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13 January, 2012
The Story of Bacon's Rebellion|
XVI - Conclusion
by Standard, Mary Newton
|And was Bacon's Rebellion, then, a failure? Far from it. Judged by its results, it was indeed a signal success, for though the gallant leader himself was cut down by disease at a moment when he himself felt that he had but begun his work, though many of the bravest of his men paid for their allegiance to the popular cause upon the scaffold, that cause was won-not lost. Most of the people's grievances were relieved by the reforms in the administration of the government, and the reenactment of Bacon's Laws made the relief permanent. The worst of all the grievances-the Indian atrocities -was removed once and forever, for Bacon had inspired the savages with a wholesome fear of the pale faces, so that many of them removed their settlements to a safe distance from their English neighbors, and a general treaty of peace, which seems to have been faithfully kept, was effected with the others. And so the colonists never had any more trouble with the red men until they began to make settlements beyond the Blue Ridge.
According to a deposition made by "Great Peter, the great man of the Nansemond Indians," the Weyanoke tribe, "when Bacon disturbed the Indians," fled to their former settlements upon Roanoke River, in North Carolina. In 1711 some "old men of the Nottaway Indians" upon being asked if they knew anything of the return of the Weyanokes to Carolina replied, "They did go thither for they were afraid of Squire Bacon, and therefore were resolved to go to their own land."
Lovely woman flits in and out through the whole story of Bacon's Rebellion, touching up the narrative here and there with the interest her presence always creates. First there is the fair and fascinating young wife of Sir William Berkeley, said to have turned his head in his old age. A beautiful portrait of her remains to make excuses for the bewitched husband's weakness. She seems to have been capable of excessive irony upon oecasion. The Royal Commissioners indignantly complained that when they went ashore and called upon Lady Frances Berkeley she received them courteously and sent them back to the wharf, in state, in the Governor's coach, but they afterward found that the coachman she chose to drive them was the "common hangman."
Then there is the brave-hearted young bride of the Rebel, trembling with fears for his safety, no doubt, but exulting in his popularity, and writing home to tell about it.
We have a series of characteristic pictures in the dusky "Queen of Pamunkey" upbraiding the Virginians for the death of her consort, the "mighty Totapotamoy"; the house-wives running out of their homes to see the victorious Rebel pass and heap him with blessings and gifts of food; the white-aproned ladies guarding the Rebel fort from the guns of their own husbands, and, at the end of all, the wife of Major Cheesman upon her knees before the Governor, praying to be hanged in her husband's place. Madam Sarah Drummond seems to have been as ardent an admirer of Bacon as her husband. When others were hesitating for fear of what his Majesty's "red-coats" might do, she picked up a stick and broke it in two, saying, "I fear. the power of England no more than a broken straw."
The only child left by Nathaniel Bacon was a daughter, Mary, born a short time before or after his death, and through her many can claim descent from the Rebel, though. none of them bear his name. She grew, in due time, to womanhood, and married, in England, Hugh Chamberlain, a famous doctor of medicine and physician to Queen Anne, and became the mother of three daughters. The eldest of these, Mary, died a spinster, the second, Anna Maria, became the wife of the Right Honorable Edward Hopkins, who was a Member of Parliament for Coventry in the time of William III and Anne, and Secretary of State for Ireland. The third daughter, Charlotte, married Richard Luther, Esq., of Essex, England.
Young Madam Bacon, so early and tragically widowed, was married twice afterward-first becoming Madam Jarvis and later Madam Mole. Devoid of romance as this record sounds, her first love affair and marriage had not been without a strong flavor of that captivating element. The young woman's father, Sir Edward Duke, for reasons unknown, opposed the match with "Nat" Bacon and provided in his will that his bequest to her of œ2,000 should be forfeited if she should persist in marrying "one Bacon." That Mistress Elizabeth gave up her fortune for him, is but another proof of the Rebel's charm.
Later, as Madam Jarvis, she and her husband brought suit for a share in her father's estate, but the Lord Chancellor decided against her, and gave as his opinion that her father had been right-"such an example of presumptuous disobedience highly meriting such punishment; she being only prohibited to marry with one man by name, and nothing in the whole fair garden of Eden would serve her but this forbidden fruit."
Had Nathaniel Bacon's life been spared, who can say what its possibilities might or might not have been? His brief career was that of a meteor-springing in the twinkling of an eye into a dazzling being, dashing headlong upon its brilliant way, then going out in mystery, leaving only the memory of an existence that was all fire and motion. If he had lived a hundred years later the number of heroes of the American Revolution would doubtless have been increased by one-and his name would have been at the top of the list, or near it.
For about two hundred years after the episode of Bacon's Rebellion, in the history of Virginia, there was no light by which to view it other than such as was afforded by a few meagre accounts of persons opposed to it. It is only by the most painstaking and judicious sifting of these contemporary and sometimes vexingly conflicting statements, diligent study of the period, and research into official colonial records, of late years unearthed, that the truth of the matter can be arrived at.
Unveiled by such investigation, the character of Bacon seems to have been (while of course he had his faults like other mortals) self-sacrificing to a heroic degree, sincere, unmercenary, and high-minded. If otherwise, it nowhere is revealed, even by the chronicles of his enemies, who while they frown upon his course cannot hide their admiration of the man. Such of his followers as lived to tell the story of the struggle from their own point of view doubtless dared not commit it to paper. If his intrepid and accomplished friends, Drummond and Lawrence, had lived, they might have left some testimony which would have prevented the world from misjudging him as it did through so many generations, though, after all, no musty document could speak so clearly in his behalf as does the fact that they like so many others, were ready to give their lives for him. A fire-brand? Perhaps so; for some sores caustic is a necessary remedy. Profane? That he undoubtedly was, but plain speech was a part of the time he lived in, and a people settled in a wilderness and driven to desperation by hard times and the constant fear of violent death would hardly have chosen for their leader in a movement to redress their wrongs a man of mincing manners or methods. The only memorial of him left by a friendly hand, now remaining, is a bit of rhyme entitled, "Bacon's Epitaph made by his man," which truly prophesied,
"None shall dare his obsequies to sing
In deserv'd measures, until time shall bring
Truth crown'd with freedom, and from danger free
To sound his praise to all posterity."