The Economic Causes of Bacon's Rebellion
- Amy Caldwell, Amy Caldwell PhD. History Program CSU Channel Islands, California State University Channel Islands
- James Meriwether, Department Head, History Department CSU Channel Islands, California State University Channel Islands
Bacon’s Rebellion is one of the most studied episodes in American history but analysis of the evidence shows that it was an economic rebellion rather than a spontaneous revolt for freedom from British control. By combining the demands of the Navigation Acts of 1660, the effects of mercantilism, the use of tobacco as a single source of revenue and the geography of Virginia our view of Bacon’s Rebellion need to change. The rebellious crowd of poor farmers, slaves, and indentured servants wanted to improve their immediate conditions. Nathaniel Bacon was not looking to remove English control of Virginia but Governor Berkeley’s reign. The evidence shows that Bacon blamed Governor Berkeley for preventing the settlement from becoming prosperous.
Through analysis of the primary sources, testimony at the post-rebellion inquisition, Bacon’s written words and economic data of the time, will show that the local populous became concerned with their daily existence rather than freedom from English control. A picture of economic hardship and the mixing of the lower classes show that Bacon’s Rebellion was about creating better living conditions.
The evidence shows that when the price of tobacco plummeted and taxes increased, the small planter-farmer and merchants suffered the most. The price of goods shipped from England became more expensive when tobacco prices decreased. When the harsh requirements of tobacco on the soil eventually depleted the natural resources in the earth, nothing else would grow. When a group of people feels cheated, hungry and is frightened, violence is how they rebel.
Bacon’s Rebellion was not about land as there was plenty of land and settlers were used to making decisions and taking care of themselves. This paper shows that it was more than a cry of freedom in the colonies; it was about people who united to improve their lives.