A Downhome Perspective on All Things Southern
For further information on John Cotton's authorship of the Burwell Papers,
see the chapter entitled "John Cotton, Poet Historian of Bacon's
Rebellion" in Prof. Jay Hubbell's book "South by Southwest."
"Our Late Troubles," Colonial Tracts, Vol. 1, No. 9, Published by George P. Humphrey, Rochester, NY.
To Mr. C. H. (Christopher Harris?) , at Yardly in Northamptonshire:
Sir: I having seen yours directed to _______________, and considering that you cannot have your desires satisfied that way, for the forementioned reasons, I have by his permission adventured to send you this brief account of those affairs, so far as I have been informed.
The Susquehanians and Marylanders of friends being engaged enemies, as hath by former letter been hinted to you, and that the Indians being resolutely bent not to foresake the fort, it came to this point, that the Marylanders were obliged, finding themselves too weak to do the work themselves, to supplicate--too soon granted--aid of the Virginians, put under the conduct of one Colonel Washington, him whom you have sometimes seen at your house, who, being joined with the Marylanders, invests the Indians in their fort with a negligent siege, upon which the enemy made several sallies, with as many losses to the besiegers, and at last gave them the opportunity to desert the fort, after that the English had, contrary to the law of the fort, after that the English had, contrary to the law of arms, beat out the brains of six great men sent out to treat a peace; an action of ill-consequence, as it proved afterwards, for the Indians having in the dark slipped through the Legure, and in their passage knocked ten of the besiegers on the head, whom they found fast asleep, leaving the rest to prosecute the siege (as Scoging's wife brooding the eggs that the fox had sucked), they resolved to employ their liberty in avenging their commissioners' blood, which they speedily effected in the death of sixty innocent souls, and then sent in their remonstrance to the governor in justification of the fact, with this expostulation against them, his professed friends, in behalf of the Marylanders, their avowed enemies; declaring their sorrow to see the Virginians of friends to become such violent enemies as to pursue the chase into another's dominions; complains that their messengers, sent out for peace were not only knocked on the head, but the fact countenanced by the governor for finding no other way to be satisfied, they had revenged themselves by killing ten for one of the English, such being the proportion between their men murdered and those by professing that that if they may have a valuable satisfaction for damage they had sustained by the English and that the Virginians would withdraw their aid from the Marylanders quarrel" that then they would renew the league with Sir W. B.,* otherwise they would prosecute the war to the last and the hardest fend of.
This was fairplay from foul gamesters. But the process was not to be allowed as of being contrary to the honor of the English, the Indians proceed, and, having drawn the neighboring Indians into their aid in a short time, they committed an abundance of unguarded and unrevenged murders, by which means a great many of the outward plantations sere deserted the doing whereof did not only terrify the whole colony supplanted what esteem the people formerly had for Sir W. B. whom they judged too remiss in applying means to stop the fury of the heathen, and to settle their affections and expectations upon one Esquire Bacon, newly come to the country of the council, and nearly related to your late wife's father in law, whom they desired might be commissioned general for the Indian war, which Sir William, for some reasons best known to himself, denying, the gentleman, without any scruple acceptance of a commission from the people's affections, signed by the emergencies of affairs and the country's danger, and so to advance with a small party, composed of such that on his authority, against the Indians, on whom, it is said he did signal execution. In his absence he, and those with him were declared rebels to the state, May 29th, and forces raised to reduce him to his obedience, at the head of which the governor advanced some thirty or forty miles to find out, but not knowing which way he was gone, he dismissed his army, retiring himself and council to Jamestown, there to be ready for the assembly, which was now upon the point of meeting, whither Bacon, some few days after his return home from his Indian march, repaired to render an account of his services, for which he and most of those with him in the expedition, were imprisoned; from whence they were freed by a judgement in court upon Bacon's trial, himself readmitted into the council, and promised a commission the Monday following (this was on Saturday) against the Indians; with which deluded, he smothers his resentments and begs leave to visit his lady, now sick, as he pretended, which being granted, he returns to town at the head of four or five hundred men, well armed and resumed his demands for a commission, which after some hours' struggle with the governor, being obtained, according to his desire, he takes order for the country's security against the attempts of sculking Indians, fills up his numbers and provisions according to the gage of his commission, and so once more advanced against the Indians, who, hearing of this approach, called in their runners and scouts, betaking themselves to their subterfuges and lurking holes. The general for so he was now denominated, had not