast more than thousand slain,
Whose lives and safeties did so much depend
On him their life, with him their lives must end.
If t be a sin to think Death bribd can be
We must be guilty; say t was bribery
Guided the fatal shaft. Virginias foes,
To whom for secret crimes just vengeance owes
Deserved plagues, dreading their just desert,
Corrupted Death by Paracelsian art
Him to destroy; whose well tried courage such,
Their heartless hearts, nor arms, nor strength could touch.
Who now must heal those wounds, or stop that blood
The Heathen made, and drew into a flood?
Who is t must plead our cause? nor trump, nor drum
Nor Deputation; these, alas! are dumb
And cannot speak. Our Arms (though neer so strong)
Violent Concussions. [From a Narrative furnished Secretary Harley by a Writer signing himself T. M. Written in 1705.]
WHILST some days passed in settling the quotas of men, arms and ammunition, provisions, etc., each county was to furnish, one morning early a bruit ran about the town, Bacon is fled, Bacon is fled; whereupon I went straight to Mr. Lawrence, who formerly was of Oxford University, and for wit, learning and sobriety was equalled there by few, and who some years before (as Col. Lee, though one of the Council and a friend of the Governors, informed me) had been partially treated at law, for a considerable estate on behalf of a corrupt favorite; which Lawrence complaining loudly of, the Governor bore him a grudge, and now shaking his head, said, Old treacherous villain, and that his house was searched that morning at daybreak, but Bacon was escaped into the country, having intimation that the Governors generosity in pardoning him and his followers, and restoring him to his seat in Council, were no other than previous wheedles to amuse him and his adherents and to circumvent them by stratagem, forasmuch as the taking Mr. Bacon again into the Council was first to keep him out of the Assembly, and in the next place the Governor knew the country people were hastening down with dreadful threatenings to doubly revenge all wrongs should be done to Mr. Bacon or his men, or whoever should have had the least hand in them.
And so much was true that this young Mr. Nathaniel Bacon (not yet arrived to thirty years) had a nigh relation, namely, Col. Nathaniel Bacon, of long standing in the Council, a very rich, politic man, and childless, designing this kinsman for his heir, who (not without much pains) had prevailed with his uneasy cousin to deliver the forementioned written recantation at the bar, having compiled it ready to his hand, and by whose means twas supposed that timely intimation was conveyed to the young gentleman to flee for his life; and also in three or four days after Mr. Bacon was first seized I saw abundance of men in town, come thither from the heads of the rivers, who, finding him restored and his men at liberty, returned home satisfied; a few days after which the Governor, seeing all quiet, gave out private warrants to take him again, intending, as was thought, to raise the militia, and so to dispose things as to prevent his friends from gathering any more into a like numerous body and coming down a second time to save him.
In three or four days after this escape, upon news that Mr. Bacon was thirty miles up the river, at the head of four hundred men, the Governor sent to the parts adjacent, on both sides James River, for the militia and all the men could be gotten to come and defend the town. Expresses came almost hourly of the armys approaches, who in less than four days after the first account of them, at two of the clock, entered the town, without being withstood, and formed a body upon a green, not a flight shot from the end of the state-house, of horse and foot, as well regular as veteran troops, who forthwith possessed themselves of all the avenues, disarming all in town, and coming thither in boats or by land.
In half an hour after this the drum beat for the House to meet, and in less than an hour more Mr. Bacon came with a file of fusileers on either hand, near the corner of the state-house, where the Governor and Council went forth to him. We saw from the window the Governor open his breast, and Bacon strutting betwixt his two files of men, with his left arm on Kenbow, flinging his right arm every way, both like men distracted; and if, in this moment of fury, that enraged multitude had fallen upon the Governor and Council, we of the Assembly expected the same immediate fate. I stepped down, and amongst the crowd of spectators found the seamen of my sloop, who prayed me not to stir from them, when, in two minutes, the Governor walked towards his private apartment, a quoits cast distant, at the other end of the state-house, the gentlemen of the Council following him; and after them walked Mr. Bacon with outrageous postures of his head, arms, body, and legs, often tossing his hand from his sword to his hat, and after him came a detachment of fusileers (muskets not being there in use), who with their locks bent presented their fusils at a window of the Assembly chamber filled with faces, repeating with menacing voices, We will have it, we will have it, half a minute, when as one of our House, a person known to many of them, shook his handkerchief out at the window, saying, You shall have it, you shall have it, three or four times; at these words they sat down their fusils, unbent their locks and stood still until Bacon, coming back, followed him to their main body. In this hubbub a servant of mine got so nigh as to hear the Governors words, and also followed Mr. Bacon and heard what he said, who came and told me, that when the Governor opened his breast, he said, Here! shoot me. Foregod, fair mark! shoot! often rehearsing the same, without any other words; whereto Mr. Bacon answered, No, may it please your Honor, we will not hurt a hair of your head, nor of any other mans; we are come for a commission to save our lives from the Indians, which you have so often promised, and now we will have it before we go.
