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Bacon, Nathaniel (1647-1676).

English-American colonial rebel. Principal war: Bacon's Rebellion (1676).

Born in Suffolk, England (January 2, 1647), a kinsman of Sir Francis Bacon; graduated from St. Catherine's Hall, Cambridge University (1668), and may have studied law at Gray's Inn; after his role in a failed effort to defraud a young man of his inheritance, his father sent him to Virginia (August 1674); there, his cousins Col. Nathaniel Bacon and Lady Frances Culpeper Berkeley (wife of the colonial governor, Sir William), gave him considerable assistance; using [pound]1,800 from his father, he was soon a successful planter, with a 1,200-acre farm and a house at Curles (forty miles upriver from James-town), and another tract farther up the James River at the site of modern Richmond; as a friend of Gov. Sir William Berkeley, he was appointed to the governor's council (March 3, 1675); quarreled with Berkeley over the government's response to raids by Indians on the frontier (1675-1676), taking the side of the frontiersmen against the governor's more moderate policies; chosen leader for the frontiersmen, he led a force to attack the Pamunkey Indians (a tribe tributary to the colony) and was declared an outlaw by Berkeley (September-October 1675); in the wake of these events, Governor Berkeley ordered new elections, and Bacon was elected to the House of Burgesses from Henrico County (May 1676); unsure of his reception in the capital at Jamestown, he traveled there by sloop with an armed escort of over forty men (June 6); denied his seat, he tried to flee upriver but was captured (June 8); brought before the governor, Bacon apologized on his knees, and Berkeley granted him a pardon and promised him a commission (June 10); when Berkeley issued a new warrant for his arrest two days later, Bacon eluded the governor's men and soon raised an army of 400 foot and 120 horse; he then marched on Jamestown, and when Berkeley called out the militia (June 23), he found most of them favored the rebels; Bacon captured Jamestown without a fight, used his support among the burgesses to persuade Berkeley to grant him a commission and institute numerous reforms desired by the frontiersmen (June 24-25); Berkeley fled to refuge on the Eastern Shore (early July), and Bacon led his army, now grown to 600 foot and 700 horse, against the Indians; while Bacon was campaigning against the Occaneechee and the Susquehannock, Berkeley gathered loyalist forces, and captured the rebel-held ship Rebecca (September 2), thereby ensuring control of the Chesapeake Bay; Berkeley then went on to recapture Jamestown (September 7); Bacon summoned his forces and successfully besieged Jamestown (September 13-14); a sally by the loyalists failed (September 16), and Bacon's forces used a shield of female loyalist prisoners to cover construction of a battery; under bombardment, the loyalist forces withdrew (September 19), but with Berkeley's naval superiority, Bacon felt unable to hold Jamestown and burned it the next day to deny it to the governor; Bacon withdrew to the governor's house at Green Spring, but fell ill soon after, perhaps with typhoid, and died at a friend's home (October 26, 1676); he was buried in secret (his grave is still unknown), and his rebellion soon collapsed.

A tall man of slender build and dark hair, Bacon was brash, ambitious, and a demagogue; often portrayed as a pioneer of democratic reforms, he played the role of "champion of the people" against Berkeley's support of and reliance on the colony's aristocracy. <BL>
Billings, Warren M., The Old Dominion in the Seventeenth Century: A
     Documentary History of Virginia, 1606-1689. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1975.
Firestone, Harry, Bacon's Rebellion: The Contemporary News Sheets.
     Charlottesville, Va., 1956.
Washburn, Wilcomb E., The Governor and the Rebel. Chapel Hill, N.C.,
Webb, Stephen Saunders, 1676: The End of American Independence. New
     York, 1984.
Wertenbaker, Thomas Jefferson, Torchbearer of the Revolution.
     Princeton, N.J., 1940.

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Author:Bongard, David L.
Publication:The Harper Encyclopedia of Military Biography
Article Type:Reference Source
Date:Jan 1, 1992
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