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Frontier Politics, Providentialism, and “Hobbism” in Bacon’s Rebellion

Summary and Keywords

Bacon’s Rebellion (1676–1677) was an uprising in the Virginia colony that its participants experienced as both a civil breakdown and a period of intense cosmic disorder. Although Thomas Hobbes had introduced his theory of state sovereignty a quarter century earlier, the secularizing connotations of his highly naturalized conceptualization of power had yet to make major inroads on a post-Reformation culture that was only gradually shifting from Renaissance providentialism to Enlightenment rationalism. Instead, the period witnessed a complicated interplay of providential beliefs and Hobbist doctrines. In the aftermath of the English civil war (1642–1651), this mingling of ideologies had prompted the Puritans’ own experimentation with Hobbes’s ideas, often in tandem with a Platonic spiritualism that was quite at odds with Hobbes’s own philosophical skepticism. The Restoration of 1660 had given an additional boost to Hobbism as his ideas won a number of prominent adherents in Charles II’s government.

The intermingling of providentialism and Hobbism gave Bacon’s Rebellion its particular aura of heightened drama and frightening uncertainty. In the months before the uprising, the outbreak of a war on the colony’s frontier with the Doeg and Susquehannock peoples elicited fears in the frontier counties of a momentous showdown between faithful planters and God’s enemies. In contrast, Governor Sir William Berkeley’s establishmentarian Protestantism encouraged him to see the frontiersmen’s vigilantism as impious, and the government’s more measured response to the conflict as inherently godlier because tied to time-tested hierarchies and institutions. Greatly complicating this already confusing scene, the colony also confronted a further destabilizing force in the form of the new Hobbist politics emerging from the other side of the ocean. In addition to a number of alarming policies emanating from Charles II’s court in the 1670s that sought to enhance the English state’s supremacy over the colonies, Hobbes’s doctrines also informed the young Nathaniel Bacon Jr.’s stated rationale for leading frontiersmen against local Indian communities without Berkeley’s authorization. Drawing on the Hobbes-influenced civil war-era writings of his relation the Presbyterian lawyer Nathaniel Bacon, the younger Bacon made the protection of the colony’s Christian brotherhood a moral priority that outweighed even the preservation of existing civil relations and public institutions.

While Berkeley’s antagonism toward this Hobbesian argument led him to lash out forcibly against Bacon as a singularly great threat to Virginia’s commonwealth, it was ordinary Virginians who most consequentially resisted Bacon’s strange doctrines. Yet a division persisted. Whereas the interior counties firmly rejected Bacon’s Hobbism in favor of the colony’s more traditional bonds to God and king, the frontier counties remained more open to a Hobbesian politics that promised their protection.

Keywords: Bacon’s Rebellion, Nathaniel Bacon Jr., Sir William Berkeley, Hobbism, providentialism, frontier politics, King Philip’s War, Doegs, Susquehannocks, oaths

Providence and the Politics of Interpreting Virginia’s Frontier Violence

When violence broke out on Virginia’s northern and western frontiers in the summer and fall of 1675, planters were quick to interpret the growing bloodshed as filled with divine implications. Thomas Mathew, whose Stafford County plantation was the scene of the first brutalities between colonists and Indians that would set the rest of the conflict in motion, recalled in his own narrative of those opening struggles that they began in the wake of three “Prodigies,” or “Ominous Presages.” A comet had streaked nightly across the western horizon, massive flocks of pigeons had weighed down trees, and swarms of giant flies had emerged from “Spigot Holes in the Earth” and eaten newly sprouted leaves. These mysterious signs, Mathew wrote, had stirred up “Portentous Apprehensions,” frightening especially the “old Planters” who remembered similar omens before the Powhatan ruler Opechancanough’s 1644 massacre that had left several hundred Virginian settlers dead. Whereas the earlier attack had coincided with the opening phases of the English civil war and had prompted questions about whether God was angrier at the royalists or the Puritans, few planters beholding the most recent portents doubted that they had particular significance for Virginia’s frontier.1

Colonists had long seen Indian attacks as divine messages, thunderclaps that, though elusive in meaning, arrived with menacing force and touched on planters in their particular duties and circumstances. By the 1670s, the Virginia colony had made considerable progress in achieving the stability and strength that Renaissance Christian humanists had long associated with a commonwealth, a polity that bound its inhabitants in mutual ties of obligation to one another and God. However, the expansion of the colony into new, poorly defended areas naturally generated a corresponding humanistic apprehension about border regions and the deleterious effect on the commonwealth’s bonds as they stretched into remote hinterlands. Fears about the winnowing of those ties as they extended outward meant that the heart of Virginia’s commonwealth lay implicitly in the comparatively densely settled arc that ran inland of the Chesapeake Bay from the colony’s capital at Jamestown, through Middle Plantation, northward into Gloucester County, and across the Chesapeake Bay to the Eastern Shore. This interior had benefited from the 1634 palisade that for about a decade had provided an actively patrolled corridor around which a more extensive pale of settlement had gradually taken shape. Farther beyond, in what planters sometimes called “the maine” to suggest its indefinite projection into the American mainland, lay counties that had emerged as a self-conscious frontier and in relation to which questions about God’s purposes swirled with singular intensity (see Figure 1).2

When a tense exchange over hogs stolen from Mathew’s household in July 1675 led to a flurry of deadly attacks and counterattacks between Doeg Indians and Stafford County planters, the violence inspired two distinct providential theories, one embraced by the frontiersmen themselves and the other accepted closer to the capital by Berkeley’s government. The frontier colonists’ perspective reflected their touchiness concerning their moral integrity as the dwellers of a border area. In their view, God was laying bare the wickedness of their Indian neighbors once and for all, finally making apparent for all to see that the planters needed unrestrained license against the heathens in their midst. For a decade if not longer, inhabitants of the upper counties along the Potomac River especially had clamored for such a liberty, arguing that they needed only the “assistance of Almighty God” to “utterly destroy and eradicate” the “Northern Indians particularly the Doagge [that is, Doegs].” Now, in the Christian blood spilled by native hands, they believed they had received divine authorization for their military campaign, and expected the governor’s commission to follow as a matter of course. Yet, Berkeley’s view of the frontier’s heightened disorders called for circumspection not rash action, for he discerned the frontiersmen’s sins and not just the Indians’ perfidy behind this latest display of God’s wrath. Differing accounts of the initial burst of violence outside Mathew’s home epitomized this disagreement about God’s purposes.3

Frontier Politics, Providentialism, and “Hobbism” in Bacon’s RebellionClick to view larger

Figure 1. Map of Virginia during Bacon’s Rebellion (1676–1677).

In his own narrative of the incident, Mathew captured the frontiersmen’s perspective of the Manichean division between the frontier planters’ godliness and the natives’ impiety. He observed that a party of Doegs attacked on “a Sabbath day,” rendering their offense a crime against God. He pointedly identified his English herdsman whom the Doegs mortally wounded as Robert Hen, effectively making him a martyr for the frontiersmen’s cause. Meanwhile, he left unnamed the Indian who was left dead with hatchet wounds all over his body, although this individual was probably the second of Mathew’s two servants who reportedly died that day and was perhaps also among the Virginian frontier’s growing numbers of enslaved Indians who were kept in bondage for life. The appalled planters who discovered these bloodied bodies outside Mathew’s home were “People in their Way to Church,” a sanctified act terribly interrupted. Hen’s mutilated body lay across the threshold to Mathew’s house, a vivid emblem of a Christian home violated. A traumatized boy under the bed completed the portrait of a household visited by untold horrors. The entire scene conjured the frontiersmen’s most pregnant image of themselves: as a people devoted to God whose faith was confirmed rather than shaken when endangered by his most menacing enemies.4

Berkeley and other commentators took a more jaundiced view of the violence in Stafford, regarding Mathew and his frontier compatriots not as straightforward victims but rather as self-interested aggressors whose own excesses provoked the Indians’ violence. The royal commissioners whom Charles II eventually sent to investigate the uprising gathered from their talks with the Virginians that Mathew was scarcely innocent. The Doegs had stolen his hogs only after he had “abused and cheated them, in not paying them for such Indian trucke as he had formerly bought of them.” Their robbery had prompted a vicious response by Stafford County residents, who had pursued the Doeg thieves down the Potomac River, taking back the livestock, and leaving the entire Indian party either “beaten or kill’d.” Only after suffering that transgression, far out of proportion of the original theft, did the Doegs return to take their revenge.5

A dangerous rift between Berkeley’s government and the frontiersmen grew out of their contrasting outlooks on the emerging borderland turmoil. Of course, to insist that the frontier was a more complicated moral arena than Mathew and other border residents accepted was not the same as taking the Doegs’ side. Berkeley, too, regarded the Doegs as “Barbarous Ennimies” and had remarked before on the potential need to “Destroy all these Northern Indians” in an aggressive military campaign like the one he had led against Opechancanough two decades earlier. He had even proposed enslaving the native “Women and Children” taken in the raid to “Defray” its cost. However, Berkeley envisioned such a war as a thoroughly public endeavor, authorized by the government and pursued on its terms. In contrast, the frontier planters’ spirit of righteous indignation propelled them to take matters into their own hands.6

The frontiersmen’s vigilantism rested on a tribal sense of their special relationship with God. Even confessional divisions, the strains between the old and new faiths that roiled so many European communities at this time, were momentarily set aside to avenge an “Englishman’s bloud.” The militiamen who pursued Hen’s killers included a Protestant, Colonel George Mason, and a Catholic, Colonel George Brent, a partnership strange enough to elicit Mathew’s remark that Brent was “a Papist.” Yet, frontier clannishness elided such religious distinctions. Perceiving themselves as besieged by godless enemies, the border planters became fellow Christian warriors.7

Thundering into Maryland and paying little heed to the jurisdictional issues involved in intruding on another colony’s government, the militiamen proceeded with similar disregard for settled diplomatic norms in meting out justice at the Doeg encampment. Killing the Doeg ruler and ten other Doegs at point-blank range, they next shot fourteen other Indians before learning these persons were Susquehannocks, a people allied to the colony. The deaths of the Susquehannocks would spur their own spiritually motivated assaults, for, to assuage the “wandering ghosts” of their slain fellows, they believed only the murders of dozens of frontier families could satisfy the provoking spirits. Yet, the frontiersmen’s complicity in adding to the border region’s chaos apparently did little to trouble their consciences, and their zeal was further fortified by an apparent miracle. The Doeg chief’s son, who had lain nearly lifeless for ten days after the attack on his village, was revived in a baptism ceremony in which Brent and Mason stood as godfathers. Knowing a providential sign when they saw one, the frontier planters took this wondrous event as “a Convincing Proofe against Infidelity”—evidence, in other words, that God really did favor his faithful English servants over the rebellious nonbelievers in their midst.8

Berkeley’s response to the erupting bloodshed was a deliberately measured one that stood at odds with the frontiersmen’s own righteous fury. On August 31, 1675, he placed the northern frontier under the supervision of two trusted officials, Colonel John Washington and Major Isaac Allerton. In an implicit repudiation of Mason and Brent’s vigilantism, Berkeley’s new officers were to mount not a no-holds-barred Indian war but instead a “thorough inquisition . . . of the true causes of the severall Murthers.” That emphasis on patient investigation rather than summary justice left open the possibility that guilt might be found to reside on the Virginians’ side of the border no less than the natives’. Not only politic in nature, such a wary approach was also providentialist. It reflected Berkeley’s view that God actively favored settled governments that operated on the basis of prudential laws and formal institutions over the self-directed zeal of individual believers.9

Frontier Vigilantism versus Berkeley’s Establishmentarianism

Where Berkeley’s perspective differed especially from the frontiersmen’s was in regard to their eagerness to dispense God’s justice at their own hands. A principled establishmentarian, he could not abide vigilantism, especially when spurred by minds convinced of their own perfect connection to their Creator. While the frontiersmen fretted over his chariness, wondering at the “Misteryes of these Delays,” as Mathew called the governor’s failure to authorize a massive assault on the Indians, Berkeley saw the border’s problem at this moment as necessitating purposefulness rather than haste. His wariness was consistent with the establishmentarian ethos that had underlain his quarter-century as Virginia’s governor and that he pursued with fierce religious commitment. Just as the frontiersmen viewed their murderous attacks on the Indians as aligned with God’s will, so too did Berkeley see preserving the settled order as filled with providential import.10

The establishmentarianism to which Berkeley adhered was a Christian humanist position that had grown in significance since the late 16th century. Its theorists included such illustrious writers as Richard Hooker, the Elizabethan theologian who had helped to justify the Church of England as a lawful ecclesiological order, and Hugo Grotius, the Dutch Arminian and jurist whose writings defending the Low Countries against Spanish belligerence had informed how Berkeley himself had argued on behalf of Virginia’s own civil integrity when it had come under attack by the Puritans’ Commonwealth government. Berkeley’s exposure to such establishmentarian ideas had probably first occurred in the 1630s when as a gentleman of the privy chamber at Charles I’s court he was loosely affiliated with the theological and philosophical coterie known as the Great Tew circle. His friends and patrons, like Edward Hyde, later first earl of Clarendon, and Lucius Cary, Viscount Falkland, were key members of the group, and Hobbes was also an at least occasional participant although it is not clear that Berkeley ever met the controversial philosopher.11

Worried about their era’s civil and religious divisions, the Great Tew discussants helped to revive a strand of skepticism know as Pyrrhonism. The Pyrrhonists questioned humanity’s ability to know God’s will with certainty and, unlike Platonists, the other main school of ancient skepticism, doubted that even an enlightened few received such truths directly from the heavens. Instead, Pyrrhonists placed greater faith in the arrangements and laws that humans had forged over time, perceiving in such hearty institutions that had endured the vacillations of a sinful world the only reliable evidence about God’s intentions for his earthly creation. By this logic, the constitutional royalism that Berkeley shared with Clarendon and Falkland was a deeply religious stance. Godliness involved upholding jealously all the mundane bonds of civil life, from the mutual promises of commonwealth and church to contracts, treaties, and oaths.12

Berkeley’s devotion to the commonwealth’s constitutive bonds as the lynchpin of a Christian existence powerfully shaped his denigrating attitude toward the frontier. Opportunity seekers who ventured there for large tracts of land were morally no better than the religious dissenters of various stripes who congregated in its relative seclusion to engage freely in their fantastical ideas of a worshipful life. He perceived the region also as attracting the mobile and rootless poor, persons driven to border areas by the colony’s worsening economic conditions. In all these cases, a restless discontent with the world in its existing state encouraged a sinful longing to go one’s own way, heedless of the resulting rifts in the polity’s web of reciprocal links.

