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Reply #133: Bacon's Rebellion (1675-1676) and the beginning of the racial caste system [View All]

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Brewman_Jax Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Apr-17-08 02:37 PM
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133. Bacon's Rebellion (1675-1676) and the beginning of the racial caste system
Virginia Governor Sir William Berkeley had worked to establish peace with the Indian tribes and successfully negotiated a settlement in which lands east of the Blue Ridge Mountains were reserved for the white settlers. However, during the 1640s and 1650s, the burgeoning population began to spill over into Indian lands west of the mountains. This clear violation of treaty obligations led to deadly clashes between the races.

After the restoration of Charles II to the throne at the end of the English Civil War, Parliament passed the Navigation Acts of 1660-63. The tobacco planters in Virginia were no longer able to sell to customers in France, and Dutch ships were prohibited from trading with Virginia. This was not a new concept; mercantilism was based on the assumption that the mother country should receive most of the benefits from the colonies.

Throughout the 1660's, due to the Navigation Acts, tobacco prices were painfully low and Virginia planters struggled economically. The House of Burgesses passed the first official codes to establish perpetual slavery for blacks, but the costs of producing tobacco remained too high compared to the prices paid for the annual crops. Governor William Berkeley coopted the gentry on the Council, and avoided calling a new election for the House of Burgesses between 1661-1676. As a result, there was no political outlet for the unhappy planters. Not surprisingly, the frustrations would be vented in other ways.

In 1673, Nathaniel Bacon, a distant relative of Governor Berkeley, emigrated from England under murky circumstances and set up a small plantation on the James River. He rose rapidly in public esteem and was appointed to the governors council. The Indian issue soon polarized the two men.

The administration of Governor Berkeley became unpopular with small farmers and frontiersmen, because of the following reasons:

-Restrictions on the right to vote the institution of a new land ownership requirement,
-Higher taxes
-Low tobacco prices
-A pervasive sense of subordination to an aristocratic minority
-Lack of protection from Native American attacks

Berkeley was not opposed to fighting Indians who were considered enemies, but attacking friendly Indians, he thought, could lead to what everyone wanted to avoid: a war with "all the Indians against us." Berkeley also didn't trust Bacon's intentions, believing that the upstart's true aim was to stir up trouble among settlers, who were already discontent with the colony's government.

When Bacon threatened to act without authorization, Berkeley declared him a rebel. The response was a public wave of support for Bacon, frightening Berkeley enough to finally schedule an election for a new House of Burgesses. Bacon was elected, and Berkeley let him take his seat on the Council briefly. Bacon quickly left Jamestown, rallied a mob, and attacked innocent Occaneechi, Tutelo, and Saponi Indians. He pillaged their trading base at modern-day Clarksville at the confluence of the Dan and the Roanoke (Staunton) River, then marched back to the capital. The House of Burgesses, intimidated by the mob, passed legislation demanded by Bacon. The governor fled, along with a few of his supporters, to Virginia's eastern shore.

Each leader tried to muster support. Each promised freedom to slaves and servants who would join their cause. But Bacon's following was much greater than Berkeley's. In September of 1676, Bacon and his men set Jamestown on fire.

Bacon died of a "bloody flux" (very likely dysentary) before he and Berkeley met in battle. His forces dissolved without his charismatic leadership, and the General Assembly quickly repealed most of the liberal laws it had passed.

Berkeley's response was very harsh, hanging nearly two dozen men and seizing their estates to compensate his allies whose plantations had been plundered by Bacon's rebels. Charles II is reported to have been surprised at Berkeley's repression, saying "That old fool has hanged more men in that naked country than I have done here for the murder of my father." Charles recalled Berkeley to England, where the governor died.

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. It's no coincidence that the next series of slave codes, the laws condemning blacks to permanent and hereditary slavery and creating the racial caste system in the colonies, were enacted in Virginia within 5 years of the end of Bacon's Rebellion.



The Slave Codes (1680-1705):
Slave Laws Reflect racism and the Deliberate Separation of Blacks and Whites. Color becomes the Determining Factor. Conscious efforts to police slave conduct rigidly.

1680 -- Prescription of thirty lashes on the bare back "if any negroe or other slave shall presume to lift up his hand against any Christian."
1680's -- Development of a separate legal code providing distinct trial procedures and harsher punishments for negroes.
1680's -- Status of the child is determined by the status or condition of the mother.
1680's -- Severe punishment for slaves who leave their master's property or for hiding or resisting capture.
1691 -- Banishment for any white person married to a negroe or mulatto and approved a systematic plan to capture "outlying slaves."
1705 -- All negroe, mulatto, and Indian slaves shall be held, taken, and adjudged to be real estate.
1705 -- Dismemberment of unruly slaves was made legal.

Bacon's Rebellion helped bring about the racial caste system that would be the constant festering wound in the flesh and soul of the USA to the present day.




http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part1/1p274.html
http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h521.html
http://www.virginiaplaces.org/military/bacon.html
http://www.history.org/history/teaching/slavelaw.cfm
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