What evidence do we have to support Mark Peterson’s thesis that Bacon’s Rebellion primarily resulted from uneven distribution of land?As you review the sources in this problem–the “Declaration,” the map, and the Background information–select 8-9 phrases, facts, or visual data that support Mark Peterson’s thesis that the system of land distribution around the Chesapeake Bay created a two-class society that came into open and violent dispute. Organize the evidence into 3 categories of arguments (concepts) about land (its acquisition and protection). Write the arguments in the left column of the Concepts and Evidence Chart. Next to each argument, list the appropriate supporting evidence. An example of this might be Concept: Wealthy people’s control of government allowed them to acquire more and better land and protect it. Evidence from the Background Information: The headright system allowed those who had enough wealth to buy indentured servants and, thus, acquire more land. Then locate 2 more pieces of evidence that show how the wealthy were acquiring and protecting their land with their control of the government.Sources
Summary of Mark Peterson’s Thesis
Early settlers in Virginia were granted large tracts of fertile land in the
Tidewater region, while later settlers — many of whom had been indentured
servants — were given smaller plots of less fertile land located near Indian
settlements. Because of their proximity to the colony’s frontier, later
settlers were more vulnerable to attacks by Native Americans. These same
settlers wanted to take over Indian land. Wealthier Virginians opposed this
because it was to their advantage to keep peace with the Natives. Thus the
uneven distribution of land led to Bacon’s Rebellion, which was largely a
conflict between Virginia’s two economic classes.
Note: Some spelling, formatting, and punctuation marks have been added
to the source texts excerpted below to make them easier to read.
Nathaniel Bacon, “Declaration of the People,” 1676
In the midst of the rebellion, Nathaniel Bacon distributed a “Declaration of
the People” in which he laid out all of the complaints of the rebels and
Virginia’s lower classes against Berkeley and the Virginia elite.
1. For having, upon specious pretenses of public works, raised
great unjust taxes upon the commonalty for the advancement
of private favorites and other sinister ends, but no visible
effects in any measure adequate; for not having, during this
long time of his government, in any measure advanced this
hopeful colony either by fortifications, towns, or trade.
2. For having abused and rendered contemptible the
magistrates of justice by advancing to places of judicature
scandalous and ignorant favorites.
3. For having wronged his Majesty’s prerogative and interest by
assuming monopoly of the beaver trade and for having in it
unjust gain betrayed and sold his Majesty’s country and the
lives of his loyal subjects to the barbarous heathen.
4. For having protected, favored, and emboldened the Indians
against his Majesty’s loyal subjects, never contriving,
requiring, or appointing any due or proper means of
satisfaction for their many invasions, robberies, and murders
committed upon us.
5. For having, when the army of English was just upon the track
of those Indians, who now in all places burn, spoil, murder
and when we might with ease have destroyed them who then
were in open hostility, for then having expressly
countermanded and sent back our army by passing his word
for the peaceable demeanor of the said Indians, who
immediately prosecuted their evil intentions, committing
horrid murders and robberies in all places, being protected by
the said engagement and word past of him the said Sir
William Berkeley, having ruined and laid desolate a great part
of his Majesty’s country, and have now drawn themselves into
such obscure and remote places and are by their success so
emboldened and confirmed by their confederacy so
strengthened that the cries of blood are in all places, and the
terror and consternation of the people so great, are now
become not only difficult but a very formidable enemy who
might at first with ease have been destroyed.
6. And lately, when, upon the loud outcries of blood, the
assembly had, with all care, raised and framed an army for
the preventing of further mischief and safeguard of this his
7. For having, with only the privacy of some few favorites
without acquainting the people, only by the alteration of a
figure, forged a commission, by we know not what hand, not
only without but even against the consent of the people, for
the raising and effecting civil war and destruction, which
being happily and without bloodshed prevented; for having
the second time attempted the same, thereby calling down
our forces from the defense of the frontiers and most weakly
8. For the prevention of civil mischief and ruin amongst
ourselves while the barbarous enemy in all places did invade,
murder, and spoil us, his Majesty’s most faithful subjects
Of this and the aforesaid articles we accuse Sir William Berkeley as
guilty of each and every one of the same, and as one who has
traitorously attempted, violated, and injured his Majesty’s interest
here by a loss of a great part of this his colony and many of his
faithful loyal subjects by him betrayed and in a barbarous and
shameful manner exposed to the incursions and murder of the
heathen. And we do further declare these the ensuing persons in this
list to have been his wicked and pernicious councilors, confederates,
aiders, and assisters against the commonalty in these our civil
Sir Henry Chichley
Lieut. Coll. Christopher Wormeley
John Page Clerke
John Cluffe Clerke
William Claiburne Junior
And we do further demand that the said Sir William Berkeley with all
the persons in this list be forthwith delivered up or surrender
themselves within four days after the notice hereof, or otherwise we
declare as follows.