Berkeley took this individualizing dimension of the frontier so much for granted that he associated the frontiersmen’s autonomy with other forms of disconnectedness that tugged at the commonwealth’s moral community. In a letter to Charles II and his Privy Council in the midst of the Third Anglo-Dutch War, he explained the difficulty of defending the colony’s borders as a problem of multiple bonds of civil life stretching to the breaking point. The servants, including “Negroes,” who would be left behind when freemen took up their guns to “defend our Frontiers” would be “at our backs,” a once-subordinated group now rendered into potential enemies by their newfound detachment from their masters. Even marriage proved a frail anchor among licentious borderers, “of which at least one third are Single freemen.” Untied to a wife and thus deprived of a link that would help ground them in the broader community, these bachelors, Berkeley suggested, would at the slightest advantage offered by the enemy “revolt to them in hopes of bettering their Condition by Shareing the Plunder of the Country With them.” Shifting loyalties were the very essence of the frontier because of the self-centeredness that prevailed there.13

Berkeley’s conflation of the frontier with sinful atomism also informed his understanding of the borderland violence of 1675. He developed this view especially after February 1676, by which time he had learned that the New England colonies were engulfed in their own Indian conflict, a major conflagration that would come to be known as King Philip’s War (1675–1676). Perceiving a connection between the New England bloodshed and Virginia’s own, Berkeley saw Providence as looming over both. Remarking that “God can make or find every where Instruments enough to destroy the Kings Ennimies,” he theorized that the Indians’ attack on the northern colonies was nothing less than divine punishment for the Puritans’ rebellion against Charles I. By extension, the violence occurring on Virginia’s frontier—which by then he estimated had taken the lives of forty of the colony’s men, women, and children—was an outgrowth of the New Englanders’ “infection.” This disease-like transmission of sin naturally coursed from one frontier area to another. In “the Maine,” Berkeley remarked, planters “covet more Land than they are safely able to hold” and greedily leave the Indians with “no land to support and preserve their wives and children from famine.” That such a heartless milieu was where God chose to enact his justice was, for Berkeley, not only unsurprising but also further proof that he was proceeding correctly in his own cautious approach to the rage that had been released on both sides.14

One of the ways Berkeley and his supporters distinguished themselves from the frontiersmen was in relation to the formal ties the colony had established with certain of the region’s native peoples. Establishmentarianism emphasized the sanctity of all such bonds built on mutual trust, and the Berkeleyites accordingly regarded treaties with the Indians as no less sacred or binding than the mutual duties that Christians formed with one another. Conversely, they held up intolerance for such non-Christian pacts as a sign of overly rigid Christian dogmatism. Thus, Berkeley’s cousin Colonel Henry Norwood delighted in heaping scorn on one “major Stephens,” a Puritan who had fought against the king in the civil war, for his intense distrust of the Assateague people on the Eastern Shore. Unimpressed by Stephens’s “antipathy” toward the Indians and contemptuous of his fear that they would ineluctably “draw us into their power,” Norwood chalked up the “rancor of his mind” to the same holier-than-thou Protestantism that had led Stephens to take the side of the Parliamentarians and oppose “his natural sovereign.” By Norwood’s logic, Puritan willfulness shook frontiers and kingdoms in equal measure.15

The frontiersmen were similarly heedless of their obligations to the Indians, the Berkeleyites believed. The borderers’ jealous insularity would later become the subject of a meeting between Cockacoeske, ruler of the Pamunkeys, and a committee of Virginia assemblymen after Bacon and his men attacked her people. When Cockacoeske reminded the Virginians of the warriors her husband Totopotomoy had previously sacrificed in helping to defend the colony from its enemies, Colonel Edward Hill, one of Berkeley’s allies, shook his head and remarked that “all she said was too true to our Shame.” Hill’s comment was filled with establishmentarian disdain for the frontier planters’ disregard for honestly brokered accords.16

The Berkeleyites were far from alone in ruing the frontiersmen’s indifference to the region’s Indian treaties, for members of the Maryland General Assembly were also determined to identify the borderland’s growing violence as lawless rather than righteous. Meeting in June 1676, the assemblymen deliberated over yet another deadly episode involving the Virginian borderers. This incident had occurred after Washington and Allerton’s forces had joined together with Major Thomas Truman of Maryland and conducted a lengthy siege of the Susquehannocks’ fortified village. Truman, having assured safe diplomatic passage to five of the Susquehannock chieftains, killed them all in a blaze of gunfire, a shocking act that officeholders in Maryland’s assembly would condemn as a dreadful violation of the “Lawes of God [and] Nations.” Although Truman’s supporters in the Lower House argued that he was driven to the act when militiamen from both colonies threatened to mutiny if he did not treat the Indians severely, the Upper House wanted to make an example of him. They urged the death penalty for his crime. Not only did they want to express clearly “to the World how much the wickedness of th[a]t accon is detested and disowned by us,” they also hoped “to give Satisfaction to the Heathens, with whome the publick ffaith hath been broke,” that the treaties “we shall have with them” deserve their “faith or Creditt.” Here the repeated emphasis on faith underscored the frontiersmen’s own impiety in failing to hold such ties sacred.17

The division over Indian fidelity rankled in this still-humanistic culture that fixated on the nature of the commonwealth’s bonds. Frontier families felt increasingly alienated from rulers who seemed to favor Indian pacts over English lives; in turn, elites near the colonial capitals rued the frontiersmen for exacerbating the unchristian premise that “faith is not to be kept with heathens.” For Berkeleyites like William Sherwood, the “example of Joshua with the Gibonites” was proof enough that God approved of reciprocal links between Christians and non-Christians. Such an establishmentarian position, already contentious among the region’s increasingly agitated borderers, was made all the more so as Hobbesian reforms emanating from England encouraged colonists to look suspiciously on local governments that failed to place their safety first.18

Hobbist Threats from England

Even as he faced pressure from righteous frontiersmen, Governor Berkeley also confronted another source of trouble in the growing presence of Hobbist theory in imperial policy. No naïf on the rise of Hobbism, Berkeley had been, on the contrary, highly alert to the ascendancy of the philosopher’s ideas since the Great Tew’s gatherings when Hyde and others had observed anxiously the extremes to which Hobbes was taking Pyrrhonian skepticism. Like Grotius, Hobbes answered his era’s endless struggles over interpreting God’s will by reimaging the civil order along naturalist lines and arguing that commonwealths arose from the purely materialist impulse of self-preservation. Yet, he parted ways with Grotius and other humanists in no longer stressing the contractual bond between people and ruler. His insistence that legitimate power arose only from the original covenant by which a people secured their own safety led to his startling conclusions that sovereignty must be absolute, rather than limitable, and that political obedience was dependent on little more than the sovereign’s capacity to provide adequate protection.19

Of particular relevance for plantations like Virginia, Hobbes also argued that the state must be unitary. This conclusion arose as a corollary to his argument that every commonwealth possesses a clear sovereign center to which people look for their safety, a conception of the state that gave novel significance to the confusions arising from multiple jurisdictions. For the colonies, this new emphasis on state unity posed a vexing question: Would their own commonwealth status be recognized in a post-Hobbesian world? The answer to that question quickly seemed a resounding no, especially as new initiatives associated with Secretary of State Henry Bennet, first earl of Arlington, and Lord Treasurer Thomas Osborne, earl of Danby, brought Virginia’s civil integrity directly under attack just as the frontier crisis got underway.

The Restoration-era Hobbism of Arlington and Danby arrived close on the heels of a moment of great distress for Berkeley: Clarendon’s 1667 impeachment. Since 1660, Clarendon, in the role of Lord Chancellor, had acted as Charles II’s principal minister. In that position, he had provided Berkeley and other establishmentarians with a powerful ally in the English government, while on another front he had worked strenuously to ban Hobbes from court and suppress his writings. After Hobbes’s royalist patrons and admirers Arlington and Danby contributed to Clarendon’s impeachment, he penned in exile his “Brief View and Survey of the Dangerous and Pernicious Errors to Church and State, in Mr. Hobbes’s Book, Entitled Leviathan.” Completed as early as 1670, the work would go to the press in 1676, coincidentally the same year when Clarendon’s old friend Berkeley would perceive the insidious influence of Hobbism in his recently arrived relation Bacon. Meanwhile, Arlington and Danby set about to reorient colonial policy along Hobbesian lines. In particular, they sought to impress upon the colonies that they were the provinces, or parts, of a unitary state centered in England rather than commonwealths in their own right. The plantations’ role was to contribute to the commercial strength of England, not to nurture their own civil polities. The Puritans had earlier pursued that Hobbesian agenda of realizing state unity by bringing proud colonies like Virginia down to size, and now, in the post-Clarendon era, the same centralizing mission had become a prime goal of the Restoration monarchy.20

Tensions over fort building in Virginia epitomized the new Hobbesian emphasis on the state’s supremacy over the colonies. Berkeley’s administration complained that directives from England to build a new fort at Point Comfort at the mouth of the James River catered to English merchants who sought protection for their cargo rather than helping colonists who would see little benefit from such a faraway defensive post. The sheer expanse of the river at that location meant that such a fort would do little to stop Dutch warships, which for the English ministry, in a period of successive Anglo-Dutch wars over trade dominance, had become the period’s most fearsome bogeymen. The fort’s expense was also galling, and in vain Berkeley’s government argued that English merchants should cover the cost through their freight charges rather than burden colonists with more taxes. The new ministry, however, was deaf to such local concerns. As the taxes for building such a useless fort added further to the planters’ grievances, the Hobbists continued their centralizing pressure, which was about to grow to catastrophic proportions.21

On February 25, 1673, Charles II granted all of Virginia, including its quit-rents and public lands, to Arlington and another nobleman, Thomas Colepeper, second Baron Colepeper of Thoresway, as a royal gift for thirty-one years. Such a stunning act, which treated the colony as a private pool of resources and revenue that the king could use at his pleasure, reflected Hobbes’s argument that colonies fell properly under the sovereign’s absolute will. The present was compensation to Arlington for quietly taking the fall after news broke of his secretive Dover Treaty, an alliance with King Louis XIV that was widely seen as furthering the French king’s designs to subordinate England and return it to the Catholic fold under the ruse of conquering the Dutch. For the Virginian government, the Arlington-Colepeper grant was a shocking indication of how little the Restoration government thought of the colony’s political arrangements. In a panic, the Berkeley administration sent a delegation of agents to challenge the grant and seek a new charter guaranteeing the colony’s protection from any further such assaults on its polity. Because that lobbying effort required raising further taxes on planters, it provided yet another grievance that set planters against their governor.22

Meanwhile, another Hobbesian force had arrived in the colony in the form of Giles Bland, a customs collector whom Danby had sent to levy a new one-shilling export duty on tobacco. Son-in-law to Thomas Povey, a Hobbist who had helped to oversee colonial policy since the Commonwealth era, Bland was openly dismissive of the Berkeley regime’s legitimacy. At one point, he posted a challenge on the statehouse door that disparaged secretary of state Thomas Ludwell as “a Sonn of a Whore[,] mechannick ffellow[,] puppy[,] and a Coward.” Berkeley and his supporters were acutely aware the insult was meant to communicate the colonial government’s broader inferiority in relation to the Restoration state. Danby’s own philosophy in relation to the colonies called for just such denigrating measures. Colonial governments, in his view, were not the vital overseers of new commonwealths under the king’s authority; they were, as one pamphlet commissioned by Danby put it, little more than “Corporated parcels of the Body Politick” that risked becoming “corrupted with Men, who by contracting particular Interests, shall march counter to the publick Interest of Government, and imploy the Interests and Credit of their Corporations against it.” Bland’s purpose was to expose and heap opprobrium on those “particular Interests,” thereby reinforcing the Hobbesian narrative that colonial governments inevitably fell into corruption because of their unnatural autonomy from the state.23