But when Mr. Bacon followed the Governor and Council with the forementioned impetuous (like delirious) actions, whilst that party presented their fusils at the window full of faces, he said, Damn my blood, Ill kill Governor, Council, Assembly, and all, and then Ill sheathe my sword in my own hearts blood; and afterwards twas said Bacon had given a signal to his men who presented their fusils at those gazing out at the window, that if he should draw his sword they were on sight of it to fire, and slay us; so near was the massacre of us all that very minute, had Bacon in that paroxysm of frantic fury but drawn his sword before the pacific handkerchief was shaken out at window.
In an hour or more after these violent concussions Mr. Bacon came up to our chamber and desired a commission from us to go against the Indians. Our Speaker sat silent, when one Mr. Blayton, a neighbor to Mr. Bacon and elected with him a member of Assembly for the same county (who therefore durst speak to him), made answer, Twas not in our province or power, nor of any other, save the Kings vicegerent, our Governor. He pressed hard nigh half an hours harangue on the preserving our lives from the Indians, inspecting the public revenues, the exorbitant taxes, and redressing the grievances and calamities of that deplorable country, whereto having no other answer, he went away dissatisfied.
Next day there was a rumor the Governor and Council had agreed Mr. Bacon should have a commission to go General of the forces we then were raising; whereupon I being a member for Stafford, the most northern frontier, and where the war begun, considering that Mr. Bacon dwelling in the most southern frontier county, might the less regard the parts I represented, I went to Col. Cole (an active member of the Council) desiring his advice, if applications to Mr. Bacon on that subject were then seasonable and safe, which he approving and earnestly advising I went to Mr. Lawrence, who was esteemed Mr. Bacons principal consultant, to whom he took me with him, and there left me, where I was entertained two or three hours with the particular relations of divers before-recited transactions; and as to the matter I spake of, he told me that the Governor had indeed promised him the command of the forces, and if his Honor should keep his word (which he doubted) he assured me the like care should be taken of the remotest corners in the land, as of his own dwelling-house, and prayed me to advise him what persons in those parts were most fit to bear commands. I frankly gave him my opinion that the most satisfactory gentlemen to Governor and people, would be commanders of the militia, wherewith he was well pleased, and himself wrote a list of those nominated.
That evening I made known what had passed with Mr. Bacon to my colleague Col. Mason (whose bottle attendance doubled my task); the matter he liked well, but questioned the Governors approbation of it.
I confessed the case required sedate thoughts, reasoning that he and such like gentlemen must either command or be commanded, and if on their denials Mr. Bacon should take distaste, and be constrained to appoint commanders out of the rabble, the Governor himself with the persons and estates of all in the land would be at their dispose, whereby their own ruin might be owing to themselves. In this he agreed and said, If the Governor would give his own commission he would be content to serve under General Bacon (as now he began to be entitled), but first would consult other gentlemen in the same circumstances; who all concurred twas the most safe barrier in view against pernicious designs, if such should be put in practice. With this I acquainted Mr. Lawrence, who went rejoicing to Mr. Bacon with the good tidings that the militia commanders were inclined to serve under him, as their General, in case the Governor would please to give them his own commissions.
We of the House proceeded to finish the bill for the war, which by the assent of the Governor and Council being passed into an act, the Governor sent us a letter directed to his Majesty, wherein were these words: I have above thirty years governed the most flourishing country the sun ever shone over, but am now encompassed with rebellion, like waters, in every respect like to that of Massanello, except their leader, and of like import was the substance of that letter. But we did not believe his Honor sent us all he wrote to his Majesty.
Some judicious gentlemen of our House likewise penned a letter or remonstrance to be sent his Majesty, setting forth the gradations of those eruptions, and two or three of them with Mr. Minge, our clerk, brought it me to compile a few lines for the conclusion of it, which I did (though not without regret in those watchful times, when every man had eyes on him); but what I wrote was with all possible deference to the Governor and in the most soft terms my pen could find the case to admit.
Col. Spencer, being my neighbor and intimate friend, and a prevalent member in the Council, I prayed him to entreat the Governor we might be dissolved, for that was my first and should be my last going astray from my wonted sphere of merchandise and other my private concernments into the dark and slippery meanders of court embarrassments. He told me the Governor had not then determined his intention, but he would move his Honor about it, and in two or three days we were dissolved, which I was most heartily glad of, because of my getting loose again from being hampered amongst those pernicious entanglements in the labyrinths and snares of State ambiguities, and which until then I had not seen the practice nor the dangers of; for it was observed that several of the members had secret badges of distinction fixed upon them, as not docile enough to gallop the future races that court seemed disposed to lead them, whose maxims I had ofttimes heard whispered before, and then found confirmed by divers considerate gentlemen, viz., That the wise and rich were prone to faction and sedition, but the fools and poor were easy to be governed.
