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13 January, 2012
The Story of Bacon's Rebellion|
XIII. - "The Prosperous Rebel"
by Standard, Mary Newton
|The firebrand's uncanny work complete, Bacon marched his men back to "Green Spring" and quartered them there. That commodious plantation, noted among other things for its variety of fruits and its delightful spring water, must have been a welcome change from the trenches before Jamestown, haunted by malaria and mosquitoes.
Comfortably established in Sir William Berkeley's own house, the Rebel's next step was to draw up an oath of fidelity to the people's cause, denouncing Sir William as a traitor and an enemy to the public good, and again binding his followers to resist any forces that might be sent from England until such time as his Majesty should "fully understand the miserable case of the country, and the justice of our proceedings," and if they should find themselves no longer strong enough to defend their "lives and liberties," to quit the colony rather than submit to "any such miserable a slavery" as they had been undergoing.
Though the "prosperous rebel," as the Royal Commissioners call Bacon, had now everything his own way, his hour of triumph was marked by diginity and moderation. Even those who opposed him bore witness that he "was not bloodily inclined in the whole progress of this rebellion " He had only one man-a deserter-executed, and even in that case he declared that he would spare the victim if any single one of his soldiers would speak a word to save him. The Royal Commissioners, who had made a careful study of Bacon's character, expressed the belief that he at last had the poor fellow's life taken, not from cruelty, but as a wholesome object lesson for his army.
He suggested an exchange of prisoners of war to Berkeley-offering the Reverend John Clough (minister at Jamestown), Captain Thomas Hawkins, and Major John West, in return for Captain Carver (of whose execution, it seems, he had not heard), Bland, and Farbe. Governor Berkeley scorned to consider the proposition, and instead of releasing the gentlemen asked for, afterward sent the remaining two after the luckless Captain Carver, although Bacon spared the lives of all those he had offered in exchange, and though Mr. Bland's friends in England had procured the King's pardon for him, which he pleaded at his trial was even then in the Governor 's pocket.
Though Bacon him self was never accused of putting any one to death in cold blood, or of plundering any house, he found that the people began to complain bitterly of the depredations, rudeness, and disorder of his men. He therefore set a strict discipline over his army and became more moderate than ever himself.
After a few days' rest at "Green Spring" the Rebel marched on to Tindall's Point, Gloucester County, where he made the home of Colonel Augustine Warner, Speaker of the House of Burgesses, his headquarters. From there he sent out a notice to all the people of the county to meet him at the court-house for the purpose of taking his oath.
His plans were now suddenly interrupted by a repost from Rappahannock County that Colonel Brent, who, it seems, had gone over to the Governor's side, was advancing upon him at the head of eleven hundred militia. No sooner had be heard this news than he ordered the drums to beat up his soldiers, under their colors, and told them of the strength of the approaching army, and of Brent's "resolution" to fight him, and demand theirs."
With their wonted heaftiness, his men made answer in "shouts and acciamations, while the drums thunder a march to meet the promised conflict."
Thus encouraged, Bacon set out without delay to give the enemy even an earlier chance to unload his guns than he had bargained for. He had been on the march for several days when, instead of meeting a hostile army, he was greeted with the cheerful tidings that Brent's followers, who were described as "men, not soldiers," had left their commander to "shift for himself." They had heard how the Rebel had beat the Governor out of town, and lest he should "beat them out of their lives," some of them determined to keep a safe distance from him, while most of them unblushingly deserted to him, deeming it the part of wisdom "with the Persians, to go and worship the rising sun."
Bacon now hastened back to Gloucester Court House to meet the county folk there, in accordance with his appointment. The cautious denizens of Gloucester, reckoning that in such uncertain times there might be danger in declaring too warmly for either the one side or the other, petitioned through Councillor Cole, who acted as spokesman, that they might be excused from taking the oath of fidelity, and "indulged in the benefit of neutrality." Lukewarmness in his service was a thing wholly new to Bacon, and utterly contemptible in his eyes. He haughtily refused to grant so unworthy a request, telling those who made it that they put him in mind of the worst of sinners, who desired to be saved with the righteous, "yet would do nothing whereby they might obtain their salvation."
He was about to leave the place in disgust when one of the neutrals stopped him and told him that he had only spoken "to the horse" -meaning the troopers-and had said nothing to the "foot." Bacon cuttingly made answer that he had "spoken to the men, and not to the horse, having left that service for him to do, because one beast would best understand the meaning of another."
Mr. Wading, a parson, not only refused to take the oath himself, but tried to persuade others against it, whereupon Bacon had him arrested, telling him that "it was his place to preach in the church-not in the camp," and that in the one place he might say what he pleased, in the other only what Bacon pleased, "unless he could fight better than he could preach."
It was clearly the clause regarding resistance of the English forces that made the people suspicious and afraid of the oath. John Goode, a Virginia planter, and a near neighbor of Bacon's, had been one of the first among the volunteers to enlist under him, but afterward went over to Governor Berkeley. He wrote the Governor a letter reporting a conversation between himself and Bacon which he said they had had upon the second of September. This must have been during Bacon's last Indian march, and about ten days before the siege of Jamestown.
According to Goode, Bacon had spoken to him of a ruinor that the King had sent two thousand "red-coats" to put down the insurgents, saying that if it were true he believed that the Virginians could beat them-having the advantages of knowing the country, understanding how to make ambuscades, etc., and being accustomed to the climate-which last would doubtless play havoc in the King's army.
Goode writes that he discouraged resistance of the "red-coats," and charged Bacon with designing a total overthrow of the Mother Country's government in Virginia -to which Bacon coolly made answer, "Have not many princes lost their dominions in like manner?" and frankly expressed the opinion that not only Virginia, but Maryland and Carolina would cast off his Majesty's yoke as soon as they should become strong enough.
The writer adds that Bacon furthermore suggested that if the people could not obtain redress for their grievances from the Crown, and have the privilege of electing their own governors, they might "retire to Roanoke," and that he then "fell into a discourse of seating a plantation in a great island in the river as a fit place to retire to for a refuge."
Goode describes his horror at such a daring suggestion, and says he assured Bacon that he would get no aid from him in carrying it out, and that the Rebel replied that he was glad to know his mind, but charged that "this dread of putting his hand to the promoting" of such a design was prompted by cowardice, and that Goode's attitude would seem to hint that a gentleman engaged as he (Bacon) was, must either "fly or hang for it."
The writer says that he suggested to the Rebel that "a seasonable submission to authority and acknowledgment of errors past" would be the wisest course for one in his ticklish position, and, after giving this prudent advice, Mr. Goode, fearing that alliance with Bacon was growing to be a risky business, asked leave to go home for a few days, which was granted, and he never saw the Rebel again-for which, he piously adds, he was very thankful.
Gloucester folk, who evidently did not realize as fully as Mr. Goode that discretion is the better part of valor, finally' came to terms, and took the dangerous oath. Six hundred men are said to have subscribed to it in one place, besides others in other parts of the county.
Bacon next turned his attention to making plans for the regulation of affairs in the colony. One of his schemes was to visit all "the northern parts of Virginia," and inquire personally into their needs, so as to meet them as seemed most fit. He appointed a committee to look after the south side of James River, and inquire into the plundering reported to have been done there by his army; another committee was to be always with the army, with authority to restrain rudeness, disorder, and depredations, while still another was to have the management of the Indian war.