Berkeley’s government was vulnerable to the argument that it focused narrowly on its own ends, for his establishmentarian outlook made him unapologetic about keeping power, perquisites, and responsibilities confined to a small political elite. Holding to the conventional establishmentarian view that hierarchies and magistracy were vital for anchoring Christian life in an error-prone world, he viewed colonies as especially needing to nurture competent governing elites because of the primitive nature of government there and the resulting capriciousness of the inhabitants in fulfilling their duties. The civil war had convinced Berkeley that Virginia’s “Loyal party” who had stood strong against the Puritan rebels were a distinct minority, for the majority of Virginians, although for the most part not Puritans themselves, had nevertheless been “indifferent,” or frail in the face of the parliamentarians’ wickedness. To preserve the established order thus required a significant reliance on those select persons whose resolution had proven steady in the face of the gale force winds of sin that had led Englishmen to kill their king. Especially in a post–civil war context when royalists regarded the spoils that came to them as just deserts for the Puritans’ illegitimate rule, Berkeley’s policy of focusing inward on his closest circle of trusted supporters would arouse the intense distrust of planters on the margins of that privileged community. Such favoritism became particularly conspicuous after the Restoration when Berkeley launched a number of ambitious state-building improvements, including a revision of the colony’s laws, a new statehouse, an urban renewal project at Jamestown, economic diversification, and westward excursions in search of mines and the East Indian Ocean. Exclusive rights to lead these enterprises invariably went to the members of his inner group, adding further to the impression that his government monopolized such positions for personal enrichment more than public service.24

An equally controversial innovation was Berkeley’s prolonged assembly, which after 1661 met repeatedly for fifteen years without the calling of new elections. Charles II had similarly experimented with a long parliament, and Clarendon might have been its brainchild, for it fit closely his impulse to bolster the Cavalier Parliament against the schisms of the civil war years while avoiding the connotations of absolutism that had clung to Charles I’s own efforts to rule without parliaments altogether. Berkeley liked the arrangement too for the opportunity it presented to enhance the skills of colonial lawmakers who were otherwise poorly qualified for the weightiness of their duties. His thinking in this regard mirrored that of Hooker, who had taught that, whether in divinity or in law, there were some matters that were “more obscure, more intricate and hard to be judged of” than most people could manage on their own. As a result, “God hath appointed some to spende their whole time principally in the studie” of these fields’ complexities “to the end that in these more doubtfull cases their understanding might be a light to direct others.” When the long assembly emerged as one of the planters’ grievances during Bacon’s Rebellion, Berkeley was perplexed that the colonists did not see the usefulness of the practice. In his election writ of May 10, 1676, he asserted that surely “the more experienced men are in any Act Profession or Practice the more exact and perfect they are in that Profession or Practice.” However, colonists disliked the expense of keeping their representatives uninterruptedly in office, and the extended period without elections provided yet more evidence that power was being concentrated into the hands of what amounted to an unaccountable court party.25

The new Hobbesian drift of English colonial policy placed enhanced scrutiny on plantation governments that jealously closed ranks in times of trouble, and Berkeley’s establishmentarian instincts thus had the effect of heightening imperial officials’ suspicions at the very moment planters were feeling frustrated with their leaders. The fact that Giles Bland would later join the Baconites in their rebellion against the governor and his circle was emblematic of this two-pronged pressure from royal officers on the one hand and alienated planters on the other. The Hobbists in the English ministry felt a natural affinity for aggrieved settlers who might be persuaded to see the English state rather than their local government as their true protector. What made that sense of shared purpose even more pertinent was that the rebellion’s leader was himself a Hobbist, though of a very particular Christian Platonic stripe.

Bacon’s Platonic Hobbism

A year after Nathaniel Bacon Jr. arrived in Virginia in 1674 and settled with his wife Elizabeth Duke Bacon at their new home at Curles Neck in the frontier county of Henrico, Berkeley had already begun to worry about his kinsman’s political outlook. Originally, he had appointed Bacon to the colony’s council of state eagerly. Bacon was related not only to Berkeley but also to his wife Dame Frances Culpeper Stephens Berkeley, and he was a kinsman, as well, to another Virginian over twenty years his senior also named Nathaniel Bacon, a longtime resident of the colony and councillor. As well, establishmentarian principles demanded that the newcomer’s exceptional education and refinement be exploited for the colony’s government. As Berkeley put it in one of his several letters to the young man, “Gentleman of your quallity come very rarely into this Country.” Yet, on September 14, 1675, Berkeley wrote angrily to Bacon after he had imprisoned a group of Appomattox Indians for some stolen corn, an act that smacked of frontier vigilantism. Calling such a step “out of your Sphere,” Berkeley complained that seizing the natives when frontier tensions were already high “exceeds all proportion of prudent Conduct,” a warning that breathed of establishmentarian anxiety about the fragility of the colony’s civil foundations.26

Far more alarming, however, was Bacon’s evident alignment with those persons who had begun to grumble about Berkeley’s government. Feeling the need to insist that the “care of the Country” fell chiefly to him as the king’s appointed governor, Berkeley acknowledged that “you and diverse with you may thinke mee unable to manage soe greate a Trust” but that he was still owed their “defference.” The letter’s touchiness hinted at his recognition that Bacon stood not just with the frontiersmen but also with Hobbists like Bland who were then questioning Berkeley’s authority.27

Bacon was one of the youthful post–civil war Englishmen who mingled their admiration for Hobbes with a Platonic form of Protestantism. Cambridge-educated, he had spent time, in the mid-1660s, touring Europe with his tutor, the naturalist and experimental theologian John Ray. Once in Virginia, Bacon would warm quickly to what he called “soe Glorious a cause as the Countrys defense.” Indeed, the people’s safety had come to enjoy in his eyes a quasi-mystical status. His thinking in this regard mirrored closely and probably derived more or less directly from a civil war–era book written by his kinsman and namesake, the Suffolk lawyer Nathaniel Bacon. Entitled An Historicall Discourse of the Uniformity of the Government of England (1647), the book sought to justify the parliamentarians in their conflict with the king by adapting Hobbes’s idea of state unity to a Presbyterian view of communal holiness (see Figure 2).28

Frontier Politics, Providentialism, and “Hobbism” in Bacon’s RebellionClick to view larger

Figure 2. Frontispiece to An Historicall Discourse of the Uniformity of the Government of England (1647) by Nathaniel Bacon, the Suffolk lawyer.

A key idea in the lawyer Bacon’s treatise that would later echo through the younger Bacon’s arguments against Berkeley was the notion that the English people had, since Saxon times, formed a godly “brethren” whose ultimate responsibility was to maintain their own safety. The work presented sovereignty in unmistakably Hobbesian terms. Arising from the duty of self-preservation, this ultimate power was also indistinguishable from the commonwealth of divinely blessed brothers, a formulation that gave Hobbes’s idea of the unitary state a distinctly Presbyterian twist. Kings were acceptable to this arrangement if they protected the people against their enemies, deposable if they did not. While the brethren were the sole basis of rightful power, they were not an undifferentiated mass of people. Instead, a two-tiered hierarchy prevailed in which elite military commanders, the so-called Decenners, led ordinary families in defending their shared polity. This special role reserved for gentry leaders, especially on the field of battle, was in keeping with the Platonists’ answer to Pyrrhonian skeptics: certain divine truths were available in the sublunary sphere, though only to those persons with the unique capacities to grasp them. When Bacon took up the frontier planters’ cause, he did so self-consciously as an elite leader to whom the people naturally looked for guidance and protection because of his exceptional place in God’s plan.29

The frontiersmen who began to gather around Bacon eagerly adopted his language of an imperiled brotherhood visited by a heaven-sent protector. A petition that Henrico County planters wrote around January 1676 requesting a commission from Berkeley to go out against the Indians appealed to the governor on the grounds that the “Heathen” had “most barberously & Inhumanly taken & Murdered severall of our brethren & put them to most cruell torture by burning them alive . . . which makes our harts Ready to bleed to heare.” The providential underpinnings of the frontiersmen’s attachment to Bacon were not lost on contemporary commentators, who observed it was “with no common zeale” that the planters sent up their “reitterated prayers, first to him self, and next to Heaven, that he may becom there Gardian Angle, to protect them from the cruilties of Indians.” The governor himself was keenly aware of the aura of celestial favor that settled around Bacon. His rebellion was “like to that of Massanello,” Berkeley stated, a reference to the uprising in Naples in 1647 led by the fisherman Tomasso Anniello, aka Masaniello, who alleged he was “another Moses” guiding the people to their “redemption.”30

While Bacon did not compare himself to Moses or clothe his campaign in especially religious language, he also did not discourage planters’ views that he had a providential role to play in tending to their safety. Instead, he regularly insisted that planters should trust his actions as a reliable indicator of where their consciences were most safely aligned. In a letter to Berkeley, he hinted at his Platonic Christianity, acknowledging that, rather than ruing the frontier for its isolation, he welcomed it, “haveing alwayes bin delighted in solitude and mistique imployments.” Even more suggestive of the special part he envisioned for himself in Virginia’s wilderness, he occasionally referred to himself as standing in the gap, a phrase that in the 17th-century English Atlantic could hardly help but call to mind Ezekiel 22:30, an Old Testament passage that preachers often cited in times of heightened providential anxiety.31

In Ezekiel 22:30, God laments the Israelites’ devolution into sin but deplores even more the failure of any individual believer of especially resolute faith to stay God’s disciplining hand. Disappointed by such human timorousness, God states, “I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land that I should not destroy it.” Bacon apparently saw himself as just such a stout intermediary between a community burdened by sin and a God disposed to raze it. In his “Manifesto,” Bacon questioned whether a “just God” would fault him after he had chosen “to stand in the Gap after soe much blood of o[u]r Brethren bought and sold.” In another instance, he wrote that he could scarcely bear to see the “poor inhabitants wretchedly sacrificed” and so was “resolved to stand up in this ruinous gap; & rath[e]r expose my life and fortune to all hazards, than basely desert my post, and by soe bad an example make desolate a whole country.” The post that Bacon was loathe to abandon was not just his office as the governor’s councillor. It referred also to his role as a divinely favored martial gentleman, a Decenner of the post-Reformation era, who let his humbler neighbors perish only at the cost of great shame.32

The twenty-second chapter of Ezekiel pertained to Virginia’s situation in other ways, as well. It describes the Israelites as scattered among “the heathen,” a reference with obvious parallels to the frontiersmen in their proximity to the Indians. And it makes much of the “dishonest gain” and “gifts” that helped to account for the bloodshed that then wracked Jerusalem, a suggestion of governmental corruption that also had come to ring true in the colony. Although Bacon had initially dismissed the frontiersmen’s insinuation that Berkeley protected the Indians for private gain as “wholly a thing in the Clouds,” he increasingly made that allegation an important part of his justification for challenging the governor’s authority. Closely echoing the English Hobbists, and perhaps directly influenced by the rhetoric of his new partner Giles Bland, he treated provincial governments like Virginia as especially inclined to favor the private ends of leaders over the common weal. As a result, Bacon’s self-presentation as the people’s protector took on connotations not only of rightfully taking action against the Indians but also of righteously countering governmental oppression.33

Perceiving at least the rudiments of Bacon’s philosophy and fearing his collusion with the likes of Bland, Berkeley saw Bacon’s increasingly headstrong insertion of himself into the already tense frontier conflict as nothing less than an existential threat to the colony’s civil polity. On May 10, 1676, after Bacon had already turned down one pardon issued by the governor and made clear he would lead settlers against the Indians without the governor’s commission, Berkeley issued a proclamation suspending him from the council and declaring his conduct “unlawfull, mutinous, & rebellious.” In that decree and in the several other public statements that he addressed to colonists demanding that they shun Bacon’s unauthorized campaign, Berkeley stressed repeatedly the theme of Bacon’s “specious pretences.” It was as a justifier of shameful actions, and not just a performer of those actions, that Bacon deserved the people’s scorn. Urging colonists not to be “seduced & carried away by soe young, unexperienced, rash & inconsiderate person as the said Nathaniell Bacon Junior,” Berkeley identified his own traditional establishmentarianism as a surer guide than Bacon’s newfangled Hobbism. His message was a plea to planters to commit firmly to the bonds that had historically defined their commonwealth.34

Bacon’s “Commanding Tongue” and the Question of Lawfulness

In addition to the ongoing Indian war, much of Bacon’s uprising before his unexpected death to disease on October 26, 1676, centered on a prolonged struggle between himself and Berkeley over whose conduct was just, and whose illicit. The bounds of lawfulness had suddenly become frighteningly open-ended, a momentous collapse of the familiar bearings for determining right from wrong that was made all the more worrying by its providential underpinnings. Both men insisted they stood with God and their adversary did not, while all along framing their appeals in their own distinctive idioms. When he proclaimed Bacon a rebel, Berkeley urged planters, in his usual establishmentarian discourse, to see that “God Almighty, who hath commanded obedience to authority, will give me success, in my so just resolutions and determinations.” In turn, Bacon repeatedly offered the Platonic Hobbist rationale that, as a blessed community of brothers, his followers’ “Consciences” were “the best witnesses” of their innocence and that the “Cruelties” of the Indians had “forced” them “to turne our Swords to our own defence.” For both men, the political crisis of the moment lay fundamentally in the casuistic problem of clarifying which conduct pleases God and which does not; however, that moral line-drawing was made unusually complicated by the two men’s divergent establishmentarian and Hobbesian outlooks.35

