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When Smith returned to England he left the colony without a leader. At once the Indians, who had been held in check by fear of Smith, began to rob and plunder the settlement, and at the same time famine and disease aided in the work of destruction. Dogs, horses, and even rats and mice were in demand for food, and while at its worst the famine compelled the suffering colonists to feed upon the bodies of their own dead.

At the close of that terrible winter, known ever since as the "Starving Time," barely sixty of the five hundred men whom Smith had left in the colony survived. The future promised nothing, and the wretched remnant of sufferers were about to leave Virginia for their fatherland when an English vessel hove in sight on the James. Greatly to their relief and joy Lord Delaware had arrived with a company of men and much-needed supplies. This was in June, 1610.

Tobacco Plant.Tobacco Plant.

By reason of ill-health Lord Delaware soon returned to England, leaving Sir Thomas Dale in control of the colony. He was even more firm and vigorous than Smith had been in dealing with the worthless men who made the greater part of the colony. Some of the most unruly were flogged, some were branded with hot irons, and one man was sentenced to death by starvation.

Holding down the lawless by the arm of the law, Dale was also able to introduce reform. Before he took charge of affairs in Virginia there was a common storehouse from which everybody, whether idle or industrious, could get food. When the good-for-nothing settlers found out that they could thus live upon the products of others' labor, they would do nothing themselves, but held back, throwing all the work upon thirty or forty men. Dale, appreciating the evil of this system, gave to every man his own plot of land. Out of what he raised each was obliged to put into the common storehouse two and a half barrels of corn; the rest of his crop he could call his own. By this plan the idlers had to work or starve, and the thrifty were encouraged to work harder, because they knew they would receive the benefit of their labor.

 Loading TobaccoLoading Tobacco

Soon after the new system was put in practice the settlers discovered that great profits resulted from raising tobacco. The soil and climate of Virginia were especially favorable to its growth, and more money could be made in this way than in any other. But since tobacco quickly exhausted the soil, much new land was needed to take the place of the old, and large plantations were necessary. Every planter tried to select a plantation on one of the numerous rivers of Virginia, so that he could easily take his tobacco down to the wharf, whence a vessel would carry it to Europe.

For a long time the planters were very prosperous through their tobacco culture, some even becoming wealthy. But a turn of fortune made things bad for them. The Navigation Laws were passed, which required them to send all their tobacco to England in English vessels. These laws also required that the planters should buy from England all the European goods that might be needed, and should bring them over to Virginia in English vessels.

The effect was to compel the colonist to sell his tobacco at whatever price English merchants were willing to pay, and to buy his goods at whatever price the English merchant saw fit to charge. Moreover, England laid heavy taxes on colonial trade, and when, after a while, the price of tobacco fell, the planter received small return for his labor.

But these grievous trade regulations were not all that vexed the colonist. He had troubles at home even more irritating than the impositions of England. In 1660 Sir William Berkeley, a narrow-minded, selfish man, became Governor of Virginia. This polished cavalier, fond of the pleasures of the table and of good company, cared far more for his seventy horses than for the plain people whose welfare was entrusted to him. He cared so little indeed for the rights and wishes of the people, that he refused, for sixteen years after he became governor, to let a new assembly be elected. Having found in 1660 a set of pliant followers, he kept them in office by adjourning the assembly from year to year.

Although such conduct was hard to excuse, the people were forbearing until a great evil fell upon the settlement. The Indians began to invade the frontier, and used the firebrand, scalping-knife, and tomahawk with such fearful effect that three hundred settlers were killed and their homes burned. The people begged Governor Berkeley to send troops to punish the Indians; but he refused because he was carrying on a profitable trade in furs with the offenders. At length, five hundred men, in a frenzy of rage at their wrongs, urged Nathaniel Bacon, a wealthy, educated planter, to lead them against their red foes.

Bacon was at this time only twenty-eight years old. Tall and graceful in person, this young man was also brave and generous. He had sympathy with the plain people, over whom he exerted great influence, and when at length the Indians killed an overseer and favorite servant on one of his large plantations, he was willing to join with the people and be their leader against the common foe. After trying in vain to get a commission from Governor Berkeley, Bacon put himself at the head of five hundred troops, and without a commission marched boldly against the Indians. These he defeated with very little loss.

In the meantime, with a force of his own soldiers, Berkeley followed after Bacon, whom he called a rebel and traitor. Before he could reach the young leader, however, Berkeley had to return to Jamestown to put down an uprising of the people. Nor did he succeed in restoring quiet until he agreed to an election of a new assembly to which Bacon himself was chosen a delegate.

On Bacon's return from his attack upon the Indians he became the idol of the people. In their devotion to him and fear for his safety, thirty men armed with guns accompanied him on his sloop down the James River as he went to meet with the assembly at Jamestown. But this force was not large enough to prevent Berkeley's followers from capturing Bacon and taking him before the angry governor.

On the advice of a friend, Bacon agreed to apologize to the governor, with the understanding, as seems probable, that the latter should grant him the desired commission. But the trouble between the two men was by no means settled. That very night Bacon's friends warned him of a plot against his life. Under cover of darkness, therefore, he took horse, and found safe shelter among his followers. But he speedily returned to Jamestown at the head of five hundred troops, where he forced Berkeley to grant him a commission, and compelled the legislature to pass laws that were favorable to the interests of the people. Then hearing that the Indians were again beginning to burn and murder on the border, he marched against them.

While he was gone Berkeley called out the militia, with the intention of overpowering Bacon upon his return, but on learning the governor's purpose the troops refused to fight and went back to their homes. Sick with the sense of failure, Governor Berkeley now sought a place of safety across Chesapeake Bay in Accomac County.

The Burning of JamestownThe Burning of Jamestown

Bacon once more occupied Jamestown, but for a third time found it necessary to march against the Indians. While he was gone Berkeley, who had succeeded in raising a troop of one thousand men, came back and took possession of the capital. Although Bacon's men were tired out with fighting the Indians, they promptly gathered at his call, and attacked Berkeley with such vigor that the poor governor was glad to escape again to his retreat in Accomac County.

When Bacon got control of Jamestown, then a mere village of some sixteen to eighteen houses, he burned it to prevent its falling into Berkeley's hands. The people's leader had been successful, and had risked his life and his fortune for the common rights. But the strain of the past four or five months in the malarial swamps broke down his health, and after a short illness, he died of fever at the home of a friend, in October, 1676. It is not known where he was buried. His friends were obliged to hide his body, because they feared that, according to the custom of the times, Berkeley might seize it and have it hanged.

With Bacon's death the rebellion lost its heart and soul. Berkeley brutally punished Bacon's friends, some twenty of whom he put to death. This displeased the English king, who summoned the governor to return to England, where he soon afterward died a broken-hearted man.

Bacon's Rebellion, as this uprising of Virginians in 1676 has been rightly called, although it seemed to fail, was not without large influence for good. For it strengthened the liberty-loving spirit of the people, and prepared them for that greater movement in behalf of their rights that took place one hundred years later.




  •   HIS DEATH.




  1. What important thing was done by Sir Thomas Dale?

  2. What were the Navigation Laws, and how did they affect the planters?

  3. Describe Berkeley. What do you admire in Bacon?

  4. Write a paragraph on each of the following topics: Bacon leads a force against the Indians; Bacon elected to the assembly; his capture and escape; he gets his commission; he attacks Berkeley at Jamestown.

  5. Review the following dates: 1492, 1541, and 1607. Add to these 1676.