Bacon’s Rebellion and the End of Jamestown

By 1619, the Jamestown export business was going so well that colonists were able to afford to import two new groups that dramatically affected life in
Virginia: African servants and women. Settlers indentured twenty Africans from a Dutch trading vessel passing through Chesapeake Bay in 1619. They
also financed the passage of ninety women from England. In all, about 1,000 new settlers, most of them white male servants from England, came to
Jamestown each year between 1622 and 1640. The population grew to 5,200 by 1634 and 8,100 by 1640. Despite a continuing high death rate, a steady
stream of newcomers enabled Jamestown to survive.

By 1639, tobacco had become the colonies’ chief export, with Jamestown alone exporting 750 tons of tobacco. The same year, residents constructed their
first brick church, and, in 1642, Sir William Berkeley became governor of Virginia. Until 1660, many former servants, white and black, managed to acquire
land. Some former servants even served on county courts and in the House of Burgesses. But by 1665, tobacco overproduction had led to a drop in price
to one penny per pound, and upward mobility became increasingly difficult. The richest 15 percent of settlers, who, because of the headright system had
always had a distinct advantage over other settlers, acquired much of the social and political power in Virginia.

Many newcomers, such as Nathaniel Bacon, felt as though they were being systematically excluded from politics, as well as valuable trade opportunities.
When Bacon arrived in Virginia in 1674, he managed to get himself appointed to the Governor’s Council, in part because he was Governor Berkeley’s
cousin by marriage, but Bacon had been excluded from the valuable fur trade on Virginia’s western frontier. To Bacon and other newcomers, Berkeley’s
decision to restrict the fur trade to all but a few of his closest associates looked like favoritism.

Berkeley’s decision not to attack Native Americans on the frontier, some of whom were hostile, also angered Bacon and other newcomers, who were
forced to live on the western edge of English settlement. Ignoring Berkeley’s orders, Bacon gathered a group of frontiersmen and indiscriminately
slaughtered numerous Native Americans, then turned on Governor Berkeley and his inner circle in Jamestown. In September 1676, following several
confrontations with local Native Americans and with Governor Berkeley, Bacon and his followers marched on Jamestown and burned it to the ground.
Bacon died of dysentery in October 1676, and his rebellion quickly collapsed.

Jamestown, which had also lost its status as the mandatory port of entry for Virginia in 1662, never fully recovered from Bacon’s Rebellion. In 1699,
Virginians abandoned Jamestown for good and moved their capital to Williamsburg.
Michael A. Rembis
See also: Pocahontas; Powhatan; Powhatan Confederacy; Rolfe, John; Smith, John; Tobacco; Virginia; Virginia
(Chronology); Virginia Company; Document: The Jamestown Settlement (1607 1609).
Billings, Warren M., John E. Selby, and Thad W. Tate. Colonial Virginia: A History. White Plains, NY: KTO, 1986.
Bridenbaugh, Carl. Jamestown, 1544 1699. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.
Geiter, Mary K., and William A. Speck. Colonial America: From Jamestown to Yorktown. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.
Hobbler, Thomas and Dorothy Hobbler. Captain John Smith: Jamestown and the Birth of the American Dream. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley, 2006.
Horn, James. A Land as God Made It: Jamestown and the Birth of America. New York: Basic Books, 2005.
Horn, James. Adapting to a New World: English Society in the Seventeenth-Century Chesapeake. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994.
Morgan, Edmund S. American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia. New York: W. W. Norton, 1975.
Price, David A. Love and Hate in Jamestown: John Smith, Pocahontas, and the Heart of a New Nation. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003.
Rountree, Helen C., and E. Randolph Turner III. Before and After Jamestown: Virginia’s Powhatans and Their Predecessors. Gainesville: University Press of Florida,
Woolley, Benjamin. Savage Kingdom: The True Story of Jamestown, 1607, and the Settlement of America. New York: HarperCollins, 2007.
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