The priority that Bacon gave to identifying his and his followers’ actions as conscionable meant that he was known as much for his “commanding tongue” as his ferocity in fighting the Indians. “Marss and Minerva both in him Concurd,” wrote one admirer, explaining that Bacon’s singular honor rested in his “pen and sword alike.” Adamant that he was not engaged in an “illegall Warre,” Bacon insisted repeatedly in a number of letters, declarations, and speeches that the ground upon which he and his fellow volunteer soldiers marched into battle was entirely just. A characteristic refrain in these communications was that “necessity” compelled his bold action and that “his Bretherens blood” had “alarm’d and awakened him to this Publike Revenge.” Without making the attribution explicit, Bacon was quietly borrowing from his relation, the Suffolk lawyer Bacon, in defending his vigilante expedition as a legitimate continuation of the mystical English people’s ongoing imperative to avenge themselves on their enemies.36

Meanwhile, Berkeley and his supporters found themselves in a state of extreme defensiveness, for they not only viewed Bacon as undermining their authority but worried as well about his possible alignment with the Hobbists in England who also sought the governor’s downfall. Berkeley’s fervor in attempting to contain the uprising arose from his dread that the same forces that had brought about Clarendon’s impeachment were now directed against Virginia. Hobbism and dissenting Protestantism were insinuating themselves across the ocean, targeting the Virginian civil polity that he had devoted most of his adult life to safeguarding and improving. Conscious that even his defense of the colony’s commonwealth might be used by the Hobbists as evidence of his self-interestedness, he wrote on June 3 to Henry Coventry, secretary of state for the Northern Department, and pleaded to be replaced by a new, “more Vigorous” governor. Although he was himself a Hobbist, Coventry was part of a Restoration-era faction, including Anthony Ashley Cooper, first earl of Shaftesbury, and his secretary John Locke, that sought to adapt Hobbes’s theory of state sovereignty to an establishmentarian respect for settled constitutions and laws. Berkeley’s sense that he could trust Coventry over the likes of Danby evidently came from the Virginian agents Thomas Ludwell, Francis Moryson, and Robert Smith, whom he had sent to England to challenge the Arlington-Colepeper grant, for on April 1 Berkeley had written to Coventry and acknowledged Ludwell as the go-between who had given him hope that the English secretary might agree to serve as his “Protector.” Telling Coventry “I have none I dare confide in to deliver a Petition to his Majestie but your selfe,” Berkeley made clear that his traditional establishmentarianism left him feeling increasingly marooned in an age of ascendant Hobbism.37

Berkeley’s desperation that the colony faced an existential threat like none it had encountered before led him to overreact in ways that served inadvertently to reinforce Bacon’s rhetoric against him. The new elections that Berkeley had summoned to occur in late May happened right after Bacon and a group of volunteers returned from a bloody encounter in which, after killing most of the 150 Susquehannocks inhabiting an island on the Roanoke River, they had turned on the Occaneechees who had helped them to perpetrate the massacre. Cheered rather than horrified by the murders, residents of Henrico County had elected Bacon and his friend and neighbor James Crews to be their burgesses. Such a vote was, ostensibly at least, consistent with Berkeley’s establishmentarian regard for duly constituted authority. However, when on June 6 Bacon sailed down the James River with fifty bodyguards to take his seat, Berkeley took an aggressive step that tended to alienate planters from him further.38

Convinced that a full-fledged conspiracy was underway against his government, Berkeley had ordered his gunners at Fort James to fire on the ship. Arguing that Bacon and “his Ayders Assisters & Complices” were attempting “to surprize & seiz his Majesties Governor & Councell And the Burgesses of the present grand Assembly,” he issued on the following day a warrant for Bacon’s arrest. After Bacon was captured, an elaborate reconciliation ceremony on June 9 sought to return him to his obedience as a “penitent sinner,” a wrongdoer who acknowledged his fault while “begging pardon of God[,] the king[,] and the govern’r.” Yet, rather than reassuring planters that the displaced line between virtue and vice had been restored to its rightful place, Berkeley’s assertive moves fed into the Baconites’ narrative of his corrupt statesmanship. The Jamestown burgess Richard Lawrence, who had taken Bacon in the night after his ship was sunk, was one of the persons loudly proclaiming that Berkeley’s pardon and his restoration of Bacon to his council seat “were no other than previous weadles to amuse him and his adherents and to circumvent them by stratagem.” Thus, as Bacon returned to his followers and thrust himself even more fully into the uprising against the governor, the cloud of suspicion that had already formed around Berkeley grew even denser and more ominous.39

A sign of the profound uncertainties at this moment about where the line between lawfulness and unlawfulness lay was the prominent role that a number of women now took in the conflict. In lending their voices and pens to Berkeley and Bacon’s respective claims to legitimacy, these individuals tapped into the female literary and gossip networks that had long contributed to policing the moral boundaries of local communities on both sides of the English Atlantic. As early as May 25, Bacon complained that Lady Frances Berkeley was spreading damaging accusations about him. She alleged that he was indebted, implying that he lacked the solid elite credentials that were part of his persona as the people’s able defender. She insinuated as well that he had been “a Parliament Captain” during the English civil war, a view that suggests strongly the Berkeleys’ awareness by this time of Bacon’s leanings toward dissenting Protestantism. Berkeley’s faith in his wife’s arguments was so great that he would later entrust to her the task of crossing the Atlantic and justifying his case in England before the Privy Council.40

Bacon too quickly found himself surrounded by female supporters. In a letter to her sister on June 29 that was probably meant to circulate widely among persons in England who had heard of the colonial uprising and wondered if Bacon was a hero or a villain, Elizabeth Bacon employed a rhetoric that rung with the same Christian communalism as her husband’s. “The country does so really love him, that they would not leave him alone any where,” she wrote, “surely if your brother’s crime had been so great, all the country would not have been for him, you never knew any better beloved than hee is.” Another supporter who wrote on Bacon’s behalf was Mary Horsmanden Filmer Byrd. Wife to William Byrd, Bacon’s frontier trading partner and early collaborator in the military campaign, Mary Byrd also had valuable connections in England. It was perhaps in the hope that Restoration-era officials like Danby would respect the word of the former sister-in-law of the ultra-royalist Robert Filmer that she took up her pen to vouch for the Baconites. “The most of th[e]m w[i]th Mr. Bacon,” she wrote, “were substantiall housekeepers who bore their own charges in this warre against the Indians.” Such an observation served to refute the governor’s repeated assertion that the Baconites were the rabble while simultaneously upholding Bacon’s all-volunteer army as a noble rather than rebellious innovation.41

Bacon’s boldest step in legitimizing his cause had the effect, like Berkeley’s own overreaches, of stirring up anxieties in some while buoying the spirits of others. His move in this regard occurred after the June assembly had proven disappointing in endorsing fully his program. While the burgesses had sanctioned an Indian war, they did so far more on Berkeley’s establishmentarian terms than Bacon’s righteous call for an all-out war of extermination. Explaining that “wee are not altogether satisfied that all Indians are combined against us,” the assemblymen asserted in the preamble to their bill that the “rules of our sacred religion, as those of humanitie,” taught that “we ought not to involve the innocent with the guiltie.” It was against the backdrop of that staunch upholding of Berkeley’s old-fashioned Christian humanist faith in the sanctity of settled bonds and treaties that news arrived on June 22 that Bacon was approaching Jamestown with between 400 and 500 men. In the dramatic standoff that resulted, the armed planters took over the town and surrounded the statehouse while Bacon looked up at the frightened assemblymen inside and demanded a commission authorizing him to be commander in the war against the Indians. When the burgesses protested that they had written a bill stipulating how that war was to be waged, he refused to allow the bill to be read.42

Unsurprisingly, the showdown compelled Virginians to pick sides anew because it highlighted so vividly what was at stake in the conflict. In the contrast between the burgesses’ insistence that wars demand “mature deliberac[i]on” rather than “precipitate desires” and Bacon’s own intimidating show of force through his musket-wielding frontier supporters, the encounter placed in bold relief the difference between the institutionalized popular consent that Berkeley favored and the primal communal freedom that Bacon was justifying. Tellingly, even Thomas Mathew, the once-unflinching proponent of clashing violently with the Indians, identified this moment as the time when he came to fear Bacon. Trembling at what “his Resentment” might entail, Mathew dreaded especially that Bacon’s “distast” might, if provoked, leave “the Persons and Estates of all in the Land” at the “Dispose” of his rank-and-file followers. In short, the absolutism at the heart of Hobbes’s definition of sovereignty had begun to show through for at least some of Bacon’s erstwhile supporters, while Berkeley’s familiar establishmentarianism correspondingly came to seem a lifeline against the coming storm.43

The Alienating of Virginia’s Planters and the End of the Rebellion

Bacon’s Rebellion arose and ultimately collapsed on the basis of planters’ assessments of whether Bacon’s leadership pointed them down a conscionable path or a wicked one. A small minority of colonists had any familiarity with Hobbes’s ideas, so it was not Bacon’s Hobbism per se that recommended him to them but rather his promise to lead them with propriety in an Indian war that the governor had not sanctioned. For Bacon and his followers, the legitimacy of their campaign was not just a secondary consideration, for the providential backdrop against which the frontier conflict had thus far taken place demanded close attention to the conduct that pleases or displeases God. Rather, the question of Bacon’s lawfulness, in the deepest sense of his alignment with the divine plan, hung over his every action. At first, this intense scrutiny of the justness of his cause won him supporters, who regarded his enthusiastic taking up of the Indian war as evidence in itself of his rectitude. However, as his uprising proceeded—shifting from a volunteer military excursion against the natives to a farther-reaching rebellion against Berkeley’s government, and finally a possible showdown with the king’s own soldiers—it involved greater and greater demands on planters’ consciences.

Where colonists first confronted Bacon’s rhetoric was in relation to the rightfulness of the Indian war. Bacon devoted special attention to defending his movement’s assault on all Indians regardless of the treaties they had negotiated with the colony, because it was here where his Hobbesian views and the Berkeley administration’s establishmentarianism most clashed. Hobbes had insisted that states must be unitary in the sense of allowing for no division in sovereignty or commonwealth; otherwise, confusion would arise about those two critical areas upon which, in Hobbes’s belief, the state’s stability depended: the center of power, and the people who had given up their political wills to their sovereign for his protection.

Bacon relied implicitly on this Hobbesian logic of state unity in arguing that the Berkeley administration made a politically inexcusable error in treating Indians as semi-citizens. The “protected and Darling Indians” became, in essence, partial subjects, neither entirely of the polity nor completely outside it. They enjoyed Virginian legal protections and commercial privileges and yet clung to their own customs, like wearing painted faces, and remained immersed in foreign cultures, characterized by alien and multiple “national languages” and unfamiliar “subterfuges” in trade and war. Berkeley’s establishmentarian emphasis on the sanctity of mutual promises simply did not dwell on such problems of blurred subjecthood; rather, it stressed the need to respect bonds that people had entered into willingly regardless of whether they made up the same state or not. However, Bacon had left the traditional contractualism of the humanists more or less behind and wanted all Indians deemed “barbarous Outlawes,” that is, non-subjects who stood completely outside of the state’s legal framework and, therefore, could be approached adversarially like anyone encountered in a state of war. Even without recognizing the Hobbesian reasoning of such a position, frontier planters found in the liberty it gave them to treat native persons as enemies tout court a reassuring license to defend their homes and families as they saw fit.44

While most planters probably embraced Bacon’s ratiocinations without fully grasping their Hobbesian premises, a few observers saw more clearly these Hobbist roots. Berkeley’s supporters were especially attuned in this regard. Abraham Wood, a councillor of state who also commanded Fort Henry, a frontier post near the falls of the Appomattox River, picked up immediately on Bacon’s hints that the colony had found itself in that Hobbesian condition of war in which all returns “to the Sword again,” every person recovering the right to protect himself against his aggressors. Wood heard such chilling reasoning when he had refused to give up an Indian prisoner named Jack Nessom to the Baconites after their massacre of the Occaneechees. Wood’s resistance had elicited Bacon’s withering response, “I suppose the Major General hath power and I have some power to[o].” In reporting the incident to Berkeley on May 24, Wood gestured knowingly to the Hobbesian provenance of Bacon’s remark: “I suppose hee meant the power of the sword.”45

Another person who grasped Bacon’s Hobbism was Ann Cotton, who noted its telltale logic in Bacon’s willingness to proceed against the Indians without the governor’s authorization. A York County resident who, along with her attorney husband John Cotton, was connected with a number of members of Berkeley’s council, Cotton observed Bacon’s campaign warily. On the one hand, the councillors with whom she seems to have acquainted were the four who, for a time at least, joined Bacon’s movement, probably in the view that Bacon’s aggressive defense of the colony was needed as the borderland war intensified. On the other hand, she also had considerable reservations about how Bacon justified his campaign. She noticed especially Bacon’s use of the concept of necessity, or what Hobbes had also called “emergent occasions.” “[W]ithout any scruple,” she wrote, Bacon accepted “a commission from the peoples affections, signed by the emergences of affaires and the Countreys danger.” Her note of Bacon’s heedlessness of scruples spoke volumes. Hobbes’s stark materialism often elicited just such a concern that morality was being thrown out one window while the dubious argument of self-preservation entered through the other.46