Many members being met one evening nigh sunset, to take our leaves each of other, in order next day to return homewards, came Gen. Bacon with his hand full of unfolded papers and overlooking us round, walking in the room, said, Which of these gentlemen shall I entreat to write a few words for me? where, every one looking aside as not willing to meddle, Mr. Lawrence pointed at me, saying, That gentleman writes very well; which I endeavoring to excuse, Mr. Bacon came stooping to the ground and said, Pray, sir, do me the honor to write a line for me.
This surprising accostment shocked me into a melancholy consternation, dreading upon one hand that Stafford County would feel the smart of his resentment if I should refuse him whose favor I had so lately sought and been generously promised on their behalf; and on the other hand fearing the Governors displeasure, who I knew would soon hear of it. What seemed most prudent at this hazardous dilemma was to obviate the present impending peril; so Mr. Bacon made me sit the whole night by him filling up those papers, which I then saw were blank commissions signed by the Governor, inserting such names and writing other matters as he dictated; which I took to be the happy effects of the consult before-mentioned with the commanders of the militia, because he gave me the names of very few others to put into these commissions; and in the morning he left me with an hours work or more to finish, when came to me Capt. Carver, and said he had been to wait on the General for a commission, and that he was resolved to adventure his old bones against the Indian rogues, with other the like discourse, and at length told me that whatever I desired in the Generals power was at my service. I prayed him humbly to thank his Honor, and to acquaint him I had no other boon to crave than his promised kindness to Stafford County, for beside the not being worthy, I never had been conversant in military matters, and also having lived tenderly, my service could be of no benefit, because the hardships and fatigues of a wilderness campaign would put a speedy period to my days. Little expecting to hear of more intestine broils, I went home to Potomac, where reports were afterwards various. We had account that General Bacon was marched with a thousand men into the forest to seek the enemy Indians, and in a few days after our next news was that the Governor had summoned together the militia of Gloucester and Middlesex Counties to the number of twelve hundred men, and proposed to them to follow and suppress that rebel Bacon; whereupon arose a murmuring before his face, Bacon, Bacon, Bacon, and all walked out of the field, muttering as they went, Bacon, Bacon, Bacon, leaving the Governor and those that came with him to themselves, who being thus abandoned wafted over Chesapeake Bay thirty miles to Accomac, where are two counties of Virginia.
Mr. Bacon, hearing of this, came back part of the way, and sent out parties of horse patrolling through every county, carrying away prisoners all whom he distrusted might any more molest his Indian persecution, yet giving liberty to such as pledged him their oaths to return home and live quiet; the copies or contents of which oaths I never saw, but heard were very strict, though little observed.
About this time was a spy detected pretending himself a deserter, who had twice or thrice come and gone from party to party, and was by council of war sentenced to death, after which Bacon declared openly to him, That if any one man in the army would speak a word to save him, he should not suffer, which no man appearing to do, he was executed. Upon this manifestation of clemency Bacon was applauded for a merciful man, not willing to spill Christian blood; nor indeed was it said that he put any other man to death in cold blood, or plunder(ed) any house. Nigh the same time came Maj. Langston with his troop of horse and quartered two nights at my house, who (after high compliments from the General) told me I was desired to accept the lieutenancy for preserving the peace in the s. northern counties betwixt Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers. I humbly thanked his Honor, excusing myself as I had done before on that invitation of the like nature at Jamestown, but did hear he was mightily offended at my evasions and threatened to remember me.
The Governor made a second attempt, coming over from Accomac with what men he could procure in sloops and boats forty miles up the river to Jamestown, which Bacon hearing of, came again down from his forest pursuit, and finding a bank not a flight shot long cast up thwart the neck of the peninsula there in Jamestown, he stormed it, and took the town, in which attack were twelve men slain and wounded, but the Governor with most of his followers fled back down the river in their vessels.
Here, resting a few days, they concerted the burning of the town, wherein Mr. Lawrence and Mr. Drumond, owning the two best houses save one, set fire each to his own house, which example the soldiers following, laid the whole town (with church and state-house) in ashes, saying, The rogues should harbor no more there.
On these reiterated molestations, Bacon calls a convention at Middle Plantation, fifteen miles from Jamestown, in the month of August 1676, where an oath with one or more proclamations were formed, and writs by him issued for an Assembly. The oaths or writs I never saw, but one proclamation commanded all men in the land on pain of death to join him, and retire into the wilderness upon arrival of the forces expected from England, and oppose them until they should propose or accept to treat of an accommodation, which we who lived comfortably could not have undergone, so as the whole land must have become an Aceldama if Gods exceeding mercy had not timely removed him.