reached the head of the York river, but that a post overtakes him and informs him that Sir W. B. was raising the train bands in Gloucester, with an intent either to fall into his rear, or otherwise to cut him off when he should return, weary and spent from his Indian service. This strange news put him and those with him shrewdly to their trumps, believing that a few such deals or shuffles, call them which you will, might quickly ring both cards and game out of his hands; he saw that there was an absolute necessity of destroying the Indians, and that there was some care to be taken for his own and the army's safety, otherwise the work might happen to be wretchedly done, where the laborers were made cripples, and be compelled instead of a sword to make use of a crutch. It vexed him to the heart, as he said, to think that while he was a hunting wolves, tigers, and bears which daily destroyed our harmless and innocent lambs, that he and those with him should be pursued in the rear with a full cry, as more savage beasts; he perceived, like the corn, he was light between those stones, which might grind him to powder if he did not look the better about him, for the preventing of which after a short consultation with his officers, he countermarched his army, about five hundred in all, down to the middle plantation, of which the governor being informed, ships himself and adherers for Accomack (for the Gloster men refused to own his quarrel against the general), after he had caused Bacon, in these parts to be proclaimed a rebel once more, July 29th.
Bacon, being sate down with his army at the middle plantation, sends out an invitation to all the prime gentlemen in these parts, to give him a meeting in his quarters, there to consult how the Indians were to be proceeded against, and himself and army protected against the designs of Sir W. B., against whose papers of the twenty ninth of May, and his proclamation since, he puts forth his replication and those papers upon these dilemmas.
First, whether persons wholly devoted to the king and country, haters of sinister and by-respects, adventuring their lives and fortunes to kill and destroy all in arms against king and country' that never plotted, contrived, or endeavored the destruction, detriment or wrong, of any of his majesty's subjects, their lives, fortunes, or estates, can deserve the names of rebels and traitors. Secondly, he cites his own and soldiers' peaceable behavior, calling the whole country to witness against him if they can' he upbraids some in authority with the meanness of their parts, others, now rich, with the meanness of their estates when they came into the country, and questions by what just ways they have obtained their wealth, whether they have not been the sponges that have sucked up the public treasury; questions what arts, sciences, schools of learning, or manufactories, have been promoted in authority; justifies his aversion in general against the Indians; upbraids the governor for maintaining their quarrel, though ever so unjust, against the Christians' rights, his refusal to admit an Englishman's oath against an Indian, when that Indian's bare would should be accepted of against an Englishman; said something against the governor concerning the beaver trade, as not in his power to dispose of to his own profit, it being a monopoly of the crown; questions whether the traders at the heads of the rivers, being his factors do not buy and sell the blood of their brethren and countrymen, by furnishing the Indians with powder, shot, and firearms, contrary to the laws of the colony; that he arraigns one Colonel Cowell's assertion, for saying that the English are bound to protect the Indians to the hazard of their blood; and so concludes with an appeal to the king and parliament, where he doubts not but that his and the people's cause will be impartially heard.
To comply with the general's ivitation, hinted in my former letter, ther was a great convention of the people met him in his quarters, the result of which meeting was an engagement for the people (of whatsoever quality, excepting servants) to subscribe to, consisting of three heads: First, to be aiding with their lives and estates, the general in the Indian war; secondly, to oppose Sir William's designs, if he had any, to hinder the same; and lastly, to protect the general, army, and all that should subscribe to this engagement, against any power that should be sent out of England, till it should be granted that the country's complaint might be heard, against Sir William, before the king and parliament. these three heads being methodized and put into form by the clerk of the assembly, who happened to be at this meeting, and read to the people, they held a dispute from almost noon till midnight, pro and con, whether the same might, in the last article especialy, be without danger taken. The general, and some others of the chief men, were resolute in the affirmative, asserting its innocency, an protesting without it , he would surrender up his commission to the asembly, and let them find other servants to do the country's work; this, and the news that the Indians were falling down into Gloster county, and had killed some people around Carter's creek, made the people willing to take the engagement. The hief men who subscribed it at this meeting were coloel Swan, colonel Beale, colonel Ballard, Esquire Bray, all four of the council, Colonel Jordan, colonel Smith of Purton, Colonel Scarsbrook, Colonel Miller, colonel Lawrance, and Mr. Drommond, late governor of Carolina, all persons with whom you have been formerly acquainted.
