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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Causes of the Strife between Governor Berkeley and Nathaniel Bacon, Gentleman

By Anonymous

[From “Bacons Proseedings,” in the “Burwell Papers.” Published by the Mass. Hist. Soc. 1814.]

THE PEOPLE chose Col. Bacon their General, which post he accepted. He was a man of quality and merit, brave and eloquent; became much endeared, not so much for what he had yet done as the cause of their affections, as for what they expected he would do to deserve their devotion; while with no common zeal they sent up their reiterated prayers, first to himself, and next to heaven, that he may become their guardian angel, to protect them from the cruelties of the Indians, against whom this gentleman had a perfect antipathy.

It seems that at the first rise of the war this gentleman had made some overtures unto the Governor for a commission to go and put a stop to the Indians’ proceedings. But the Governor at present, either not willing to commence the quarrel (on his part) till more suitable reasons presented for to urge his more severe prosecution of the same, against the heathen; or that he doubted Bacon’s temper, as he appeared popularly inclined; a constitution not consistent with the times or the people’s dispositions, being generally discontented, for want of timely provisions against the Indians, or for annual impositions laid upon them too great (as they said) for them to bear, and against which they had some considerable time complained, without the least redress,—for these or some other reasons the Governor refused to comply with Bacon’s proposals: which he looking upon as undervaluing as well to his parts as a disparagement to his pretensions, he in some elated and passionate expressions swore, commission or no commission, the next man or woman he heard of that should be killed by the Indians, he would go out against them though but twenty men would adventure the service with him. Now it so unhappily fell out that the next person that the Indians did kill was one of his own family. Whereupon having got together about seventy or ninety persons, most good housekeepers, well armed, and seeing that he could not legally procure a commission (after some strugglings with the Governor), some of his best friends who condemned his enterprises, he applies himself….

The Governor could not bear this insolent deportment of Bacon, and spake freely against him, and condemned his proceedings; which,… instead of seeking means to appease his anger, they devised means to increase it, by framing specious pretences which they grounded upon the boldness of Bacon’s actions, and the people’s affections. They began, some of them, to have Bacon’s merits in mistrust, as a luminary that threatened an eclipse to their rising glories; for though he was but a young man, yet they found that he was master and owner of those induements which constitutes a complete man (as to intrinsicals)—wisdom to apprehend and discretion to choose: by which embellishments, if he should continue in the Governor’s favor of seniors, they might become juniors; while their younger brother, through the nimbleness of his wit, might steal away that blessing which they accounted their own by birthright. This rash proceeding of Bacon, if it did not undo himself, by his failing in the enterprise, might chance to undo them in the affections of the people; which, to prevent, they thought it conducible to their interest and establishment for to get the Governor in the mind to proclaim him a rebel, as knowing that once being done, since it could not be done but in and by the Governor’s name, it must needs breed bad blood between Bacon and Sir William, not easily to be purged; for though Sir William might forgive what Bacon as yet had acted, yet it might be questionable whether Bacon might forget what Sir William had done. However, according to their desires, Bacon, and all his adherents, was proclaimed a rebel, May the 29, and forces raised to reduce him to his duty; with which the Governor advanced from the Middle Plantation to find him out, and if need was to fight him, if the Indians had not knocked him and those that were with him in the head, as some were in hope they had done, and which by some was earnestly desired.

After some days the Governor retracts his march (a journey of some thirty or forty miles), to meet the Assembly, now ready to set down at our metropolis; while Bacon in the meanwhile meets with the Indians, upon whom he falls with abundance of resolution and gallantry (as his own party relates it) in their fastness, killing a great many and blowing up their magazine of arms and powder—to a considerable quantity, if we may judge from himself; no less than four thousand weight. This being done, and all his provisions spent, he returns home, and while here submits himself to be chosen burgess of the county in which he did live, contrary to his qualifications, take him as he was formerly one of the Council of State, or as he was now a proclaimed rebel. However, he applies himself to the performance of that trust reposed in him by the people, if he might be admitted into the house. But this not saying according to his desire, though according to his expectation, and he remaining in his sloop (then at anchor before the town), in which was about thirty gentlemen besides himself, he was there surprised and made prisoner with the rest, some being put into irons, in which condition they remained some time, till all things were fitted for the trial. Which being brought to a day of hearing, before the Governor and Council, Bacon was not only acquitted and pardoned all misdemeanors, but restored to the Council table as before; and not only, but promised to have a commission signed the Monday following (this was Saturday) as General for the Indian war, to the universal satisfaction of the people, who passionately desired the same; witnessed by the general acclamations of all then in town.

And here who can do less than wonder at the mutable and impermanent deportments of that blind goddess Fortune, who in the morning leads men with disgraces, and, ere night, crowns him with honors; sometimes depressing, and again elevating, as her fickle humor is to smile or frown—of which this gentleman’s fate was a kind of epitome in the several vicissitudes and changes he was subjected in a very few days; for in the morning, before his trial, he was, in his enemies’ hopes and his friends’ fears, judged for to receive the guerdon due to a rebel (and such he was proclaimed to be), and, ere night, crowned the darling of the people’s hopes and desires, as the only man fit in Virginia to put a stop to the bloody resolution of the heathen. And yet again, as a fuller manifestation of Fortune’s inconstancy, within two or three days, the people’s hopes and his desires were both frustrated by the Governor’s refusing to sign the promised commission: at which, being disgusted, though he dissembled the same so well as he could, he begs leave of the Governor to dispense with his service at the Council table, to visit his wife, who, as she had informed him, was indisposed; which request the Governor (after some contest with his own thoughts) granted, contrary to the advice of some about him, who suspected Bacon’s designs, and that it was not so much his lady’s sickness as the troubles of a distempered mind which caused him to withdraw to his own house, and that this was the truth, which in a few days was manifested, when that he returned to town with five hundred men in arms.