In Bacon’s camp, his Hobbism encouraged, at least among those persons who perceived its implications, a more mixed reaction. In a meeting at Richard Lawrence’s house, Bacon’s fellow leader the Scotsman William Drummond was reportedly told, “Your sword is your Commission & mine too,” a comment that was evidently striking enough to capture the attention of the now unidentifiable recorder of that moment. Another Baconite, a man named Anthony Arnold, relished the idea of self-preservation for its connotation that monarchy was dispensable, asserting that “hee had noe kindnesse for Kings, and that they had noe Right but what they gott by Conquest and the Sword, and hee that could by Force of the Sword deprive them thereof had as good and just a Title to it as the King himselfe.” In contrast, John Goode, one of Bacon’s Henrico County supporters, was unnerved by such indifference to the bond of allegiance.47

Goode found talk of dissolving the bonds of civil life so alarming that he reported one of his own revealing conversations with Bacon to William Byrd, who directed him to write up a written record of the conversation for either Berkeley or one of the commissioners, probably as a bid for a pardon. According to Goode, when he remarked uneasily to Bacon that he seemed to desire a “total defection from Majestie and our native Country,” Bacon coolly answered, “Have not many princes lost their dominions doe?” Whereas Arnold welcomed the idea that a people could cast off its historical attachment to rulers and mother countries at will, Goode found the same thought horrifying. He regarded Virginians as too weak and poor to “subsist without their prince,” and he viewed the “benefitts[,] comforts & advantages” that colonists received from “Parents, Friends & Correspondents in England” as too valuable to relinquish cavalierly. Warning Bacon that colonists would “leave you” as readily as they had “run after you,” Goode registered his own growing disillusionment with Bacon’s ideas.48

Increasingly, colonists did abandon Bacon, especially as the demands he made on their loyalty placed greater stress on their traditional understanding of the bonds that comprised their polity. Berkeley had repeatedly urged planters to see the strangeness and destabilizing implications of Bacon’s ideas. In particular, he had railed against Bacon’s “Expressions of Atheisme, tending to take away al religion and lawes,” which was a shorthand way of referring to Bacon’s Hobbism without going into detail about what that philosophy actually entailed. However, planters needed to decide for themselves that Bacon’s doctrines were worrisome, and they drew that conclusion overwhelmingly in that most fraught of settings in early-modern political culture: the swearing of oaths.49

Oaths forced subscribers to declare the terms of their fealty before God, and Bacon’s oaths became progressively more contentious as his movement entered into murkier and murkier moral terrain. The first frontiersmen to join him did so in a brandy- and rum-filled swearing ceremony in which they agreed to “stick fast together” in symbolic acknowledgement of their shared brotherhood. On July 15, he met with a larger army of volunteers at the falls of the James River. By now the rebellion was directed as much at Berkeley’s government as the ongoing Indian war, though Bacon still insisted that he intended only to bring the colony’s grievances to the attention of the king. Accordingly, he demanded two subscriptions at this time: the familiar Oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy to Charles II and an additional oath of fidelity to Bacon’s own leadership. The real turning point occurred on August 3 at another engagement convention, a gathering at Middle Plantation to which “prime Gent[le]men” were invited to attend. The uprising had reached even more dizzying heights because of word that the king had sent troops to suppress the rebels. At this juncture, Bacon introduced startling new terms for his supporters to swear to, and the “long debate pro and con” that followed made clear that, for many of his followers, the demands he now placed on them made his cause untenable.50

This so-called Bacon’s Oath, which would live on in infamy long after the rebellion came to an end, required conduct that for many of his party was unthinkable. It demanded that they remain loyal to the cause even against the king’s forces until Bacon had an opportunity to communicate the people’s grievances clearly to royal officials. Effectively mandating that his followers be prepared to turn their muskets on red coats, this stipulation stunned the planters, who marveled at the “subtill pretences” and “sophisticall dixterity” that Bacon used to defend it. John Cotton, in his description of the debate, noted that Bacon made particular use of the Hobbesian principle of an imperiled people’s right to take extreme measures, or, as Cotton sardonically put it, “the pressing, and not to be despenced with [doctrine of] necessity.” More shocking was Bacon’s insistence that the people could enter into such a controversial engagement in no fear for their consciences. Cotton noted Bacon’s insistence on the “harmlesness of the Oath, as he would have it be,” making clear that planters found such reassurance more troubling than assuaging. To a growing number of colonists, Bacon’s strange rationalizations suggested that he might dispense with the colony’s bonds to God and king altogether.51

After the Middle Plantation meeting’s shocking demonstration of how far Bacon was willing to risk the commonwealth’s ties for his cause, his supporters dwindled to an estimated 150 persons, a marked decrease from the 400 or 500 who had marched with him to the statehouse a little over a month earlier (and a tiny fraction of the colony’s roughly 40,000 inhabitants). The rebellion was not over, but by the time Bacon died on October 26, his campaign had already lost much of its legitimacy. Although a combination of typhus and dysentery was the probable cause of his death, providential explanations came more readily to Virginians who regarded his demise as the final proof that his leadership was evil. Reports that Bacon’s blood had welled over with an “incredible number” of lice struck Berkeley as a sure sign that “God has brought this most Atheistical man to his deserved end.” Even Thomas Mathew breathed a sigh of relief at Bacon’s deliverance, remarking, “[T]he whole Land must have become an Aceldama if Gods exceeding Mercy had not timely removed him.” In the New Testament, the field of Aceldama was both Judas’s ill-gotten reward for his betrayal of Jesus and the site where God exacted his dire punishment for that dastardly deed by gruesomely splitting Judas asunder. In suggesting that Virginia had almost fallen into the same category of wickedness as Jesus’s betrayer, Mathew could not have more profoundly condemned Bacon’s uprising as a singularly dark chapter in the colony’s history.52

Planters had brought an end to Bacon’s Rebellion by embracing the familiar Christian humanistic respect for commonwealth bonds that had sustained the colony from the outset. The uprising in its last sputtering months fell under the leadership of one Joseph Ingram, a “milksop,” as John Cotton dismissively referred to him. Ingram’s very obscurity indicated how discredited the Baconites’ campaign had become. Berkeley, who had never stopped seeing the Hobbists at Charles II’s court as prime instigators of the colony’s current turmoil, thought Giles Bland would have been the Baconites’ likeliest new head if he had not been imprisoned early in the conflict. Berkeley’s suspicion in this regard was probably not entirely fanciful, for James, Duke of York, himself was alleged to have asserted that “had he been in Va. he should have taken Bacon’s oath.” Such a stunning disclosure, if it were in fact true, suggests that the links between English Hobbism and Bacon’s campaign had grown intimate indeed.53

Other observers noted the busyness of two of Bacon’s advisers, Richard Lawrence and William Drummond, and speculated that these long-time residents of the colony, rather than the newcomer Bacon, had been the real masterminds behind the uprising all along. Like Bacon, Lawrence was often described as unusually learned and as tending toward atheism. Such characterizations implied an interest in the new philosophical materialism as well as a fervent anti-establishmentarianism. The latter charge was seemingly confirmed in the most flagrant way when in September he and Drummond allegedly lit the first torches that burned Jamestown to the ground. Lawrence’s publicly flaunted intimacies with one of his female slaves also scandalized establishmentarian Christians. As John Cotton put it, Jamestown’s “Vottrisses,” or religious devotees, were affronted by Lawrence’s interracial indiscretions, “as though Venus was cheifely to be worshiped in the Image of a Negro, or that B[ea]uty consisted all together in the Antiphety [that is, antipathy] of Complections.” The implication was that Lawrence’s dangerous philosophical fascination with nature, rather than the heavens, was yielding other strange and menacing fruit.54

Drummond was a Scot and probably also a Presbyterian. Berkeley had once obtained a post for him as governor of remote Albemarle Sound, perhaps in the same spirit with which he pushed all troublesome sectarians to the frontier, and Drummond had long made little secret of his resentment toward the governor’s regime, undoubtedly in part because of its staunch Anglicanism. Drummond’s wife Sarah Drummond was just as fervent as her husband and especially outspoken in the intense anti-Catholicism that propelled both of them in their zeal in overturning Virginia’s established order. During the rebellion, she had been a key agitator among the planters, “telling them they need not fear the king, nor any force out of England, no more than a broken straw.” Among her calls to arms was a promise that the Protestant pretender James Scott, first Duke of Monmouth was even then pitted against the Catholic James, Duke of York. To sectarians like the Drummonds, Bacon’s uprising would ideally have been merely the first step in anti-Popish incursions on both sides of the English Atlantic. By this reasoning, the attack on colonial establishmentarians like Berkeley would have provided the spark to set ablaze future godly forays, such as Monmouth’s Rebellion of 1685, that were similarly bent against creeping Catholicism.55

Yet, Bacon’s Rebellion did little to elevate either the Hobbists or the sectarians. Instead, the colony’s planters had stepped back from the brink where Bacon’s Platonic Hobbism had led them and chose instead to follow the more familiar path embodied by their established institutions and laws.

Remembering Bacon’s Rebellion

The colonists’ ultimate rejection of Bacon’s campaign resulted in recollections of the uprising that emphasized its illicit and frightening character. While some narratives arose that tried to uphold the legitimacy of the rebellion, these accounts were notable for their fervent Protestantism or staunch Hobbism. Over the 17th and 18th centuries, Virginians largely relegated Bacon’s Rebellion to the category of a confusing and unsavory episode in the colony’s history that was explicable mainly as the outcome of Bacon’s persuasive powers in leading planters temporarily away from their accustomed loyalty. The one small crack of disagreement in this narrative, running like a sliver that threatened to grow wider under the right circumstances, was a subtle difference in perspective between the frontier counties and the interior ones. Whereas the latter were resolute in their denunciation of Bacon’s cause, the former were more ambivalent in their judgment about his innocence or guilt. Such a persistent fault line between the commonwealth’s center and its borders suggested that the tensions that had originally given rise to the rebellion might also extend in unpredictable ways into the future.

Two writings that came out strongly in favor of Bacon’s campaign made little secret of their sectarian and Hobbist leanings. The first piece was an anonymous tract entitled “Complaint from Heaven with a Huy and crye and a petition out of Virginia and Maryland.” Appearing in late 1676, the work was addressed to King Charles II and the English Parliament and spoke unabashedly for “us Protestants,” that is, dissenters in Virginia and Maryland who had long chafed under Berkeley’s and the lords Baltimore’s governments. Reminiscent of Puritan appeals from the colonies to the English Commonwealth during the civil war years, the “Complaint” was intensely anti-Popish and unapologetic in urging metropolitan officials to incorporate the colonies more fully into the English state in order to avoid God’s anger. Among its Hobbesian remedies for the colonies’ provincial autonomy was a proposal that the king strip Maryland’s rulers of their charter, a recommendation that would have horrified establishmentarians like Berkeley but that had greater appeal for Puritans and Quakers who desired religious protection.56

The other writing, which appeared a little over a decade later, did not share the Puritanism of the “Complaint” but did embrace a similar Hobbism. This was Aphra Behn’s play The Widow Ranter: or The History of Bacon in Virginia (1689). Written from Behn’s Tory Hobbist perspective, the play idealized Bacon as a natural sovereign and protector whose heedlessness of the existing order in tending to the people’s safety was a virtue rather than a vice. Looking down on Virginia’s “Law Establish’d,” the play suggested that such a provincial settled order was far less noble than an unadorned commitment to the people’s protection. The Widow Ranter herself stands in for the hypocrisy that allows the colony’s incompetent magistrates, lecherous clergymen, and neighborhood gamesters to imagine they are more virtuous than the likes of Bacon. Boozing, tobacco smoking, and sexually promiscuous, the widow embodies the flagrant worldliness that royalists at mid-century had often identified as the true nature of the radical Protestants known as the Ranters, and that Tories now saw as putting the lie to the Whigs’ own sanctimoniousness.57

In contrast, the only faults the Widow Ranter attributes to Bacon concern his killing of Cavarnio, the Indian king, and his accidental inflicting of the mortal wound that kills Semernia, the Indian queen and Bacon’s true love. Unlike the other murders Bacon perpetrates against Indians, these regicides are identified as “Sacrilegious.” For Behn, the killing of these royal figures, despite their native status, served to underscore her Tory faith that monarchy was the one divine anchor in a sinful world of competing claims to legitimacy. Behn thus recast Bacon’s Rebellion to suggest Hobbesian state sovereignty was only truly valid in connection with a Tory commitment to divine right kingship, an argument with particular relevance in the late 1680s when James II’s rule was forcefully contested in part on the Whiggish Hobbist grounds that resisting royal power could be justified on the basis of state necessity.58