This work being over, and orders given for an assembly to sit on the fourth of September, the writs being issued in his majesty's name, and signed by four of the council, before named, the general once more sets out to find the Indians: of which Sir William having gained intelligence to prevent Bacon's designs by the assembly, returns from Accomack with about one thousand soldiers, and others, in five shipss and ten sloops, to Jamestown, in whih were some nine hundred Baconians, for so now they began to be called for a mark of distinction under the command of Colonel Hansford, who was commissioned by Bacon to raise forces, if need were, in his absence for the safety of the country. Unto these Sir William sends in a summons for a rendition of the place, with a pardon to all that would decine Bacon's, and entertain his cause. What was returned to this summons I know not, but in the night the Baconians forsake the town, by the advice of Drommond and Lawrance (who were both excepted in the governor's summons, out of mercy), every one returning to their own abode, excepting Drommond, Hansford, Lawrence, and some few others, who went to find the general, now returned to the head of the York river, having spent his provisions in the following the Indians, on whom he did some execution, and sent them packing a great way from the borders.
Before that Drommond, and those with him, had reached the general, he had dismissed his army to their respected habitations, to gather strength against the next intended expedition, excepting some few reserved for his guard, and persons living in these parts, unto whom, those that came with Hansford being joined, made about one hundred and fifty in all. With these, Bacon, by a swift march before any news was heard of his return from the Indians, in these parts, comes to town, to the consternation of all in it, and there blocks the governor up, which he easily effected by this unhead of project: he was no sooner arrived at town, but by several parties of horse, two or three in a party, for more he could not spare, he fetcheth into his little Leagure all the prime men's wives, whose husbands were with the governor, as Colonel Bacon's lady, Madame Bray, Madame Page, Madame Ballard, and others, who the next morning, he presents to the view of their husbands and friends in town, upon the top of the small work he had ast up in the night, where he caused them to tarry until he had finished his defense against his enemies' shot, it being the only place, as you do know well enough for those in town to make a sally at, which when completed, and the governor understanding that the gentlewomen were withdrawn to a place of safety, he sent out some six or seven hundred of his soldiers, to beat Bacon out of his trench. But it seems that those works, that were protected by such charms while raising, that plugged up the enemy's shot in their guns, could not now be stormed by a virtue less powerful when finished, than the sight of a few white aprons, otherwise the service had been more honorable and the damage les, several of those who made the sally being slain and wounded, without one drop of blood drawn from the enemy. Within two or three days after this disaster, the govenernor reships himself, soldiers, and all the inhabitants of the town, and their goods, and so to Accomack again, leaving Bacon to enter the place at his pleasure, which he did the next morning before day, and the night following burned it down to the ground, to prevent a future siege, as he said, which flagrant and flagitious act performed, he draws his men out of town, and marched them over York river, at Tindell's point, to find colonel Brent who was advancing fast upon him from Potomack, at the head of twelve hundred men, as he was informed, with a design to raise Bacon's siege from before the town, or otherwise to fight him as he saw cause; but Brent's soldiers no sooner heard that Bacon had got on the north side of York river, with an intent to fight them, and that he had beat the governor out of town, and fearing if he met with them that he might beat them out of their lives, they basely forsook their colors, the greater part adhering to Bacon's cause, resolving with the Persians to go and worship the rising sun, now approaching hear their horizon; of which Bacon being informed, he stops his proceedings that way, and begins to provide for another expedition against the Indians, of whom he had heard no news since his last march against them; which while he was a contriving, death summoned him to more urgent affairs, into whose hands, after a short siege, he surrenders his life, leaving his commission in the custody of his lieutenant-general, one Ingram, newly come into the country.
Sir William no sooner had news that Bacon was dead but he sent over a party, in a sloop, to York, who snapped Colonel Hansford and others with him, that kept a negligent guard at Colonel Reade's house, under his command. When Hansford came to Accomack, he had the honor to be the first Virginian born that was ever hanged' the soldiers, about twenty in all that wee taken with him, were committed to prison, Captain Carver, Captain Wilford, Captain Farice, with five or six others of less note, taken at other places, ending their days as Hansford did; major Cheesman being appointed, but it seems not destined to the like end, which he prevented by dying in prison, through ill-usage, as it is said.