That in whatsoever place, house, or ship, any of the said persons shall
reside, be hid, or protected, we declare the owners, masters, or
inhabitants of the said places to be confederates and traitors to the
people and the estates of them is also of all the aforesaid persons to
be confiscated. And this we, the commons of Virginia, do declare,
desiring a firm union amongst ourselves that we may jointly and with
one accord defend ourselves against the common enemy. And let not
the faults of the guilty be the reproach of the innocent, or the faults or
crimes of the oppressors divide and separate us who have suffered by
These are, therefore, in his Majesty’s name, to command you forthwith
to seize the persons above mentioned as traitors to the King and
country and them to bring to Middle Plantation and there to secure
them until further order, and, in case of opposition, if you want any
further assistance you are forthwith to demand it in the name of the
people in all the counties of Virginia.
General by Consent of the people.
• Between 1630 and 1670, tobacco exports grew from 1.5 million
pounds to 40 million pounds per year. But, in the years before the
rebellion, there had been rising prices for English manufactured
goods and greater restrictions on the sale of tobacco in England,
which lowered tobacco prices. A recent naval war between
England and the Netherlands resulted in the loss of many tobacco
shipments. There were also a number of weather disasters:
drought, hurricane, and floods.
Virginia and Maryland practiced the “headright” system in which
established planters received 50 acres of land for every
indentured servant they paid to bring to Virginia. Indentured
servants worked up to seven years, essentially as slaves. At the
end of their period of indenture, the servants received a few
barrels of corn, a suit of clothes, and possibly a plot of land.
Chesapeake planters brought 100,000 indentured servants to the
region by 1700; they represented about 75 percent of the
European immigrants in Virginia and Maryland.
Governor Sir William Berkeley was 70 at the time of the crisis. He
had been an early settler, fighting Natives and pioneering the
tobacco industry, for which the Crown rewarded him with
substantial lands. His first term as governor was in the 1640s.
Nathaniel Bacon was in his 20s at the time of the crisis. He was
Berkeley’s wife’s cousin. When he was younger and living in
England, Bacon had attempted to defraud a neighbor; his father
sent him to Virginia in the hope that he would mature. In 1675,
Governor Berkeley gave his young relative a substantial land
grant and a seat on the colonial council.
A number of the Tidewater planters, many of whom were close
friends of Berkeley, had trading networks with Native groups who
lived in and above the Tidewater. The colonial government
attempted to settle tensions with the Natives by building a series
of forts in the colony. While Berkeley and the council had a policy
of disarming the Natives, they also forbade trading between the
Natives and individual frontiersmen above the Tidewater in order
to reduce tensions along the frontier. However, network of white
traders, most of whom were Berkeley’s friends, were permitted to
trade with the Natives.
In July 1676, some Doeg Indians had a dispute with a Virginia
planter on the Potomac River — precisely the type of incident that
Berkeley had hoped to avoid. The Doegs accused Thomas
Matthews of not paying for the goods they provided to him, and in
response, they raided his plantation. His fellow colonists
retaliated, but they did so against the wrong tribe, the
Susquehanaugs. This touched off a flood of Indian raids along the
Berkeley set up a meeting between the colonists and Natives to
resolve the dispute, but violence ensued and several Indian chiefs
were murdered. Bacon and some of his fellow colonists then
seized some Appomattox Indians for “allegedly” stealing corn, an
act that led Berkeley to severely reprimanded his cousin.
The Virginia Colony then essentially split into two factions over
the Bacon-Berkeley disagreement. Colonists in the pro-Bacon
faction came mostly from the Piedmont, the area above the
Tidewater that was closer to the Indian strongholds. The proBerkeley faction was made up of owners of large, Tidewater
Though Bacon sat on the colonial council, Berkeley did not
approve his appointment as a leader of a militia at one of the forts.
Instead, a group of colonists who had volunteered to wage war
against the Indians declared Bacon their “general.” When this
group began to raid Native communities in Henrico County,
located in the Piedmont just above the Tidewater, Berkeley
declared Bacon a rebel.
By this time, however, the factionalism in the colony deepened, even as
many of Berkeley’s supporters had lost confidence in the governor’s
leadership. Bacon’s men were more loyal — they were not about to turn him
over to Berkeley. In frustration, Berkeley temporarily left the colonial
capital, Jamestown, returning to his estates in the Tidewater, and Bacon
and his men controlled the capital from July to September. On July 30,
1676, Bacon issued his Declaration of the People.
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