The Governor did not want intelligence of Bacon’s designs, and therefore sent out his summons for York train-bands to reinforce his guards then at town. But the time was so short, not above twelve hours’ warning, and those that appeared at the rendezvous made such a slender number, that under four ensigns there was not mustered above one hundred soldiers, and not one half of them sure neither, and all so sluggish in their march, that before they could reach town, by a great deal, Bacon had entered the same, and by force obtained a commission, calculated to the height of his own desires. With which commission, being invested (such as it was), he makes ready his provisions, fills up his companies to the designed number (five hundred in all) and so applies himself to those services the country expected from him. And first, for the securing the same against the excursions of the Indians in his absence (and such might be expected), he commissioned several persons (such as he could confide in) in every respective county, with select companies of well-armed men, to ravage the forests, thickets, swamps, and all such suspected places where Indians might have any shelter for the doing of mischief. Which proceedings of his put so much courage into the planters, that they begun to apply themselves to their accustomed employments in their plantations: which till now they durst not do, for fear of being knocked in the head, as God knows, too many were, before these orders were observed.

While the General (for so was Bacon now denominated by virtue of his commission) was sedulous in these affairs, and fitting his provisions about the head of York River, in order to his advance against the Indians, the Governor was steering quite different courses. He was once more persuaded (but for what reasons not visible) to proclaim Bacon a rebel again, and now, since his absence afforded an advantage to raise the country upon him so soon as he should return tired and exhausted by his toil and labor in the Indian war. For the putting this counsel in execution, the Governor steps over in Gloucester County (a place the best replenished for men, arms, and affection of any county in Virginia), all which the Governor summons to give him a meeting at a place and day assigned, where being met according to summons the Governor’s proposals was so much disrelished by the whole convention that they all disbanded to their own abodes, after their promise passed to stand by and assist the Governor against all those who should go about to wrong his person or debase his authority; unto which promise they annexed or subjoined several reasons why they thought it not convenient at present, convenient to declare themselves against Bacon, as he was now advancing against the common enemy, who had in a most barbarous manner murdered some hundreds of their dear brethren and countrymen, and would, if not prevented by God and the endeavors of good men, do their utmost for to cut off the whole Colony.

Therefore did they think that it would be a thing inconsistent with right reason if that they, in this desperate conjuncture of time, should go and engage themselves one against another; from the result of which proceedings, nothing could be expected but ruin and destruction unto both, to the one and other party, since that it might reasonably be conceived, that while they should be exposing their breasts against one another’s weapons, the barbarous and common enemy (who would make his advantages by our disadvantages) should be upon their backs to knock out their brains. But if it should so happen (as they did hope would never happen) that the General, after the Indian war was finished, should attempt any thing against his Honor’s person or government, that they would rise up in arms, with a joint consent, for the preservation of both.

Since the Governor could obtain no more, he was at present to rest himself contented with this, while those who had advised him to these undertakings, was not a little dissatisfied to find the event not answer their expectations. But he at present, seeing there was no more to be done, since he wanted a power to have that done, which was esteemed the main of the affairs now in hand to be done, namely, the gaining of the Gloucester men to do what he would have done, he thought it best to do what he had a power to do, and that was once more to proclaim Bacon a traitor, which was performed in all public places of meetings in these parts. The noise of which proclamation, after that it had passed the admiration of all that were not acquainted with the reasons that moved his Honor to do what he had now done, soon reached the General’s ears, not yet stopped up from listening to apparent dangers.

This strange and unexpected news put him, and some with him, shrewdly to their trumps, believing that a few such deals or shuffles (call them which you please) might quickly wring the cards and game too out his hand. He perceived that he was fallen (like the corn between the stones), so that if he did not look the better about him, he might chance to be ground to powder. He knew that to have a certain enemy in his front, and more than uncertain friends in his rear, portended no great security from a violent death, and that there could be no great difference between his being wounded to death in his breast with bows and arrows, or in the back with guns and musket bullets. He did see that there was an absolute necessity of destroying the Indians, for the preservation of the English, and that there was some care to be taken for his own and soldiers’ safety, otherwise that work must be ill done where the laborers are made cripples, and compelled instead of a sword to betake themselves to a crutch.

It vexed him to the heart (as he was heard to say) for to think that while he was hunting wolves, tigers and foxes, which daily destroyed our harmless sheep and lambs, that he and those with him should be pursued, with a full cry, as a more savage or a no less ravenous beast. But to put all out of doubt, and himself in some degree of safety, since he could not tell but that some whom he left behind might not more desire his death than to hear that by him the Indians were destroyed, he forthwith (after a short consultation held with some of his soldiers) countermarches his army, and in a trice came up with them at the Middle Plantation, a place situated in the very heart of the country.

The first thing that Bacon fell upon (after that he had settled himself at the Middle Plantation) was to prepare his remonstrance, and that as well against a certain anonymous paper of the 29 of May, as in answer to the Governor’s proclamation.