This execution being over, which the Baconians termed cruelty in the abstract, Sir William ships himself and soldiers for York river, casting anchor at Tindell's point, from where he sent up one hundred and twenty men, to durprise a guard of about thirty men and boys, kept at Colonel Bacon's house under the command of major Whaley, who being forewarned by Hansford's fate, prevented the designed conflict, with the death of the commander-in-chief, and the taking some prisoners; Major Lawrence Smith, with six hundred men, meeting with like fate at Colonel Pate's house in Gloster, against Ingram, the Baconian general, only Smith saved himself by leaving his men in the lurch, being all made prisoners, whom Ingram dismissed to their own homes; Ingram himself, and all under his command , within a few days after, being reduced to his duty by the well contrivance of Captain Grantham, who was now lately arrived at York river, which put a period to the wary, and brought the governor ashore at Colonel Bacon's where he was presented with Mr. Drommond, taken the day before in Chickahominy swamp, half famished, as he himself related to my husband;' from Colonel Bacon's, the next day, he was conveyed to irons to Mr. Bray's, whither the governor had removed to his trial, where he was condemned, within half an hour after his coming to Esquire Bray's, to be hanged at the middle plantation within four hours after his condemnation, where he was accordingly executed, with a pitiful Frenchman. Which done, the governor removed to his own house, to settle his and the country's repose, after his many troubles, which he effected by the advice of his council and an assembly, convened at the Green spring, where several were condemned to be executed, prime actors in the rebellion, as Esquire Bland, Colonel Cruse and some others, hanged at Bacon's trency, Captain Yong of Chickahominy, Mr. Hall, clerk of New Kent court, James Wilson, once your servant, and one Lieutenant-colonel Page (one that my husband bought of Mr. Lee, when he kept store at your house), all four executed at Colonel Read's, over against Tindell's point, and Anthony Arnell, the same that did live at your house, hanged in chains at West Point, besides several others executed on the other side of James river--enough, they say, in all, to outnumber those slain in the whole war on both sides, it being observable that the sword was more favorable than the halter, as there was a greater liberty taken to run from the sharpness of the one than would be allowed to shun the dull enbraces of the other, the hangman being more dreadful to the Baconians than their general was to the Indians, as it is counted more honorable and less terrible to die like a soldier than to be hanged like a dog.
Thus sir, have I rendered you an account of our late troubles in Virginia, which I have performed too wordishly, but I did not know how to help it. Ignorance in some cases is a prevalent overture in pleading for pardon; I hope mine may have the fortune to prove so in the behalf of,
Sir, your friend and servant
From Q. Creek. An. Cotton.
To his wife, A.C., at Q. Creek:
My Dear: Although those who have depicted that fickle goddess, Fortune, have represented her under various shapes, thereby to denote her inconstancies, yet do I think there is not anything sublunary subjected to the vicissitudes of her temper so much as is the condition and estate of mankind. All things else partake something of a steadfast and permanent degree except man in the state of his affairs. The sun is constant in his annual progress through the zodaic, the moon in her changes, the other planets in their aspects. The productions of the earth have a fixed constant season for their growth and increase, when that man, in his creation little inferior to the angels, cannot promise unto himself a fixed conditio this side of heaven.
Hos many hath thou and read of, that the sun hath shined upon in the east, with honors and dignities, which his western beams hath seen louded with poverty, reproaches, and contumelies. The same moment that saw Caesar chief man in the senate, beheld him in a worse condition than the meanest slave in Rome; and in less than six hours Phoebus eyed the Marquis of Ancrey, in the midst of his rustling train of servitors, not only streaming out his blood, but spurned and dragged up and down the dirty streets of Paris, by the worst of mechanics. It is but the other day that I did see N.B. in the condition of a traitor, to be tried for his life, who but a few days before was judged the most accomplished gentleman in Virginia to serve his king and country at the council table, or to put a stop to the insolencies of the heathen, and the next day raised to his dignities again. Thus doth fortune sport herself with poor mortals, sometimes mount them up into the air, violence down, and then again strike them against the earth, that they may with ye greater speed mount up into the air, etc.
