Misrule And Rebellion In Virginia
Effect of the trade laws.—In 1660 Sir William Berkeley began his second administration, which proved to be as unsuccessful as his first administration had been successful. Economic distress and arbitrary misrule beset Virginia for sixteen years, culminating in a popular outbreak known as Bacon's rebellion. The navigation acts fell heavily upon the tobacco planters, who were deprived of the Dutch trade. The population at the same time rapidly increased. In 1671 the inhabitants numbered about forty thousand, and nearly doubled in the next decade. The increasing population meant an increasing acreage of tobacco. The price of tobacco fell, while freight rates increased and imported goods went up in price. To alleviate the situation the assembly passed several acts to encourage new industries, but the planters held to their one great staple. Several attempts were made to limit the production of tobacco, a policy in which the Virginians asked the people of Maryland and the Albemarle district to the south to coöperate, but the efforts failed. The act of 1673 worked an added injury, for it deprived the planters of the New England market.
Wars and other misfortunes.—The wars with Holland increased the economic distress. In 1667 a Dutch fleet entered the James River, captured an English frigate, and destroyed several trading vessels. Soon afterward a hurricane destroyed hundreds of houses and ruined the crops. In the winter of 1672-1673 a disease carried off fifty thousand cattle, more than half of all the stock in Virginia. A second Dutch raid in 1673 destroyed a large part of the tobacco fleet.
Governmental abuses.—Berkeley was a firm believer in the divine right of kings, and looked with disfavor upon any interference from the people. To him it seemed fitting that, as the king's representative, he should control every branch of governmental activity. His council was entirely subservient and he gained control of the house of burgesses by controlling the county elections through dishonest officials. In 1670 the assembly limited the franchise to freeholders; thus depriving the poor of voting. In the counties the justices of the peace were appointed by the governor. They exercised judicial, executive, and legislative functions. The county courts settled the more important suits and the individual justices determined minor cases. The courts also levied the direct taxes, which were very heavy. In addition, the local church divisions were governed by vestries which were selected by the governor. These bodies levied the taxes to pay the church expenses. The whole machinery of government was thus controlled by the governor. The form of taxation aggravated the situation. Instead of a property tax, which would throw the burden upon the great landholders, the poll-tax was the usual method of raising money, the poor man thus having to pay as much as the wealthy. There was also much bad judgment displayed in the use of public funds. In a period of low prices and overproduction, the heavy expenditures proved a serious burden, and discontent gradually developed into rebellion.
Proprietary grants.—The action of the English government also alarmed the colonists. In 1660 an attempt was made to renew the old Virginia Company. Berkeley visited England to prevent it and his mission proved successful. In 1649 the king had granted the region between the Potomac and the Rappahannock rivers to several of his supporters, and after the Restoration they leased their rights to Sir Humphrey Hooke and two others. In 1669 the grant was renewed. The Virginia assembly immediately sent agents to England to obtain the annulment of the patent or to allow the colony to purchase the tract. Before a settlement was made the king in 1673 granted the whole of Virginia to the Earl of Arlington and Lord Culpeper with full proprietory rights for thirty-one years. The assembly was greatly alarmed and directed its agents to seek the annulment of this patent also. The matter was finally settled by an arrangement with the proprietors by which they agreed to relinquish the patent provided the colony paid them the quit-rents and assured them the escheated property. The agents then asked the government that they be assured that no portion of the colony would be granted in future to any proprietors and that taxation would not be imposed without the consent of the house of burgesses. Before a settlement was reached Bacon's rebellion occurred.
Indian war.—The spark that kindled the rebellion was an Indian war. The Senecas, pressing upon the Susquehannas, forced them into Maryland and Virginia, where they committed depredations in the summer of 1675. The settlers retaliated by killing several Indians. The Susquehannas joined with the native tribes and harried the frontiers. Berkeley sent Colonel John Washington in command of several hundred men to join the Marylanders against an Indian fort on the Potomac, but after several weeks of fighting the red men escaped. This was followed by renewed depredations. Early in 1676 the governor prepared a second expedition but suddenly abandoned the project. In March the assembly met and decided to wage a defensive war. Forts were to be built upon the upper waters of the rivers and heavy taxes were demanded to pay for them.