Most portraits of the rebellion, unlike the “Complaint” and Widow Ranter, neither championed Bacon’s cause nor reinforced his Hobbism but instead went out of their way to distance the colony’s polity from the cataclysm that had just occurred. Bacon was almost universally branded in these accounts as a rebel, the moral inverse of the hero that Behn would depict. In the narrative the royal commissioners composed, he was an “Imposture,” a fraud who malevolently pretended to be something that he was not. His newness to the colony became a shorthand for his concealed wickedness, such as when Lower Norfolk County residents requested that no “meer strangers” be allowed positions of great trust in the colony in light of how readily “those two great rebells Nathaniell Bacon and Giles Bland . . . bred great discords among the people.” Repeatedly commentators referred to Bacon’s “melancolly,” which implied an internal moral confusion arising from religious or philosophical excesses.59

A regular assertion in the counties’ grievances was that planters had followed Bacon in ignorance of his illegitimacy. He had “seduced” the people into swearing to his “unlawfull oath,” and in the sheer confusion of the moment the colonists had seized upon all the evidence available to them that suggested Bacon’s actions were licit. Of particular importance in this regard were occasions in which a recognized authority seemed to sanction Bacon’s conduct. Thus, Berkeley’s pardoning of Bacon, the Assembly’s naming him general, and local magistrates’ or militia leaders’ apparent acquiescence to his demands were all cited as instances when planters believed they were obeying rather than defying the colony’s constituted government. Acknowledging the rightful authority of Berkeley and his officers in this way was more than simply a prudential move intended to excuse loyalty to Bacon. It also weighed in on the casuistic debate over where lawfulness in the colony lay, and planters at this time came down overwhelmingly on the side of Berkeley’s established order.60

The one source of strain in this establishmentarian consensus was the frontier counties, and here a tension simmered that threatened to persist long after the uprising came to an end. Among the most unrepentant of the counties that presented their grievances to the commissioners was Bacon’s own Henrico County. Its residents clung, for instance, to the hope that “an imediat warr with all Indians in Generall” might still occur and be carried out in the “voluntary” manner that Bacon had prescribed. Other frontier counties were similarly conspicuous in toeing an ambiguous line in regards to their repudiation of Bacon’s politics. Undoubtedly the Berkeleyites’ own excesses in the later stages of the rebellion in plundering the Baconites’ estates and executing a number of the rebels in a peremptory fashion contributed to this continuing frontier belligerence. Likewise, the commissioners’ fractious relations with Berkeley after their arrival and his subsequent recall to England in the spring 1677 probably emboldened frontiersmen to see their cause as not entirely lost. But perhaps most importantly Bacon’s Hobbesian rationales for just governance lingered in the frontier communities far more than was the case in the interior. Hobbism provided a point of commonality between the frontiersmen and commissioners that was then available to one or the other to exploit.61

The commissioners could scarcely have helped but hear the Hobbist resonances in the frontier counties’ grievances. Two of the commissioners, Colonel Herbert Jeffreys and Sir John Berry, were attached to the household of James, Duke of York, and Berkeley picked up immediately on their Hobbesian politics and lashed out at them as merely the latest Hobbists to seek “to rule this Countrey.” Even Francis Moryson, the third of the commissioners and Berkeley’s old friend, had entered the Hobbist fold through his attachment to the Coventry circle and its own interest in realizing state unity through contractual, rather than absolutist, means. Thus, these men would have been highly alert to the snatches of Hobbesian argument that the frontiersmen inserted into their lists of grievances. The doctrine of necessity was one such familiar idea. Rappahannock County residents expressed a concern about how they were to deal with future “Emergent necessities,” and Isle of Wight inhabitants excused their taking up of arms on the grounds that they were “necessitated thereunto” by various circumstances, including the governor’s own short-term flight across the Chesapeake Bay to Accomack County, which left them “without a head under Bacons Power and Command.” In another intriguing echo of Bacon’s discourse, planters in Northampton County requested that a “Court of brothers” be permitted to sit alongside the county magistrates to ensure that no malfeasances occurred when the county levy was being assessed. A similar call to enforce the colonial government’s greater accountability to the people came from Henrico County, which asked that “at least six of the Comonaltie” be allowed to join Henrico’s commissioners in drawing up the levies. These appeals for greater oversight over colonial governance played into the metropolitan Hobbist narrative that local governments at a distance from the center naturally succumb to corruption and require an unusual degree of regulation.62

One of the farthest-reaching legacies of Bacon’s Rebellion was thus arguably the introduction of a meaningful point of congruence between colonial frontier interests and statist agendas arising from England. The uprising did not in itself bring about centralizing efforts in the empire, for such attempts to realize the dream of Hobbesian state unity had been underway since the years of Puritan ascendancy during the civil war and Commonwealth eras. What emerged from Bacon’s campaign was rather a growing recognition in metropolitan circles and frontier communities alike that their interests coalesced, at least to the extent that the sovereign state’s promise of protection converged with the frontier families’ bitter sense that their safety too often received secondary consideration in colonial capitals like Jamestown. “A Governour of Virginia has to steer between Scylla and Charybdis, either an Indian or a civil war,” wrote Alexander Spotswood, one of the centralizers who governed the colony from 1710 to 1722, “for the famous Insurrection in this colony called Bacon’s Rebellion, was occasioned purely by the Governour and Council refusing to let the People go out against the Indians who at that time annoyed the Frontiers.” Notably absent in Spotswood’s formulation was any hint that the frontier planters themselves bore any responsibility for borderland violence, a politic silence that suggests English statesmen’s conviction by this time that the colonial frontier was a key entry point for realizing state unity.63

Indeed, one theme in the frontier counties’ 1677 grievances was an occasional appeal to move the capital itself to a more central location, closer to the northern and western borders. In light of such an appeal, Lieutenant Governor Francis Nicholson’s moving of the colony’s capital to Williamsburg in 1699 was, assuredly, more than simply a response to Jamestown’s continuing decline. Instead, the shifting of the capital to the so-called Middle Plantation worked to reduce the distance, moral as well as political, that frontier planters had felt from Virginia’s government, thereby communicating to these subjects that the English state was committed to their interests. Nicholson was part of the new generation of post-Restoration governors who worked assiduously toward state centralization, and in seeking to burnish his authority in the colony he appealed not only to frontier planters but also to local clergymen and parishes. Such a strategy suggested that, while much had changed in colonial political culture since the 1670s, much had also remained the same. Even alongside the growing secularization of imperial politics in the decades after Bacon’s Rebellion, questions of rightful power would remain intimately bound up in broader considerations of religious propriety.64

Discussion of the Literature

Historical interpretations of Bacon’s Rebellion have evolved considerably over time, sometimes turning on dramatic pivots in perspective that have given the event an altogether new aspect and other times featuring subtler shifts in focus that have shed new light on once neglected topics.

Perhaps the single greatest change in outlook occurred in the 19th century when democratic partisans newly trained in the Romantic Era ideal of national history saw in the uprising, not a grim tale of broken allegiances, but rather an early stirring of American democratic sensibilities. As recently as 1769, a history of the rebellion in the Virginia Gazette had taken the familiar 18th-century line that the Baconites were “dastardly fellows,” a characterization that mirrored the widespread view before the American Revolution that the rebellion had lacked legitimacy. Both Robert Beverley Jr. in The History and Present State of Virginia (1705) and Ebenezer Cooke in “History of Colonel Nathaniel Bacon’s Rebellion in Virginia” (1731) had portrayed Berkeley as a just governor and Bacon as a dangerous rabble-rouser. However, in the hands of George Bancroft, a Jacksonian Democrat whose graduate studies in Germany had won him over to the Romantic ideal of the nation as the embodiment of the morally autonomous individuals who inhabit it, the uprising was simply the natural outgrowth of a people “nurtured in the freedom of the wilderness.”65

Another sharp disagreement about the rebellion occurred in the mid-20th century in the rival interpretations of Thomas Jefferson Wertenbaker and Wilcomb E. Washburn. In his Virginia Under the Stuarts, 1607–1688 (1914) and subsequent Torchbearer of the Revolution: The Story of Bacon’s Rebellion and Its Leader (1940), Wertenbaker had built on Bancroft’s national approach by tying Virginia’s politics to the struggles in England over Stuart absolutism. By Wertenbaker’s account, Bacon’s Rebellion arose because Sir William Berkeley had proven himself an enemy of representative government while England’s royal government had already given in to the despotic tendencies that would later stimulate the American Revolution. Where Wertenbaker saw a democratic reform-minded impulse behind Nathaniel Bacon’s uprising, Washburn in The Governor and the Rebel: A History of Bacon’s Rebellion in Virginia (1957) perceived little more than an aggressive and reckless intolerance for Berkeley’s responsible Indian policy. In denouncing Wertenbaker’s interpretation as an anachronistic projection of patriotic principles into a period in which even good leaders like Berkeley struggled against frontier demagoguery and racism, Washburn contributed to a broader reorientation of the terms by which early colonial politics would be interpreted for the remainder of the 20th century. Rather than political ideas, the focus would be on behaviors.

Embracing Washburn’s behaviorist approach while tempering his soaring estimation of Berkeley, a number of historians expanded their inquiries in new directions that reflected a growing interest in social-structural interpretive frameworks. Bernard Bailyn’s “Politics and Social Structure in Colonial Virginia” (1959) posited that the rebellion was a result of the profound instabilities that arose when European society proved difficult to relocate to an American setting. The traditional pairing of wealth and political leadership had come undone in Virginia’s early decades, Bailyn argued, and Bacon’s Rebellion was representative of the strange tensions—even anarchical conditions—that made constituting authority difficult as successive waves of elites competed for the status and perquisites that they considered their due. Focusing on Virginia’s emerging governing institutions, Warren M. Billings in “The Causes of Bacon’s Rebellion: Some Suggestions” (1970) found evidence of a county and provincial system that was more adaptive than Bailyn’s portrait of closed elites allowed. Virginia’s government absorbed new leaders readily while nevertheless still giving rise to factionalism and abuses of power especially at the level of the county courts. For Billings, mounting economic pressures on poor planters and Berkeley’s advancing age and resulting sluggishness in responding to the frontier crisis were the most compelling explanations for the rebellion.

Interpretations of Bacon’s Rebellion shifted again as the civil rights movement nurtured new interest in colonial-era slavery while also encouraging scholars to experiment with “history from below” as a means of moving beyond narratives that attributed an outsized historical influence to elites. Edmund S. Morgan’s American Slavery, American Freedom (1975) treated the uprising as a culmination of the tensions between wealthy grandees and poorer planters, a societal division that he concluded was endemic to Virginia’s early tobacco culture. African and African American slavery figured in his account mainly as an unexploited political strategy: Bacon recognized that planters’ racism against Indians could overcome Virginia’s class divisions, but only later would the colony’s gentry utilize this political lesson, reinforcing black slavery in order to make possible a republican politics in which rank-and-file white colonists gave due deference to white leaders. Other social histories like James Horn’s Adapting to a New World (1994) countered that 17th-century Virginia, when viewed in relation to contemporaneous English society rather than New England or 18th-century British America, was not as fractious nor as fractured as either Bailyn or Morgan had suggested and that Bacon’s Rebellion was noteworthy primarily for mirroring certain familiar patterns in English popular protests and constitutional struggles over authority.

Further interpretive changes followed other emerging scholarly interests, including in the fields of gender and imperial and continental history. Works like Kathleen M. Brown’s Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs (1996) and Terri L. Snyder’s Brabbling Women: Disorderly Speech and the Law in Early Virginia (2003) directed new attention to the gendered dimensions of the conflict, from women’s participation as rebels and loyalists to the swirl of anxieties around male honor and disruptive female speech. Stephen Saunders Webb’s 1676: The End of American Independence (1984) offered an imperial approach that stressed a tripartite conflict among the jealously autonomous Berkeley regime, the exuberant settler popularism of the Baconites, and the garrison-style centralizing efforts of Restoration-era imperialists. In Webb’s work and Philip D. Morgan’s Slave Counterpoint: Black Culture in the Eighteenth-Century Chesapeake and Lowcountry (1998), the involvement of blacks alongside white servants as the final Baconite holdouts against colonial and imperial authority receives emphasis. Recognizing that the rebellion was part of the histories of native peoples as well as of English settlers, scholars have begun to focus on the conflict’s Indian participants in studies like Michael Oberg’s Dominion and Civility: English Imperialism and Native America, 1585–1685 (2004) and James D. Rice’s Tales from a Revolution: Bacon’s Rebellion and the Transformation of Early America (2012).

In recent studies, the strict behaviorism of 20th-century scholarship is giving way to a renewed interest in the ideas or imaginative contexts that helped to give the rebellion meaning to contemporaries, albeit with different foci than those that once informed Wertenbaker’s scholarship. Protestant anxieties and providentialist reasoning figure in Carla Gardina Pestana’s treatment of the rebellion in Protestant Empire: Religion and the Making of the British American World (2009) and Rice’s Tales from a Revolution. Billings has fleshed out Berkeley’s constitutional royalism in Sir William Berkeley and the Forging of Colonial Virginia (2004). The worries of rank-and-file county residents and their attachment to a language of “commonalty” are themes in Peter Thompson’s “The Thief, a Householder, and the Commons: Language of Class in Seventeenth Century Virginia” (2006) as well as Brent Tarter’s “Bacon’s Rebellion, the Grievances of the People, and the Political Culture of Seventeenth-Century Virginia” (2011). An area ripe for exploration, given the importance of taxes to the conflict and colonists’ repeated concerns about governmental accountability, is the political-economic discourses that were available at the moment. Studies of the politics of the royal pardon would also be valuable.

