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Jamestown Burns During Bacon’s Rebellion
On September 19, 1676, Nathaniel Bacon led an irate group of followers into Jamestown and burned nearly all the buildings to the ground.
In the mid-1670s, some Virginia colonists grew concerned over the government’s lack of action in the wake of increasing Native American attacks on their settlements. Among them was Nathaniel Bacon, who also took issue with Virginia’s governor William Berkeley. Bacon felt snubbed after not receiving a political appointment or being allow to trade with the Native Americans. When word spread about a new Indian raiding party, several hundred settlers met and elected Bacon as their leader, essentially beginning the rebellion.
Though governor Berkeley warned against it, the rebels set out on a mission and destroyed much of the Susquehannock tribe. After returning to Jamestown, Bacon demanded a commission to lead a militia against the Native Americans. Berkeley initially refused, but after Bacon and his followers threatened the burgesses (elected representatives), they granted his commission.
Bacon and his army then drafted and issued the Declaration of the People of Virginia, criticizing Berkeley for unfair taxes, appointing friends to prominent positions, and failing to protect citizens from attacks. After attacking the friendly Pamunkey tribe, Bacon and his men moved toward Jamestown. Berkeley abandoned the town and avoided being captured. Bacon knew he couldn’t hold the capital city or let Berkeley take it back, so he decided to burn it to the ground. Bacon’s men ran between buildings with burning brands and torched homes, the statehouse, warehouses, taverns, and even the church. Berkeley and his loyalists who’d escaped watched the glow of their home burning from downstream.
With Jamestown destroyed, Bacon went back to attacking Native American tribes. However, about a month after the burning, he died suddenly from typhus and dysentery. Though a new leader rose to take Bacon’s place, the rebels slowly disbanded. Berkeley launched successful attacks to quiet any further uprising from Bacon’s followers. But he was later removed from his role as governor by King Charles II to consolidate power and prevent another rebellion.