From Town, June 9 '76.
W. B. is Sir William Berkeley
N. B. is Nathaniel Bacon
Q. Creek is Queens Creek in York County, Virginia
An. Cotton is the wife of John Cotton
C. H. we believe is Christopher Harris
For more information: The story of Bacon's Rebellion: http://www.ls.net/~newriver/va/bacon.h
Colonial Tracts, No. 10, Vol. 1 "A Narrative of the Indian and Civil Wars in Virginia in the Years 1675 and 1676," Boston: John Eliot, No. 5 Court Street, 1814.
Dear Sir--The manuscript copy of Bacon and Ingram's Rebellion was found among the papers of the late Captain Nathaniel Burwell of King William County. I have not been able to obtain many particulars from his family relative to it. At the close of the war he heard of its existence in an old and respectable family of the northern neck of Virginia, and procured it for his amusement; he entertained no doubt of its antiquity, and valued it on that account.
From the appearance of the work, the minute and circumstantial detail of facts, the orthography, and the style, I am perfectly satisfied his opinion was correct. I hope it will be found worthy of a place in the valuable collections of the society to which you belong.
Permit me to offer my best wishes for the success of your labors.
William A. Burwell, of Virginia
The Indian Proceedings.* (We regret that the beginning of this manuscript is missing, and that several parts were so much torn that it became necessary to leave vacant spaces. Where the expression is uncertain, but the page is not wholly disfigured, we have used italic letters.--Ed.
For their own security. They found that their store was too short to endure a long siege, without making empty bellies, and that empty bellies make weak hearts, which always makes an unfit serving man to wait upon the god of war. Therefore they wee resolved, before their spirits were down, to do what they were resolved, before their spirits were down, to do what they could to keep their stores up, as opportunity should befriend them; and although they were by the law of arms (as the case now stood) prohibited the hunting of wild deer, they resolved to see what good might be done by hunting tame horses, which trade became their sport so long that those who came on horseback to the siege began to rear they should be compelled to trot home on foot, and glad if they escaped to do so, too, for these beleagured blades made so many sallies, and the besiegers kept such negligent guard, that there were very few days passed without some remarkable mischief. But what can hold out always? Even stone walls hield to the not to be gainsaid summons of time. And although it is said that the Indians do the least mind their bellies (as being content with a little) of any people in the world, yet now their bellies begin to mind them and their stomachs, too, which began to be more inclinable to peace than war, which was the cause( no more horse flesh being to be had) that they sent out six of their Woerances (chief men) to commence a treaty. What the articles wee that they brought along with them to treat of I do not know, but certainly they were so unacceptable to the English that they caused their commissioners' brains to be knocked out for dictating so badly to their tongues, which yet is possible, expressed more reason than the English had to prove the lawfulness of this action, being diametrical to the law of arms.
This strange action put those in the fort to their trumps, having thus lost some of their prime court cards without a fair dealing. They could not tell what interpretation to put upon it (nay, indeed, nobody else), and very fain they would understand why those whom they sent out with a view to supplicate a peace should be worse dealt with than those who were sent out with a sword to denounce a war; but no one could be got to make inquiry into the reason of this..which put them upon a resolution to forsake their station, and not to expostulate the cause any further. Having made this resolution and destroyed all things in the fort that might be serviceable to the English, they boldly, undiscovered, slip through the league (leaving the English to prosecute the siege as Schogin's wife brooded the eggs that the fox had sucked), in the passing of which they knocked ten men on the head who lay carelessly asleep in their way.
Economic and social power became concentrated in late seventeenth-century Virginia, leaving laborers and servants with restricted economic independence. Governor William Berkeley feared rebellion: “six parts of Seven at least are Poore, Indebted, Discontented and Armed.” Planter Nathaniel Bacon focused inland colonists’ anger at local Indians, who they felt were holding back settlement, and at a distant government unwilling to aid them. In the summer and fall of 1676, Bacon and his supporters rose up and plundered the elite’s estates and slaughtered nearby Indians. Bacon’s Declaration challenged the economic and political privileges of the governor’s circle of favorites, while announcing the principle of the consent of the people. Bacon’s death and the arrival of a British fleet quelled this rebellion, but Virginia’s planters long remembered the spectacle of white and black acting together to challenge authority.