Primary Sources

Regrettably, none of the primary sources describing Bacon’s Rebellion have been prepared in digital format, although some of the published sources listed below have a secondary presence on the web and thus can be accessed online.

Some of the known documents that relate to Bacon’s Rebellion are extant manuscript materials that remain unpublished. Many of the latter are accessible through the Virginia Colonial Records Project (VCRP), a repository of English public records and private papers concerning the Virginia colony that is now stored in microfilm format at a number of venues, including the Virginia Historical Society; John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Library, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation; and Library of Virginia. Some, but by no means all, of the VCRP content includes Public Record Office materials, which can be viewed as well in other locations, such as the manuscript room of the Library of Congress and in digital format at subscribing institutions through State Papers Online, 1509–1714: The Complete Collection.66 Some archival documents that relate to the rebellion can also be found at the Alderman Library, University of Virginia. County court records are available at the Library of Virginia.

Materials for Bacon’s Rebellion that appear in modern published editions include several collections of personal and public papers. The correspondence of Governor Sir William Berkeley and Nathaniel Bacon Jr. as well as many other valuable texts relating to Berkeley’s administration are in Warren M. Billings, ed., with Maria Kimberly, The Papers of Sir William Berkeley, 1605–1677.67 The royal commissioners’ report and a number of other records that relate to the commissioners’ investigation, including county grievances, are in Michael Leroy Oberg, ed., Samuel Wiseman’s Book of Record.68 For a collection of texts that addresses issues in 17th-century Virginia generally, some of which pertain to Bacon’s Rebellion, see Warren M. Billings, The Old Dominion in the Seventeenth Century.69 Legislative journals and colonial law collections contain additional relevant materials.70

A number of contemporary or near-contemporary narratives of the rebellion exist in published sources.71 Findings from relevant archaeological research appear in L. Daniel Mouer, “In the Realm of ‘The Rebel’.”72

Further Reading

Billings, Warren. “The Causes of Bacon’s Rebellion: Some Suggestions.” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 78, no. 4 (October 1970): 409–435.Find this resource:

    Billings, Warren. Sir William Berkeley and the Forging of Colonial Virginia. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2004.Find this resource:

      Brown, Kathleen. Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs: Gender, Race, and Power in Colonial Virginia. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.Find this resource:

        Morgan, Edmund S. American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia. New York: Norton, 1975.Find this resource:

          Oberg, Michael. Dominion and Civility: English Imperialism and Native America, 1585–1685. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004.Find this resource:

            Rice, James D. Tales from a Revolution: Bacon’s Rebellion and the Transformation of Early America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.Find this resource:

              Tarter, Brent. “Bacon’s Rebellion, the Grievances of the People, and the Political Culture of Seventeenth-Century Virginia.” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 119 (2011): 4–41.Find this resource:

                Thompson, Peter. “The Thief, a Householder, and the Commons: Language of Class in Seventeenth Century Virginia.” William and Mary Quarterly 63, no. 2 (April 2006): 253–280.Find this resource:

                  Washburn, Wilcomb E. The Governor and the Rebel: A History of Bacon’s Rebellion in Virginia. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1957.Find this resource:

                    Webb, Stephen Saunders. 1676: The End of American Independence. New York: Knopf, 1984.Find this resource:

                      Wertenbaker, Thomas Jefferson. Torchbearer of the Revolution: The Story of Bacon’s Rebellion and Its Leader. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1940.Find this resource:


                        (1.) T[homas] M[athew], “The Beginning, Progress, and Conclusion of Bacon’s Rebellion in Virginia in the Years 1675 and 1676,” in Narratives of the Insurrections, 1675–1690, ed. Charles M. Andrews (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1915), 16. The providential debates over the 1644 attack received attention in Mercurius Civicus (London), 104 (May 15–22, 1645), 929–931.

                        (2.) William Berkeley to [Sir Joseph Williamson?], April 1, 1676, in Warren M. Billings, ed., with Maria Kimberly, The Papers of Sir William Berkeley, 1605–1677 (Richmond: Library of Virginia, 2007), 509. On the Christian humanist concept of commonwealth in relation to Virginian colonization, see Alexander B. Haskell, For God, King, and People: Forging Commonwealth Bonds in Renaissance Virginia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017), 1, 5–7, 9–10, 16, 33, 37–38, 41, 58, 60, 64, 69–73, 77–81, 87, 93. On the 1634 palisade, see Philip Levy, “A New Look at an Old Wall: Indians, Englishmen, Landscape, and the 1634 Palisade at Middle Plantation,” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 112, no. 3 (2004): 226–265; see also “Middle Plantation’s Changing Landscape: Persistence, Continuity, and the Building of Community,” in Early Modern Virginia: Reconsidering the Old Dominion, eds. Douglas Bradburn and John C. Coombs (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2011), 185–206.

                        (3.) John Catlett, Thomas Goodrich, John Weir, and Humphrey Booth to William Berkeley, [ca. June 22, 1666], in Billings, Papers of Sir William Berkeley, 284.

                        (4.) M[athew], “Beginning, Progress, and Conclusion of Bacon’s Rebellion,” in Andrews, Narratives of the Insurrections, 16.

                        (5.) “A Narrative of the Rise, Progresse, and Cessation of the Late Rebellion in Virginia by His Majesties Commissioners,” in Samuel Wiseman’s “Book of Record:” The Official Account of Bacon’s Rebellion in Virginia, 1676–1677, ed. Michael Leroy Oberg (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2009), 142–143.

                        (6.) William Berkeley to Robert Smith, June 22, 1666, 284, in Billings, Papers of Sir William Berkeley, Orders for the Defense of the Northern Frontier, August 31, 1675, 485.

                        (7.) M[athew], “Beginning, Progress, and Conclusion of Bacon’s Rebellion,” in Andrews, Narratives of the Insurrections, 16, 18.

                        (8.) “The History of Bacon’s and Ingram’s Rebellion, 1676,” in Andrews, Narratives of the Insurrections, 49; M[athew], “Beginning, Progress, and Conclusion of Bacon’s Rebellion,” 18.

                        (9.) Orders for the Defense of the Northern Frontier, August 31, 1675, in Billings, Papers of Sir William Berkeley, 486.

                        (10.) M[athew], “Beginning, Progress, and Conclusion of Bacon’s Rebellion,” in Andrews,.

                        (11.) On Berkeley’s establishmentarianism, see Haskell, For God, King, and People, 276, 278, 280–283, 289–307, 316–325, 341–345. On Berkeley’s involvement in the Great Tew circle, see Warren M. Billings, Sir William Berkeley and the Forging of Colonial Virginia (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2004), 20, 137, 250.

                        (12.) The classic study of early modern skepticism remains Richard H. Popkin, The History of Scepticism from Savonarola to Bayle, rev. and expanded ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003); see also J. H. Burns, ed., with Mark Goldie, The Cambridge History of Political Thought, 1450–1700 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 494–498, 606–610. The relationship of Berkeley’s establishmentarianism and Pyrrhonism is examined in Haskell, For God, King, and People, 276–279, 282, 306, 311.

                        (13.) William Berkeley to Charles II and the Privy Council, July 1673, in Billings, Papers of Sir William Berkeley, 423.

                        (14.) William Berkeley to Thomas Ludwell, February 16, 1676, in Billings, Papers of Sir William Berkeley, 498, William Berkeley to Henry Coventry, April 1, 1676, 506, Berkeley to [Williamson?], April 1, 1676, 509.

                        (15.) “A Voyage to Virginia. By Colonel Norwood,” in Tracts and Other Papers, Relating Principally to the Origin, Settlement, and Progress of the Colonies in North America, From the Discovery of the Country to the Year 1776, ed. Peter Force (Washington, DC: Peter Force, 1844), 31. The “major Stephens” to whom Henry Norwood referred has been variously identified as Major Philip Stephens and Major William Stevens, in neither case with much substantiation; see Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography, Under the Editorial Direction of Lyon Gardiner Tyler (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1915), 330; and Jennings Cropper Wise, Ye Kingdome of Accawmacke, or, The Eastern Shore of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century (Richmond, VA: The Bell Book and Stationery Co., 1911), 111n.

                        (16.) M[athew], “Beginning, Progress, and Conclusion of Bacon’s Rebellion,” in Andrews, Narratives of the Insurrections, 26.

                        (17.) Assembly Proceedings, June 1–2, 1676, in Proceedings and Acts of the General Assembly, April 1666-June 1676, ed. William Hand Browne (Baltimore, MD: Maryland Historical Society, 1884), 500, 501. This volume can be accessed as Vol. II in Maryland Archives Online.

                        (18.) William Sherwood, “Virginia’s Deploured Condition,” in Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Fourth Series, Vol. 9 (1871), 164.

                        (19.) On Hobbes’s theories as they intersected with Virginian colonization, see Haskell, For God, King, and People, 16, 19, 22, 31–32, 69, 73–77, 200, 271, 274–276, 282–287, 291, 293, 295, 306–316, 330–333, 339–340, 344, 351–352, 368.

                        (20.) Jon Parkin, Taming the Leviathan: The Reception of the Political and Religious Ideas of Thomas Hobbes in England, 1640–1700 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 104–105, 228, 241, 247, 312–322, 335–336, 366, 376.

                        (21.) Virginia’s resistance to Fort Point Comfort can be traced through a number of documents, see Order from the House of Burgesses, November 8, 1666, in Billings, Papers of Sir William Berkeley, 301, William Berkeley and the Council of State to Charles II and the Privy Council, [ca. June 24, 1667, 320, Report from the House of Burgesses, [September 26, 1667], 324, Order to sound the James River channel at Old Point Comfort, August 1, 1673, 427–428.

                        (22.) The argument that the Arlington-Colepeper grant was politically linked to the Dover Treaty fiasco appears in Haskell, For God, King, and People, 335–336. Thomas Colepeper, second Baron Colepeper of Thoresway was included in the grant because of a previous royal gift to his father; King Charles II had awarded John Colepeper and six other proprietors the rents to Virginia’s Northern Neck for coauthoring the Answer to the XIX Propositions that defended King Charles I against his parliamentary critics at the outset of the English civil war.

                        (23.) H. R. McIlwaine, ed., Minutes of the Council and General Court of Colonial Virginia, 2d ed. (Richmond, VA: Colonial Press/Everett Waddey Co., 1979), 399; [Marchamont Nedham], A Pacquet of Advices and Animadversions, Sent from London to the Men of Shaftsbury . . . Occasioned by a Seditious Phamphlet, Intituled, A Letter from a Person of Quality to His Friend in the Country (London, 1676), 17. On Giles Bland, see Warren M. Billings and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography, “Giles Bland (bap. 1647–1677),” Encyclopedia Virginia.

                        (24.) William Berkeley to Charles II, May 4, 1652, in Billings, Papers of Sir William Berkeley, 106. On Berkeley’s reform program, see Sister Joan de Lourdes Leonard, “Operation Checkmate: The Birth and Death of a Virginia Blueprint for Progress, 1660–1676,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d Ser., XXIV (1967): 44–74.

                        (25.) Annabel Patterson, The Long Parliament of Charles II (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008), 38–62; Richard Hooker, The Folger Library Edition of the Works of Richard Hooker: Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, eds. George Edelen and W. Speed Hill, 6 vols. (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1977–1993), I, 13; Election Writ, May 10, 1676, in Billings, Papers of Sir William Berkeley, 520. For complaints about the expense of Berkeley’s long assembly, see “The Counties’ Grievances,” in Oberg, Samuel Wiseman’s “Book of Record,” 209, 218, 220, 225, 233, 240, 243, 248.

                        (26.) Brent Tarter and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography, “Nathaniel Bacon (1647–1676), in Encyclopedia Virginia; William Berkeley to Nathaniel Bacon, Sept. 14, 1675, in Billings, Papers of Sir William Berkeley, 486, William Berkeley to Nathaniel Bacon, Sept. 21, 1675, 493.

                        (27.) William Berkeley to Nathaniel Bacon, Sept. 14, 1675, in Billings, Papers of Sir William Berkeley, 487.

                        (28.) Nathaniel Bacon to William Berkeley, May 28, 1676, in Billings, Papers of Sir William Berkeley, 525.

                        (29.) Nath[aniel] Bacon, An Historicall Discourse of the Uniformity of the Government of England (London, 1647), 49. Bacon’s arguments and especially their Hobbism are discussed more fully in Haskell, For God, King, and People, 340–341.

                        (30.) Petition from Henrico County planters, [ca. January 1676], in Billings, Papers of Sir William Berkeley, 498; “History of Bacon’s and Ingram’s Rebellion,” in Andrews, Narratives of the Insurrections, 52, M[athew], “Beginning, Progress, and Conclusion of Bacon’s Rebellion,” 31; and Alessandro Giraffi, An Exact Historie of The Late Revolutions in Naples; and of Their Monstrous Successes, Not to Be Parallel’d by Any Ancient or Modern History . . . Rendred to English By J. H. Esq. (London, 1650), 19.

                        (31.) Nathaniel Bacon to William Berkeley, in Billings, Papers of Sir William Berkeley, 530. For examples of contemporary invocations of Ezekiel 22:30, see William Gouge, Gods Three Arrowes: Plague, Famine, Sword, In Three Treatises . . . (London, 1631), 77; and S[amuel] W[illard], A Sermon Preached upon Ezek. 22.30,31. Occasioned by the Death of the Much Honoured John Leveret Esq; Governour of the Colony of the Mattachusets. N-E . . . (Boston, 1679).

                        (32.) Eze. 22:30, in The Holy Bible, Containing The Old and New Testaments: Lately Translated Out of the Originall Tongues, and with the Former Translations Diligently Compared and Revised, By His Majesties Speciall Command (London, 1646); “Nathaniel Bacon Esq’r His Manifesto Concerning the Present Troubles in Virginia,” in “Proclamations of Nathaniel Bacon,” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 1, no. 1 (July 1893), 56; “Mr. Bacon’s Acc[oun]t of Their Troubles in Virginia by ye Indians, June ye 18th, 1676,” in William and Mary Quarterly 9, no. 1 (July 1900): 7.

                        (33.) Eze. 22:12, 15, 27, in Holy Bible; Nathaniel Bacon to William Berkeley, Sept. 18, 1675, in Billings, Papers of Sir William Berkeley, 492.

                        (34.) Proclamation Suspending Nathaniel Bacon from Office, in Billings, Papers of Sir William Berkeley, 518–519.

                        (35.) Proclamation Suspending Nathaniel Bacon from Office, May 10, 1676, in Billings, Papers of Sir William Berkeley, 518; and “Narrative of the Rise, Progresse, and Cessation of the Late Rebellion,” in Oberg, Samuel Wiseman’s “Book of Record,” 154.

                        (36.) “History of Bacon’s and Ingram’s Rebellion,” in Andrews, Narratives of the Insurrections, 76; Nathaniel Bacon to William Berkeley, [ca. May 1676], in Billings, Papers of Sir William Berkeley, 529; and “Narrative of the Rise, Progresse, and Cessation of the Late Rebellion,” in Oberg, Samuel Wiseman’s “Book of Record,” 153.

                        (37.) William Berkeley to Henry Coventry, April 1, 1676, in Billings, Papers of Sir William Berkeley, 506, William Berkeley to Henry Coventry, June 3, 1676, 531.

                        (38.) James D. Rice, Tales from a Revolution: Bacon’s Rebellion and the Transformation of Early America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 45–48.

                        (39.) Warrant for the Arrest of Nathaniel Bacon, June 7, 1676, in Billings, Papers of Sir William Berkeley, 532; M[athew], “Beginning, Progress, and Conclusion of Bacon’s Rebellion,” 23, 27. The triumphal frontier vigilantism that brought about Bacon’s election to the June assembly also underlay Thomas Mathew’s entrance into that body; Colonel George Mason and Captain Giles Brent were the Stafford County leaders who, by Mathew’s account, pressured him into running for burgess, see M[athew], “Beginning, Progress, and Conclusion of Bacon’s Rebellion,” in Andrews, Narratives of the Insurrections, 22.

                        (40.) Nathaniel Bacon to William Berkeley, May 25, 1676, in Billings, Papers of Sir William Berkeley, 524. On women and moral discourse in the early modern English Atlantic, see Laura Gowing, Domestic Dangers: Women, Words, and Sex in Early Modern London (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999); Kathleen M. Brown, Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs: Gender, Race, and Power in Colonial Virginia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007); and Terri L. Snyder, Brabbling Women: Disorderly Speech and the Law in Early Virginia (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2013).

                        (41.) Nathaniel Bacon to William Berkeley, May 25, 1676, in Billings, Papers of Sir William Berkeley, 524; A Copy of Mrs. Bacon’s Letter, the Wife of Nathaniel Bacon, in Virginia, June the 29th, [16]76, sent to her Sister, William and Mary Quarterly 9, no. 1 (July 1900): 5.

                        (42.) William Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of all the Laws of Virginia from the First Session of the Legislature in the Year 1619, Vol. 2 (New York, 1823), 342; “An Account of Our Late Troubles in Virginia. Written in 1676, by Mrs. An. Cotton, of Q. Creeke,” in Peter Force, ed., Tracts and Other Papers, Relating Principally to the Origin, Settlement, and Progress of the Colonies in North America, From the Discovery of the Country to the Year 1776, vol. 1 (Washington, DC, 1836), 5.

                        (43.) H. R. McIlwaine, ed., Journals of the House of Burgesses of Virginia 1659/60–1693 (Richmond: Virginia State Library, 1914), 73; and M[athew], “Beginning, Progress, and Conclusion of Bacon’s Rebellion,” in Andrews, ed., Narratives of the Insurrections, 31, 33.

                        (44.) “Nathaniel Bacon Esq’r His Manifesto,” 57–58.

                        (45.) Abraham Wood to William Berkeley, May 24, 1676, in Billings, Papers of Sir William Berkeley, 522.

                        (46.) “Account of Our Late Troubles in Virginia,” in Force, Tracts and Other Papers, 4; Virginia Bernhard and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography, “Ann Cotton (fl. 1650s-1670s),” Encyclopedia Virginia. Ann Cotton wrote her account for a onetime Virginia resident identified as “C.H.,” who was probably Christopher Harris, then residing in England. The persons she identifies as his acquaintances, evidently with some familiarity with them herself, were all linked to Berkeley’s governing circle, albeit some of these persons switched to Bacon’s side for at least a time. Harris’s wife was a stepdaughter of the elder Nathaniel Bacon in the colony, and Harris also knew Colonel John Washington. Cotton observed that Harris knew all four of the councillors who swore Bacon’s engagement oath. These included Colonel Thomas Swan and Colonel Thomas Beale, both of whom Berkeley exempted from his pardon to the rebels; Colonel Thomas Ballard, whom Berkeley forgave; and James Bray, who lost his seat on the council when he opposed Berkeley’s successors. Cotton mentioned a number of other men, too, who took or helped to administer the oath, all of whom she identified as persons whom Harris knew, including “coll. Jordan” [probably George Jordan, Surry County Burgess in Berkeley’s long assembly] “coll. Smith,” “coll. Scarsbrook” [probably John Scarsbrooke, Justice of the Peace for York County], “coll. Miller,” “Coll. Lawrane” [probably Richard Lawrence], and William Drummond.

                        (47.) Herbert Paschal, ed., “George Bancroft’s ‘Lost Notes’ on the General Court Records of Seventeenth-Century Virginia,” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 91 (1983): 355; and The Royal Commissioners to Mr. Secretary Williamson, Mar. 27, 1677, in Oberg, Samuel Wiseman’s “Book of Record,” 104.

                        (48.) From John Goode, January 30, 1677, in Billings, Papers of Sir William Berkeley, 566.

                        (49.) Declaration and Remonstrance, May 29, 1676, in Billings, Papers of Sir William Berkeley, 527.

                        (50.) “Narrative of the Rise, Progresse, and Cessation of the Late Rebellion,” in Oberg, Samuel Wiseman’s “Book of Record,” 147, 156; and “History of Bacon’s and Ingram’s Rebellion,” in Andrews, Narratives of the Insurrections, 60.

                        (51.) “History of Bacon’s and Ingram’s Rebellion,” in Andrews, Narratives of the Insurrections, 62.

                        (52.) “History of Bacon’s and Ingram’s Rebellion,” in Andrews, Narratives of the Insurrections, 68; William Berkeley to Henry Coventry, February 2, 1677, in Billings, Papers of Sir William Berkeley, 572–573; and M[athew], “Beginning, Progress, and Conclusion of Bacon’s Rebellion,” in Andrews, Narratives of the Insurrections, 35.

                        (53.) “History of Bacon’s and Ingram’s Rebellion,” in Andrews, Narratives of the Insurrections, 78; William Berkeley to Henry Coventry, February 2, 1677, in Billings, Papers of Sir William Berkeley, 573; and Paschal, “George Bancroft’s ‘Lost Notes’,” 359.

                        (54.) “History of Bacon’s and Ingram’s Rebellion,” in Andrews, Narratives of the Insurrections, 96. On Richard Lawrence, see also the Commissioners to Secretary Henry Coventry, March 27, 1677, in Oberg, Samuel Wiseman’s “Book of Record,”170–171; M[athew], “Beginning, Progress, and Conclusion of Bacon’s Rebellion,” in Andrews, Narratives of the Insurrections, 40–41; and Sherwood, “Virginia’s Deploured Condition,” 170.

                        (55.) Paschal, “George Bancroft’s ‘Lost Notes’,” 356. On the lingering influence of anti-Popery on colonial politics in the late 17th century, see Owen Stanwood, The Empire Reformed: English America in the Age of the Glorious Revolution (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011).

                        (56.) “Complaint from Heaven with a Huy and Crye and a Petition Out of Virginia and Maryland,” in William Hand Browne, Proceedings of the Council of Maryland . . . 1667–1687/8 (Baltimore, 1887), 134. This volume can be accessed as Vol. V on Maryland Archives Online.

                        (57.) Aaron R. Walden, ed., The Widow Ranter: or The History of Bacon in Virginia. A Tragi-Comedy. By Aphra Behn[.] A Critical Edition Based on the Huntington Library Copy of the 1690 Edition, With a Full Complement of Contemporary Documents and Records of Bacon’s 1676 Virginia Rebellion (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1993), 28.

                        (58.) Walden, The Widow Ranter, 112.

                        (59.) “Narrative of the Rise, Progresse, and Cessation of the Late Rebellion,” in Oberg, Samuel Wiseman’s “Book of Record,” 146, 144; and “Counties’ Grievances,” 249.

                        (60.) “Counties’ Grievances,” in Oberg, Samuel Wiseman’s “Book of Record,” 268; for examples in which counties and individual planters blamed their acquiescence to Bacon’s demands on his use of force or the example of constituted officials, see 221, 233, 239, 251, 255, 257, 259, 261, 262, 271.

                        (61.) “Counties’ Grievances,” in Oberg, Samuel Wiseman’s “Book of Record,” 241.

                        (62.) William Berkeley to Herbert Jeffreys, April 28, 1677, in Billings, Papers of Sir William Berkeley, 610; and “Counties’ Grievances,” in Oberg, Samuel Wiseman’s “Book of Record,” 212, 235, 227, 242.

                        (63.) Samuel Hazard, ed., Colonial Records of Pennsylvania (Harrisburg and Philadelphia, 1838–1853), 3:82.

                        (64.) “Counties’ Grievances,” in Oberg, Samuel Wiseman’s “Book of Record,” 215, 232, 243.

                        (65.) “Remainder of the Account of Bacon’s Rebellion, in the year 1676, when Sir William Berkley, Knight, wa[s] Governour and Captain General of Virgini[a],” Virginia Gazette (Purdie and Dixon), February 23, 1769; and George Bancroft, History of the United States of America, From the Discovery of the Continent (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1888), 1:455.

                        (67.) Billings, The Papers of Sir William Berkeley, 1605–1677.

                        (68.) Michael Leroy Oberg, ed., Samuel Wiseman’s Book of Record. Other useful sets of papers are “Proclamations of Nathaniel Bacon,” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 1 (1893): 55–63, “Bacon’s Rebellion,” 167–186; “Petition and Proposals Respecting Nathaniel Bacon,” 430–431; “Bacon’s Men in Surry,” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 5 (1898), 368–373; and “Bacon’s Rebellion,” The William and Mary Quarterly 9, no. 1 (July 1900): 1–10.

                        (69.) Warren M. Billings, The Old Dominion in the Seventeenth Century: A Documentary History of Virginia, 1606–1700, rev. ed. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007).

                        (70.) See H. R. McIlwaine, ed., Journals of the House of Burgesses of Virginia, 1659/60–1693 (Richmond, VA: Colonial Press, 1915); H. R. McIlwaine, ed., Executive Journals of the Council of Colonial Virginia, Vol. 1 (Richmond: Virginia State Library, 1925); William Hand Browne et al., eds., Archives of Maryland, 72 vols. (Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 1883–1972), esp. Vols. 2, 5, and 15; William Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of all the Laws of Virginia from the First Session of the Legislature in the Year 1619, Vol. 2 (New York: R. & W. & G. Bartow, 1823). See also Herbert Paschal, ed., “George Bancroft’s ‘Lost Notes’ on the General Court Records of Seventeenth-Century Virginia,” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 91 (1983): 348–362.

                        (71.) See Charles Andrews, ed., Narratives of the Insurrections, 1675–1690 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1915); Beverly, Robert, The History and Present State of Virginia, 1705, ed. Louis B. Wright (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1947), 74–78, 159–233; Thomas Grantham, An Historical Account of Some Memorable Actions (London, 1714); Peter Force, ed., Tracts and Other Papers, Relating Principally to the Origin, Settlement, and Progress of the Colonies in North America, From the Discovery of the Country to the Year 1776, vol. 1 (Washington, DC: Peter Force, 1836); and William Sherwood, “Virginia’s Deploured Condition,” in Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Fourth Series, vol. 9 (Boston, MA, 1871), 162–176.

                        (72.) L. Daniel Mouer, “In the Realm of ‘The Rebel’: The Archaeology of Nathaniel Bacon’s Brick House at Curles Plantation,” Henrico County Historical Society Magazine 12 (1988): 3–20.