Bacon’s Rebellion was a failed insurrection against the government of colonial Virginia. Bacon’s Rebellion APUSH questions will center on the causes and impact of this 1676 conflict.
What is Bacon’s Rebellion?
By the 1670s, Virginia Colony was experiencing division between a class of wealthy landowners and the poorer colonists, both free and indentured servants. Resentment grew as the poorer class perceived the colonial government, especially Governor William Berkeley, as serving the interests of the wealthy.
Tensions were especially high surrounding the issue of Native American relations. Berkeley had come to an agreement with neighboring tribes about land use. He promised that settlers would not push further west. Colonists living on the western frontier, however, resented this restriction. They felt that all of the good land had already been taken by the wealthy and they were being denied an opportunity to better their own economic situations. Frontiersmen began to ignore the accord and push westward, resulting in attacks on colonists by Native Americans.
One such frontiersman was Nathaniel Bacon. He raised a force to push Native Americans further west in an attempt to claim more lands. When Native Americans retaliated, he expected the support of the Virginia government. Instead, Berkeley sent an army to stop Bacon. In response, Bacon turned his forces on Jamestown. Bacon was seen as a “man of the people” standing up against an unpopular government, and the rebellion grew in strength. The rebels managed to drive Berkeley into hiding as the rebels and government struggled for control.
The rebellion ended abruptly when Bacon died of dysentery in the fall of 1676. Berkeley returned and his army quickly crushed what was left of the rebellion.
Important year to note for Bacon’s Rebellion:
1676: Year of Bacon’s rebellion
Why is Bacon’s Rebellion so important?
In the wake of Bacon’s Rebellion, the wealthy class remained in power in Virginia. Their distrust of the poor, especially of indentured servants (many participated in Bacon’s Rebellion), grew. This actually led to the growth of the slave trade, as they sought a more reliable, controllable, permanent labor source than indentured servants.
While Bacon’s Rebellion did not meet its goals, it did highlight larger issues that the colonies would have to continue to deal with, such as:
- class struggles
- Native American relations
- the role of the government and its responsibility to the people
What are some historical people and events related to Bacon’s Rebellion?
- Nathaniel Bacon: leader of Bacon’s Rebellion
- William Berkeley: governor of Virginia against whom Bacon rebelled
- Charles II: English king during Bacon’s Rebellion
What example question about Bacon’s Rebellion might come up on the APUSH exam?
“For [raising] unjust taxes…
For not having during the long time of his government, in any measure advanced this hopeful Colony, either by fortifications, towns, or trade.
For having protected, favored, and emboldened the Indians against his most Loyal Subjects; never contriving, requiring, or appointing any due or proper means of satisfaction; for their many incursions, Murders, and robberies committed upon us…
Of these the aforesaid articles we accuse Sir William Berkeley as guilty of each and every of the same.”
-Nathaniel Bacon, “The Declaration of the People, against Sr: Wm: Berkeley, and Present Governors of Virginia,” 1676. (Source)
Nathaniel Bacon and his supporters accused the government of Virginia of
A) failing to protect the interests of Virginia’s prominent landholders.
B) failing to protect western settlers from Native American hostilities.
C) favoring the interests of the British crown over those of the colonists.
D) favoring the interests of western frontiersmen over eastern setters.
The correct answer is (B). Western frontiersmen faced Native American attacks when they sought to expand their territory to gain additional farmland. When the government of Virginia failed to show support for the colonists in these incursions, resentment grew, leading to Bacon’s Rebellion.