1. For having, upon specious pretenses of public works, raised great unjust taxes upon the commonalty for the advancement of private favorites and other sinister ends, but no visible effects in any measure adequate; for not having, during this long time of his government, in any measure advanced this hopeful colony either by fortifications, towns, or trade.
2. For having abused and rendered contemptible the magistrates of justice by advancing to places of judicature scandalous and ignorant favorites.
3. For having wronged his Majesty’s prerogative and interest by assuming monopoly of the beaver trade and for having in it unjust gain betrayed and sold his Majesty’s country and the lives of his loyal subjects to the barbarous heathen.
4. For having protected, favored, and emboldened the Indians against his Majesty’s loyal subjects, never contriving, requiring, or appointing any due or proper means of satisfaction for their many invasions, robberies, and murders committed upon us.
5. For having, when the army of English was just upon the track of those Indians, who now in all places burn, spoil, murder and when we might with ease have destroyed them who then were in open hostility, for then having expressly countermanded and sent back our army by passing his word for the peaceable demeanor of the said Indians, who immediately prosecuted their evil intentions, committing horrid murders and robberies in all places, being protected by the said engagement and word past of him the said Sir William Berkeley, having ruined and laid desolate a great part of his Majesty’s country, and have now drawn themselves into such obscure and remote places and are by their success so emboldened and confirmed by their confederacy so strengthened that the cries of blood are in all places, and the terror and consternation of the people so great, are now become not only difficult but a very formidable enemy who might at first with ease have been destroyed.
6. And lately, when, upon the loud outcries of blood, the assembly had, with all care, raised and framed an army for the preventing of further mischief and safeguard of this his Majesty’s colony.
7. For having, with only the privacy of some few favorites without acquainting the people, only by the alteration of a figure, forged a commission, by we know not what hand, not only without but even against the consent of the people, for the raising and effecting civil war and destruction, which being happily and without bloodshed prevented; for having the second time attempted the same, thereby calling down our forces from the defense of the frontiers and most weakly exposed places.
8. For the prevention of civil mischief and ruin amongst ourselves while the barbarous enemy in all places did invade, murder, and spoil us, his Majesty’s most faithful subjects.
Of this and the aforesaid articles we accuse Sir William Berkeley as guilty of each and every one of the same, and as one who has traitorously attempted, violated, and injured his Majesty’s interest here by a loss of a great part of this his colony and many of his faithful loyal subjects by him betrayed and in a barbarous and shameful manner exposed to the incursions and murder of the heathen. And we do further declare these the ensuing persons in this list to have been his wicked and pernicious councilors, confederates, aiders, and assisters against the commonalty in these our civil commotions.
Sir Henry Chichley William Claiburne Junior
Lieut. Coll. Christopher Wormeley Thomas Hawkins
William Sherwood Phillip Ludwell
John Page Clerke Robert Beverley
John Cluffe Clerke Richard Lee
John West Thomas Ballard
Hubert Farrell William Cole
Thomas Reade Richard Whitacre
Matthew Kempe Nicholas Spencer
John West, Hubert Farrell, Thomas Reade, Math. Kempe
And we do further demand that the said Sir William Berkeley with all the persons in this list be forthwith delivered up or surrender themselves within four days after the notice hereof, or otherwise we declare as follows.
That in whatsoever place, house, or ship, any of the said persons shall reside, be hid, or protected, we declare the owners, masters, or inhabitants of the said places to be confederates and traitors to the people and the estates of them is also of all the aforesaid persons to be confiscated. And this we, the commons of Virginia, do declare, desiring a firm union amongst ourselves that we may jointly and with one accord defend ourselves against the common enemy. And let not the faults of the guilty be the reproach of the innocent, or the faults or crimes of the oppressors divide and separate us who have suffered by their oppressions.
These are, therefore, in his Majesty’s name, to command you forthwith to seize the persons above mentioned as traitors to the King and country and them to bring to Middle Plantation and there to secure them until further order, and, in case of opposition, if you want any further assistance you are forthwith to demand it in the name of the people in all the counties of Virginia.
General by Consent of the people.
Source: "Declaration of Nathaniel Bacon in the Name of the People of Virginia, July 30, 1676,"Massachusetts Historical Society Collections, 4th ser., 1871, vol. 9: 184–87.