Bacon's rebellion.—The people were greatly incensed at the policy, and demanded that the assembly be dissolved and a free election held. The frontiersmen also demanded that they be allowed to go against the Indians. Both of these demands the governor stubbornly refused. A rebellion immediately broke out in Charles City County, and Nathaniel Bacon, of Henrico, a member of Berkeley's council, was induced to lead it. The governor was asked to grant Bacon a commission to proceed against the Indians. Without waiting for the governor's decision, Bacon led his men against the Pamunkeys. Bacon's act angered Berkeley, who refused the commission and ordered Bacon and his men to lay down their arms. This they refused to do and retired beyond the frontier, where they destroyed an Indian stronghold on an island in the Roanoke River. Berkeley issued a proclamation declaring Bacon's acts disloyal and rebellious. To obtain popular support he dismantled the forts, dissolved the assembly, and called an election.
Bacon was elected in Henrico County and an armed guard accompanied him to the capital. Berkeley's troops fired upon Bacon's sloop, but that night Bacon entered the town to consult with friends. He was discovered, and eventually captured and brought before the governor, who, in view of the popular clamor, became lenient, granting him a pardon and promising him a commission as general. As the commission was not forthcoming, Bacon collected several hundred men and marched upon Jamestown, which he entered without opposition, and forced Berkeley to sign the commission and to write a letter to the king justifying Bacon's acts. The assembly now passed several bills which struck at the governor's power, and repealed the act which restricted the franchise to freeholders.
The burgesses had just completed their work when news came that the Indians were again on the warpath, and Bacon hastened with his volunteers to the frontier. No sooner was he gone than the governor began to enlist troops to proceed against the popular leader. Hearing of this Bacon returned and Berkeley fled to the eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay. Bacon was now in full control of the larger part of the colony. To justify his acts he took the oath of allegiance, imposed it upon his followers, and called an election. He then organized two expeditions, one against the governor, the other against the Indians. An English ship was seized and two hundred men were sent to capture Berkeley, but the governor's followers surprised the crew and captured the leaders. Berkeley then returned to Jamestown. While these events were occurring, Bacon marched against the Indians and captured a stronghold of the Pamunkeys. He then captured Jamestown and burned it, soon afterward retiring into Gloucester County, where he was taken sick and died. In a few months the people wearied of anarchy, many of the leaders surrendered, and Berkeley was again in control.
Berkeley's revenge.—In June, 1676, Berkeley had tendered his resignation to the king. Charles decided to allow him to retain the title of governor, but to have him return to England, leaving the government to a lieutenant-governor, Colonel Jeffreys being appointed. He was assisted by two commissioners, Berry and Moryson. A general pardon for the rebels was also drawn up. Berry and Moryson arrived in the colony and found the governor intractable. Jeffreys, with about a thousand troops, arrived soon afterward, but instead of asserting his authority, he allowed Berkeley to ignore the pardon proclamation and many were hung. Knowledge of Berkeley's disobedience reached the king, who ordered him to return to England at once, but before the order arrived Berkeley had embarked. He died soon after reaching England, and Lord Culpeper was appointed governor, but he did not reach Virginia until 1680.
Culpeper and Howard.—In the meantime the commissioners investigated the causes of the rebellion, and in July, 1677, Berry and Moryson took their report to England where it was laid before the privy council. Jeffreys, who was left in control, had little authority, and the government again fell into the hands of Berkeley's friends. Culpeper arrived in 1680, but he proved to be a weak individual who spent most of his time in England and did little when in the colony. In 1684 a new governor, Lord Howard of Effingham, proceeded at once to curb the powers of the house of burgesses. The right of appealing cases from the lower courts to the assembly was denied, henceforth the governor and council being the final court of appeal. The right of the king to annul laws passed by the assembly was also asserted in spite of violent opposition. The session of 1685 proved a stormy one. An attempt was made to take the power of taxation away from the assembly. The king, who had taken over the proprietory rights of Arlington and Culpeper, demanded that the quit-rents be paid in specie instead of tobacco. This the burgesses violently opposed, but they finally compromised by agreeing to pay somewhat less than the governor had demanded. A "bill of ports" was introduced which was intended to fix the points at which ships might load and unload. Another violent struggle occurred. Finally, on recommendation of the governor, the king dissolved the assembly. Lord Howard unseated several members and appointed the clerk of the assembly. The governor also collected certain fees, an act which the burgesses claimed was an encroachment upon the power of taxation. The colony was nearing another rebellion. In 1688 the assembly drew up a statement of grievances, which they sent to the king, but by the time it reached England James II had been driven from the throne and Effingham was soon recalled.
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