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The Story of Bacon's Rebellion
VIII - Civil War
by Standard, Mary Newton


The cheers of assent which answered the commander's words died upon the air, and the order to march was about to be given, when a messenger posted into camp with the news that Governor Berkeley was in Gloucester County raising forces to surprise Bacon and take his commission from him by force. The doughty young General, unfailing of resources, and nothing daunted even by this "amusing" message, promptly decided what he should do. In obedience to his command, trumpet and drum again called his men together that he might inform them that ere they could further pursue the chase after their "dearest foe" they must turn backward again once more to meet the even greater horrors of civil warfare-how instead of leading them as he had supposed, only against the hated redskins, he must now command that the sword of friend should be turned against friend, brother against brother.

"Gentlemen and Fellow Soldiers," he said, "the news just now brought me may not a little startle you as well as myself. But seeing it is not altogether unexpected, we may the better hear it and provide our remedies. The Governor is now in Gloucester County endeavoring to raise forces against us, having declared us rebels and traitors; if true, crimes indeed too great for pardon. Our consciences herein are best witnesses, and theirs so conscious as like cowards therefore they will not have the courage to face us. It is revenge that hurries them on without regard to the people's safety, and had rather we should be murdered and our ghosts sent to our slaughtered countrymen by their actings than we live to hinder them of their interest [the fur trade] with the heathen, and preserve the remaining part of our fellow-subjects from their cruelties. Now then, we must be forced to turn our swords to our own defence, or expose ourselves to their mercies, or fortune of the woods, whilst his Majesty's country lies here in blood and wasting (like a candle) at both ends. Row incapable we may be made (if we should proceed) through sickness, want of provisions, slaughter, wounds, less or more, none of us is void of the sense hereof.

"Therefore, while we are sound at heart, unwearied, and not receiving damage by the fate of war, let us descend to know the reasons why such proceedings are used against us. That those whom they have raised for their defense, to preserve them against the fury of the heathen, they should thus seek to destroy, and to betray our lives whom they raised to preserve theirs. If ever such treachery was heard of, such wickedness and inhumanity (and call all the ages to witness) and if any, that they suffered it in like manner as we are like by the sword and ruins of war.

"But they are all damned cowards, and you shall see they will not dare to meet us in the field to try the justness of our cause, and so we will down to them."

As the ringing notes of their commander's voice died away, a great shout arose from the soldiers. "Amen! Amen! "they cried. "We are all ready to die in the field rather than be hanged like rogues, or perish in the woods exposed to the favors of the merciless Indians!" And without more ado, they wheeled about and marched, a thousand strong, to meet their pursuers.

There was, however, to be no battle that day. It is true, as has been shown, that the Governor had raised forces under the pretense of going himself to aid in the Indian warfare, but really for the purpose of pursuing and surprising Bacon and (in true Indian-gift fashion) taking the commission away from him. But as soon as the Governor's army discovered for what service they were called out they bluntly, and with one accord, refused to obey marching orders, and setting up a cheer of "Bacon, Bacon, Bacon!" walked off the field-still (it is written) muttering in time to their step, "Bacon, Bacon, Bacon!"

The poor old Governor, finding himself thus abandoned, his friends so few, his cause so weak, his authority despised and his will thwarted at every turn, "for very grief and sadness of spirit," fainted away in his saddle. Soon enough he heard that Bacon was on the march toward Gloucester to meet him, and finding himself utterly unprepared for the encounter, he fled, in desperation, to Accomac County, upon the Eastern Shore of Virginia, which, cut off as it is by the broad waters of the Chesapeake, had not suffered from the Indian horrors that had failen upon the rest of the colony, and had remained loyal to the government. Here Sir William found a welcome shelter, though, even while giving him the balm of a hospitable greeting and according him the honor they conceived to be due him as the King's representative, the people of Accomac did not forbear to complain to him of the public abuses from which they had suffered in common with the folk across the Bay.

As unsuccessful as was Berkeley's attempt to muster an army to oppose Bacon, its consequences were dire. The "Royal Commissioners" appointed to investigate and report upon the merits of Bacon's Rebellion condemned it, declaring that nothing could have called back Bacon, "then the hopes of the people," from his march against the Indians, or "turned the sword of a civil war into the heart and bowels of the country, but so ill-timed a project as this proved."

"Now in vain," say the Commissioners, "the Governor attempt raising a force against Bacon, and although the industry and endeavors he used was great, yet at this juncture it was impossible, for Bacon at this time was so much the hopes and darling of the people that the Governor's interest proved but weak." And so he "was fain to fly" to Accomac.

When at length Bacon reached Gloucester he found "the Governor fled and the field his own," so he marched boldly, and without resistance, to the "Middle Plantation," the very "heart and center "of the colony, and soon to be chosen as the site for its new capital-storied Williamsburg. Here the young "rebel" found himself lord of all he surveyed-the Governor gone, and all Virginia, save the two counties on the Eastern Shore, in his power. After quartering his soldiers he issued a proclamation inviting all the gentlemen of Virginia to meet him at the "Middle Plantation," and "consult with him for the present settlement of that, his Majesty's distressed Colony, to preserve its future peace, and advance the effectual prosecution of the Indian war."

In response to the summons a great company of people gathered, on the third day of August, at the house of Mr. Otho Thorpe. From this convention the real Rebellion is dated. An oath was drawn up, by Bacon, to be taken by the people of Virginia, "of what quality soever, excepting servants." By it the people were bound to aid their General with their lives and estates in the Indian war; to oppose and hinder the Governor's designs, "if he had any," and to resist any forces that might be sent over from England to suppress Bacon until time was allowed to acquaint his Majesty with the "grievances" of the colony, and to receive a reply.

The oath was put into due form and read to the convention by the clerk of the Assembly. A stormy debate, which lasted from midday until midnight, followed. Some feared the oath (especially the clause regarding resistance of the King's soldiers) to be a dangerous one. Bacon, supported by many others, protested its innocency.

"The tenor of the oath" was declared in the report of the "Royal Commissioners" to be as follows:

"1. You are to oppose what forces shall be sent out of England by his Majesty against me, till such time I have acquainted the King with the state of this country, and have had an answer.

"2. You shall swear that what the Governor and Council have acted is illegal and destructive to the country, and what I have done is according to the laws of England.

"3. You shall swear from your hearts that my commission is legal and lawfully obtained.

"4. You shall swear to divulge what you have heard at any time spoken against me.

"5. You shall keep my secrets and not discover them to any person."

The men foremost in urging the oath were Colonel Swann, Colonel Beale, Colonel Ballard, and Squire Bray, of the Council, and Colonel Jordan, Colonel Smith, Culonel Scarsbrook, Colonel Milner, Mr. Lawrence, and Mr. Drummond-all of them gentlemen of standing in the colony.

Bacon himself pleaded hotly for the oath, and at last vowed that unless it were taken he would surrender up his commission to the Assembly, and "let them find other servants to do the country's work."

This threat decided the question. The oath was agreed to and was administered by the regular magistrates in almost all of the counties, "none or very few" dodging it.

Bacon's position, already so secure, was now made all the stronger by the arrival of the "gunner of York fort," breathless with the tidings that this, the "most considerablest fortress in the country," was in danger of being surprised and attacked by the Indians, and imploring help to prevent it. The savages had made a bold raid into Gloucester, massacring some of the settlers of the Carter's Creek neighborhood, and a number of the terror-stricken county folk had fled to York for refuge. The fort could offer them little protection, however, for Governor Berkeley had robbed it of its arms and ammunition, which he had stowed away in his own vessel and sailed away with them in his flight to the Eastern Shore.

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