Sunday, July 6, 2008

Persons of Mean and Vile Condition pt. 4

Bacon's Rebellion was the result of discontent among backcountry farmers who had taken the law into their own hands against government corruption and oppression. Many Virginians were debtors. Borrowing on the strength of paper money was stopped by the British Government, leading to more discontent against the merchant classes.

Historians have pointed out that one of the most important reforms made during Bacon's government was the recognition of the right to keep and bear arms, so that the common man could defend himself from hostile Indians but also to oppose a despotic regime. After Berkeley's resumption of power, this right was one of the first he repealed. Miller suggests it was Bacon's Rebellion that may have served as one of the motives for later colonists' insistence for the right to bear arms. Historian Stephen Saunders Webb suggests that Bacon's Rebellion was a revolution, with roots in the English Civil War and with consequences including the American Revolutionary War.

It was largely the indentured servants and poor farmers (most of whom were former indentured servants or their descendants) who rebelled. Before the rebellion, African slaves were rare in Virginia, chiefly due to their expense and the lack of slave traders bringing Africans to Virginia. Africans were often brought as indentured servants, becoming free after serving their term of labor. Indentured servants from Europe continued to play a role in Virginia after the rebellion. Due to the demand for labor and a decrease in immigrants from England, African slave imports grew rapidly. New Virginia laws made slavery lifelong and a status inherited by one's children, creating a racially based class system with Africans at the bottom. Even the poorest European indentured servants were above them. This broke the common interest between the poor English and Africans of Virginia which had existed during Bacon's Rebellion.

The rebellion strengthened the ties between Virginia south of the James River and the Albemarle Settlements in present-day North Carolina, while creating a long-lasting animosity between the two colonies' governments. The Albemarle region offered refuge for rebels in the aftermath. In the long term, North Carolina offered an alternative to colonists disenchanted with Virginia.

From Wikipedia

Bacon's Rebellion demonstrated that poor whites and poor blacks could be united in a cause. This was a great fear of the ruling class -- what would prevent the poor from uniting to fight them? This fear hastened the transition to racial slavery.

But it also led to the formation of an incubator for revolutionists. In North Carolina, these rebels joined forces and causes and their descendants would turn the tide of the American Revolution at Kings Mountain. Ragtag and undisciplined they may have been; nevertheless their highly irregular warfare tactics won the day and contributed greatly to winning the war.

Janet Crain


No comments: