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The Appalling Way the British Tried to Recruit Americans Away from Revolt

The Appalling Way the British Tried to Recruit Americans Away from Revolt



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The British prison ships that dotted the Eastern seaboard during American Revolution have been gone for more than two centuries. But the horrors they left in their wake are unlikely to be forgotten: starvation, disease, cruelty and a death toll that may have exceeded 11,000 men and boys—far more than died fighting on land.

While that story is all too familiar to students of the war, there is also another, lesser-known one—the surprising heroism of the ragtag American captives.

Barely three months after the American colonists had declared their independence, the British positioned their first prison ship, the Whitby, in a bay off Brooklyn. They’d soon add prison ships in Charleston, Savannah, Norfolk, off the coast of Florida and in Canada.

Brooklyn and New York City, which British forces occupied, became the most active hub, with a small fleet of ships and several thousand prisoners at any given time. Most of the existing survivor accounts come from men who were held aboard those ships, particularly the HMS Jersey, which would become the most notorious of them all.

INTERACTIVE: George Washington: A Timeline of His Life

The prisoners were a mix of soldiers, sailors and rebellious civilians. Many were crew members from privateers—privately owned ships authorized by the Continental Congress, which had little navy of its own, to harass and seize British vessels. To crew the privateers, their captains often relied on young men and teenagers from New England and elsewhere in the colonies. They typically had little sailing experience but were eager for more excitement than they’d find behind a plow.

When the British captured a privateer, members of its crew were frequently offered a choice: Sign on with a British vessel or take your chances on a prison ship.

READ MORE: The HMS Jersey

Most of the young Americans knew what imprisonment would mean. Colonial newspapers had reported on the horrific conditions and brutal treatment aboard the prison ships from the beginning, historian Edwin G. Burrows writes in his 2008 book, Forgotten Patriots. Even so, the great majority of the captured sailors who had any choice in the matter took prison over serving the British. The historian Jesse Lemisch estimated that only about 8 percent of the Americans went over to the other side, although some researchers put the number slightly higher.

Once aboard the prison ships, the recruiting efforts continued. Some prisoners were offered cash, others told that their families would starve in the streets. The horrors of the prison ships also served as a recruiting tool, making any alternative—even betraying one’s country—seem attractive by comparison. Ebenezer Fox, a prisoner on the Jersey, marveled that, “Many were actually starved to death in hope of making them enroll themselves in the British Army.”

READ MORE: Congress authorizes privateers to attack British vessels

A floating receptacle of human misery

Just how bad were the conditions on these ships? The survivors’ first-person accounts more than speak for themselves.

“I now found myself in a loathsome prison, among a collection of the most wretched and disgusting looking objects that I ever beheld in human form,” wrote Fox, who’d been captured as a teenage cabin steward aboard a privateer. “Here was a motley crew, covered with rags and filth; visages pallid with disease, emaciated with hunger and anxiety, and retaining hardly a trace of their original appearance.”

“I soon found that every spark of humanity had fled the breasts of the British officers who had charge of that floating receptacle of human misery; and that nothing but abuse and insult was to be expected,” wrote Alexander Coffin Jr., who, as an 18-year-old sailor, was imprisoned on the Jersey. “But to cap the climax of infamy we were fed (if fed it might be called) with provisions not fit for any human being to make use of—putrid beef and pork, and worm-eaten bread...”

“There were continual noises during the night,” wrote Thomas Dring, a captured master’s mate from a privateer, age 25. “The groans of the sick and the dying; the curses poured out by the weary and exhausted upon our inhuman keepers; the restlessness caused by the suffocating heat and the confined and poisoned air; mingled with the wild and incoherent ravings of delirium.”

Under such conditions, disease flourished. “Small-pox, dysentery, yellow fever and other contagions ran rampant in the crowded holds,” notes Robert P. Watson in The Ghost Ship of Brooklyn, his 2017 book about the Jersey. Although the British stationed hospital ships nearby, they were poorly supplied and soon overwhelmed with patients. As a result, many of the sick were left aboard the prison ships, where they infected others. By one estimate, at least six prisoners died every day, and sometimes twice that number.

Many of the dead were buried on the nearby beaches, in graves so shallow that their corpses soon poked up through the sand. Prisoners aboard ship could see the bones of their former comrades bleaching in the sun, and skulls and other remnants would turn up for many years thereafter.

George Washington, the commander of the Continental Army, wrote multiple letters to his British adversaries, urging better treatment for the prisoners. In one he questioned why they should be held aboard ships at all and “by crouding them together in a few [ships], bring on Disorders which consign them by half Dozens a Day to the grave.” But even his protests were to little avail.

READ MORE: Continental Congress authorizes first naval force

‘They preferred to linger and die’

Although the American prisoners greatly outnumbered their guards, there were few reports of attempted rebellions aboard the prison ships, perhaps because most prisoners couldn’t have summoned the strength. Some attempted escape, even though the British promised to kill them on the spot if they were caught.

Among those who succeeded was Christopher Hawkins, age 17, who, with the help of a compatriot, managed to smash open a gun port in the side of the Jersey, taking advantage of a thunderstorm that kept the guards from hearing the noise. He then swam the several miles to shore and arrived on land naked except for his hat.

Others remained behind, knowing that, unless the war ended soon, they had only two options: turn traitor or, in all likelihood, never leave the ship alive.

Even so, they resisted. Dring wrote of one unsuccessful recruiting attempt, involving a British regiment stationed in Brooklyn: “We were invited to join this Royal Band, and to partake of his Majesty’s pardon and bounty. But the prisoners, in the midst of their unbounded suffering, of their dreadful privation and consuming anguish, spurned the insulting offer. They preferred to linger and to die, rather than desert their country’s cause.”

He added, “During the whole period of my confinement, I never knew a single instance of enlistment from among the prisoners of the Jersey.”

Coffin offered a similar account. “Notwithstanding the savage treatment they received, and death staring them in the face,” he wrote in a letter, “…I never knew, while I was on board, but one instance of defection, and that person was hooted at and abused by the prisoners till the boat was out of hearing.”

READ MORE: Last British soldiers leave New York

Patriotism ‘seldom equaled and never excelled’

In one of the most conspicuous displays of patriotism, some of the prisoners aboard the Jersey staged a July 4th celebration in 1782, complete with songs and little American flags. By now the war was going in the new nation’s favor and much of the British Army had surrendered.

But the guards were not in a party mood. Using their bayonets, they forced the prisoners below decks and locked the hatches. When the singing continued, the guards flung open the hatches and “with lanterns in one hand and cutlasses in the other… cut and wounded all within their reach,” wrote George Taylor, author of an early history of prison ships, Martyrs to the Revolution (1855). “Then, to gratify their hellish feelings, they closed the hatches and left the wounded and dying, in darkness, without the least means of dressing their wounds or stopping the flow of blood.”

In the morning, Taylor wrote, 10 “mangled and lifeless bodies” were hauled up onto the deck for disposal.

Those would not be the last men to die aboard the Jersey. But the dark days of the prison ships were coming to an end. In April 1783, the remaining prisoners in New York were released. The Jersey was abandoned and left to rot away.

The men and boys of the prison ships are not as well remembered as most of the war’s other heroes. Many of their names are not known at all. But the few who survived testified to their sacrifice. As Coffin put it in an 1807 letter, “The patriotism in preferring such treatment, and even death in its most frightful shapes, to the serving [of] the British, and fighting against their own country, has seldom been equalled, certainly never excelled.”


Slavery in the Colonies: The British Position on Slavery in the Era of Revolution

When we discuss the existence, practice, and tolerance of chattel slavery in North America during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, we must first recall the era by which we are reading for discussion. We must be cautious in our conclusions without reading the historical record accurately and we must understand that the denouncement of slavery’s existence did not occur in a straight line, but one whose evolution ebbed and flowed with the begrudging of time and experience. The existence of slavery in human history was not unique to North America. In virtually every civilization you will find some form of enslavement of fellow human beings by the ruling parties. What must be remembered here is that the principles of the Enlightenment and that of English common law were what sparked the incentive for a change in the way human beings treated their fellow men and women.

First slave auction in New Amsterdam by Howard Pyle, 1895.

We know that the first enslaved Africans arrived in Virginia in 1619 and that the practice of slavery would continue uninterrupted for the next two hundred and forty-six years in North America. What we must remember though is that British interests dictated many things, and slavery was only one component. England’s economic expansion in the sixteenth century owed largely to her navy, whose vast outreach across the world’s oceans allowed the British government to create new modes of commerce and wealth. Trade became the lynchpin of the English model. From as far east as India to the tropical islands scattered about the Caribbean, the British economy became dependent on rich and exotic commodities such as tobacco, sugar cane, and indigo. To turn a profit, the British established plantations within these islands and along the east coast of North America whose fertile soils could produce the necessary exports. The British concentrated their efforts within the Atlantic slave trade by sending cargo ships full of captive Africans to the Caribbean. There, they were held in bondage and worked mostly the sugar cane plantations. In America, the importation of captives was less prevalent, at least in the first decades. The main force behind the plantations of sixteenth-century British America were indentured servants. These people, most of whom were white, were often criminals, runaways, or undesirables from England who either volunteered or were forced into service for a set amount of time. Once their time had been worked, they often were eligible for freedom. African slaves could be indentured servants too, persons who were brought over and could work under a contract. Others who were enslaved were emancipated after a set number of years worked. In these early years, most colonial laws were flexible when it came to the structure of chattel slavery. Even former slaves who were now free could own enslaved Africans of their own.

Changes began occurring after several events. Bacon’s Rebellion in Virginia in 1676 shook local communities at the risks of having large portions of the populous in a resentful state because of their work conditions. By 1705, English policy began to shift away from indentured servitude as a form of practical employment for plantation owners and farmers. To curb the shortages in laborers, the British government and their colonial counterparts began to accelerate the importation of enslaved Africans. A handful of insurrections, including the New York riots and the Stono Rebellion, further terrified slave owners that their laborers would rise up and overtake their communities. As a result, colonies, mainly Virginia and the Carolinas, set about establishing the economic structure that would establish slavery as not only an economic benefit but also one of property. And under English common law, property was a sacred right that governments had limited authority in repressing. By the 1740s, chattel slavery existed in every North America colony and the practice of breeding slaves – it was cheaper to claim the children of current enslaved people as property than to purchase new arrivals – became an economic incentive unto itself. Despite this turn of events in just a few decades, there remained visible free African American communities on the outskirts of colonial society.

Because our focus is on the British position of slavery, we must keep in mind how London ruled over her colonies during much of the first half of the eighteenth-century. The government of King George II was quite ambivalent when it came to North America. Policies of low taxes and free trade essentially dominated the colonies. As a result, this helped prosperous towns grow and regional cultures to establish themselves. In the eyes of the British government, slavery was a benign feature of its economy so long as it produced results. In America, what rumblings of abolition existed were very few and far between. Among the earliest to speak out against slavery’s existence was John Woolman, a Quaker from Burlington County, New Jersey. Drawing from religious texts and the Enlightenment, which demanded thinkers use reason, Woolman challenged how an Englishmen could tolerate such cruelty and injustice to their fellow human beings?

"Washington as Farmer at Mount Vernon", 1851, by Junius Brutus Stearns. There were 317 slaves working at Mount Vernon in 1779.

Indeed, as the effects of the Enlightenment grew, coupled with calls for religious diversity and a growing consensus of a natural rights phenomenon, the existence of slavery on both sides of the Atlantic came under scrutiny. Moral opinions were shifting at the same time as hostilities between the colonies and London emerged. The 1772 court case of Somerset v. Stewart in London found that chattel slavery was not compatible with English common law, effectively dismissing its legitimacy on the British mainland. As a result, abolitionists on both sides of the Atlantic used its decision to champion emancipation for those held in bondage. Indeed, as the years that saw the outset of the American Revolution approached, the term "slavery was widely used by American Patriots as a battle cry to remove themselves from the yoke of British authority. To remain under such authority, where no American held the right to representation in self-government, was a ‘form of slavery’ to many. The irony in using this sort of language was not lost on many British Tories, who called out these rebel hypocrites. “We are told, that the subjection of Americans may tend to the diminution of our own liberties an event, which none but very perspicacious politicians are able to foresee. If slavery be thus fatally contagious, how is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?” wrote Dr. Samuel Johnson in 1775. Indeed, these sentiments not only labeled many of the American leaders as hypocrites, but it also took a swipe at the very notion that America was founded on principles that were universal for all humans, and as Thomas Paine famously said, “we could start the world anew.”

After war officially broke out in Massachusetts in the spring of 1775, each side positioned itself in ways that would both benefit some black Americans while also deliberately ignoring others. In the case of the Continental army, black citizens were barred from enlisting. However, exceptions were made for the portions of sailors and artisans affiliated with the Marble Headers under command of John Glover. Despite attempts to persuade Gen. Washington and members of Congress to allow the enlistment of both free and enslaved blacks, the American army would not risk the fragile unity that existed among the ranks of both the army and the legislative bodies. This would be tested by British orders to do the exact opposite. Sensing a vulnerability, British officials led the way for inciting mistrust of an integrated American war effort. Though there is clear evidence that the British themselves were wary of arming slaves, they nonetheless were determined to destroy the rebellion and utilize a manpower pool on the far side of the Atlantic. In 1775, Lord Dunmore, Royal Governor of Virginia, issued his Proclamation that promised freedom to any enslaved person who joined the British army. A company of former slaves was raised and named the Ethiopian Regiment. However, smallpox wiped most of them out before they could see a major battle. Sir Henry Clinton issued the Philipsburg Proclamation in 1779 that escaped slaves would receive full sanctuary behind British lines. We cannot be certain how many former slaves abandoned their plantations and came through the British lines. By the end of the Revolution, it’s estimated that nearly one hundred thousand slaves escaped to British authorities, constituting a loss of about ¼ of the number of enslaved peoples in the United States at the time.

We must caution though that these calls by the British were not done because they were abolitionists on a moral crusade. The British were attempting to disrupt the continental unity at any cost. Creating a slave insurrection in the southern states might have drawn the colonists back into a regional mindset, and perhaps look to Parliament to end the unrest. It also must be noted that in many ways the British took advantage of the American slave system for their own benefit. By promising freedom, the British would potentially benefit in the short term by gaining thousands of laborers, carpenters, cooks, and scouts who could assist the army. Notice that none of these positions involved fighting. Most of those who came into the British encampments were given jobs that sustained the army, like the Black Company of Pioneers. Very few black Americans were given muskets to march off into battle. However, it is notable that in a few instances this was indeed the case. When the British landed at Charleston, South Carolina in 1780, it sent mixed units containing African Americans into the city. The sight of former slaves now armed and fighting with the enemy terrified southern residents. It was a short-term victory for the former slaves, but its memory would loom large over the southern states and have dire consequences in the following generations.

While the British army unofficially employed a majority of former slaves now in their midst, other African Americans took up arms against Continental and Patriot forces to spark unrest. New Jersey saw the rise of Colonel Tye, a former slave, and leader of the Black Brigade, who commanded an impressive assault on the state’s countryside, particularly his former home of Monmouth County. Other instances of black troops fighting for the Crown eventually changed the minds of Washington and Congress – who issued orders to form the First Rhode Island Regiment in 1778. By 1781, upwards of one-fifth of the Continental soldiers present at the Siege of Yorktown were African American.

American soldiers at the siege of Yorktown, by Jean-Baptiste-Antoine DeVerger, watercolor, 1781. The soldier to the far left is a Black infantryman of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment.

Other factors to consider are the estimated several thousands of slaves who could have escaped but chose to stay instead. Many plantations saw their abandonment by their white owners at approaching enemy soldiers. Others walked away after becoming insolvent on their properties from a shortage of laborers. In some cases, the slaves that remained essentially took over the land for themselves. Because lost land claims by loyalist citizens were never settled after the war, it is hard to determine how many former slaves “inherited” the land of their former masters. At any rate, the British plan of disrupting the southern economy by “handing freedom” to enslaved people had a resounding effect.

Coupled with the principles championed and won by the American Revolution, the 1780s saw an uptick in abolition movements and the emancipation of slaves. Many plantation owners, whether out of economical practicalities or instilled with the new republican ideals of the time, freed their slaves. What seemed to be an evolving belief in the rights of humans only went so far. Despite some legitimate successes and the development of many educational programs for African Americans, the emerging generation slowly rolled back the gains that had been made. New laws placed restrictions on free African Americans. In many southern states, the fear of armed slave insurrections continued to haunt communities. Laws soon demanded that those who were free must leave or risk being enslaved once more.

For her part, Great Britain banned slavery in all her territories in 1807. Its leaders remained vocal of their place on the right side of history, even though they continued to profit and benefit from the southern American slave economy for decades. Indeed, during the Civil War, British officials were secretly plotting to scuttle any chance of American reconciliation and actively sought to help legitimize the Confederacy, much like France had done for the United States in 1777. It would take several actions by President Lincoln to disrupt this plot, much to the dismay of both Confederate leaders and the British government.


Ideological and ethnic divisions

Yet for every man who enlisted under compulsion, or for purely mercenary reasons, there was another who did so because he sincerely believed in what he was doing. One of the best definitions of the ideological division which lay at the heart of the Civil War was given by the Worcestershire clergyman, Richard Baxter. 'The generality of the people. who were then called puritans, precisians, religious persons', Baxter wrote, those 'that used to talk of God, and heaven, and scripture, and holiness. adhered to the Parliament. And on the other side. [those] that were not so precise and strict against an oath, or gaming, or plays, or drinking nor troubled themselves so much about the matters of God and the world to come [adhered to the King]'. Baxter's view was biased, of course. Royalist sympathisers would have countered that it was not that they were irreligious, but that they remained true to a purer, more traditional form of Protestantism: one which was untainted by puritan 'zeal'. Nevertheless, Baxter's words convey an essential truth. Across the country as a whole, it was religion which ultimately divided the two parties. Puritans everywhere supported the Parliament, more conservative protestants - together with the few Catholics - supported the King.

. it was religion which ultimately divided the two parties.

Beneath the all important religious divisions lurked anxieties about nationhood and ethnicity. Parliament set out, from the very first, to portray itself as the party of 'Englishness', and although this image played well throughout most of the kingdom, it provoked a counter-reaction in 'Celtic' Cornwall and Wales. Here, the overwhelming majority of the population came out for the King in 1642, and throughout the rest of the war these two regions remained Charles I's most important 'magazines of men'. Cornish and Welsh troops were vital to the Royalist war effort, but the King's reliance upon them reinforced his opponents' claims that the royalist party was fundamentally 'un-English'. So did Charles' use of soldiers brought over from Ireland, many of whom, the Parliamentarians maintained, were Catholics. During the first half of the war, Parliament's close links with the Scots tended to undermine the claim that Parliament's cause was the cause of England itself - and anti-Scottish feeling undoubtedly helped to bring many English men and women into the King's camp. Once the relationship between Parliament and the Scots started to deteriorate in 1645, however, and the King began to court the Scots in his turn, this situation changed.


Bacon's Rebellion

Pen and Ink drawing of Bacon's troops about to burn Jamestown

Drawing by Rita Honeycutt

Bacon's Rebellion was probably one of the most confusing yet intriguing chapters in Jamestown's history. For many years, historians considered the Virginia Rebellion of 1676 to be the first stirring of revolutionary sentiment in America, which culminated in the American Revolution almost exactly one hundred years later. However, in the past few decades, based on findings from a more distant viewpoint, historians have come to understand Bacon's Rebellion as a power struggle between two stubborn, selfish leaders rather than a glorious fight against tyranny.

The central figures in Bacon's Rebellion were opposites. Governor Sir William Berkeley, seventy when the crisis began, was a veteran of the English Civil Wars, a frontier Indian fighter, a King's favorite in his first term as Governor in the 1640's, and a playwright and scholar. His name and reputation as Governor of Virginia were well respected. Berkeley's antagonist, young Nathaniel Bacon, Jr., was actually Berkeley's cousin by marriage. Lady Berkeley, Frances Culpeper, was Bacon's cousin. Bacon was a troublemaker and schemer whose father sent him to Virginia in the hope that he would mature. Although disdainful of labor, Bacon was intelligent and eloquent. Upon Bacon's arrival, Berkeley treated his young cousin with respect and friendship, giving him both a substantial land grant and a seat on the council in 1675.

Bacon's Rebellion can be attributed to a myriad of causes, all of which led to dissent in the Virginia colony. Economic problems, such as declining tobacco prices, growing commercial competition from Maryland and the Carolinas, an increasingly restricted English market, and the rising prices from English manufactured goods (mercantilism) caused problems for the Virginians. There were heavy English losses in the latest series of naval wars with the Dutch and, closer to home, there were many problems caused by weather. Hailstorms, floods, dry spells, and hurricanes rocked the colony all in the course of a year and had a damaging effect on the colonists. These difficulties encouraged the colonists to find a scapegoat against whom they could vent their frustrations and place the blame for their misfortunes.

The colonists found their scapegoat in the form of the local Indians. The trouble began in July 1675 with a raid by the Doeg Indians on the plantation of Thomas Mathews, located in the Northern Neck section of Virginia near the Potomac River. Several of the Doegs were killed in the raid, which began in a dispute over the nonpayment of some items Mathews had apparently obtained from the tribe. The situation became critical when, in a retaliatory strike by the colonists, they attacked the wrong Indians, the Susquehanaugs, which caused large scale Indian raids to begin.

St. Maries Citty Living History Interpreters demonstrating the firing of Match Lock Muskets

To stave off future attacks and to bring the situation under control, Governor Berkeley ordered an investigation into the matter. He set up what was to be a disastrous meeting between the parties, which resulted in the murders of several tribal chiefs. Throughout the crisis, Berkeley continually pleaded for restraint from the colonists. Some, including Bacon, refused to listen. Nathaniel Bacon disregarded the Governor's direct orders by seizing some friendly Appomattox Indians for "allegedly" stealing corn. Berkeley reprimanded him, which caused the disgruntled Virginians to wonder which man had taken the right action. It was here the battle lines were about to be drawn.

A further problem was Berkeley's attempt to find a compromise. Berkeley's policy was to preserve the friendship and loyalty of the subject Indians while assuring the settlers that they were not hostile. To meet his first objective, the Governor relieved the local Indians of their powder and ammunition. To deal with the second objective, Berkeley called the "Long Assembly" in March 1676. Despite being judged corrupt, the assembly declared war on all "bad" Indians and set up a strong defensive zone around Virginia with a definite chain of command. The Indian wars which resulted from this directive led to the high taxes to pay the army and to the general discontent in the colony for having to shoulder that burden.

The Long Assembly was accused of corruption because of its ruling regarding trade with the Indians. Not coincidentally, most of the favored traders were friends of Berkeley. Regular traders, some of whom had been trading independently with the local Indians for generations, were no longer allowed to trade individually. A government commission was established to monitor trading among those specially chosen and to make sure the Indians were not receiving any arms and ammunition. Bacon, one of the traders adversely affected by the Governor's order, accused Berkeley publicly of playing favorites. Bacon was also resentful because Berkeley had denied him a commission as a leader in the local militia. Bacon became the elected "General" of a group of local volunteer Indian fighters, because he promised to bear the cost of the campaigns.

After Bacon drove the Pamunkeys from their nearby lands in his first action, Berkeley exercised one of the few instances of control over the situation that he was to have, by riding to Bacon's headquarters at Henrico with 300 "well armed" gentlemen. Upon Berkeley's arrival, Bacon fled into the forest with 200 men in search of a place more to his liking for a meeting. Berkeley then issued two petitions declaring Bacon a rebel and pardoning Bacon's men if they went home peacefully. Bacon would then be relieved of the council seat that he had won for his actions that year, but he was to be given a fair trial for his disobedience.

Bacon did not, at this time, comply with the Governor's orders. Instead he next attacked the camp of the friendly Occaneecheee Indians on the Roanoke River (the border between Virginia and North Carolina), and took their store of beaver pelts.

Governor Berkeley standing before Bacon and his men challenging them to shoot him

In the face of a brewing catastrophe, Berkeley, to keep the peace, was willing to forget that Bacon was not authorized to take the law into his own hands. Berkeley agreed to pardon Bacon if he turned himself in, so he could be sent to England and tried before King Charles II. It was the House of Burgesses, however, who refused this alternative, insisting that Bacon must acknowledge his errors and beg the Governor's forgiveness. Ironically, at the same time, Bacon was then elected to the Burgesses by supportive local land owners sympathetic to his Indian campaigns. Bacon, by virtue of this election, attended the landmark Assembly of June 1676. It was during this session that he was mistakenly credited with the political reforms that came from this meeting. The reforms were prompted by the population, cutting through all class lines. Most of the reform laws dealt with reconstructing the colony's voting regulations, enabling freemen to vote, and limiting the number of years a person could hold certain offices in the colony. Most of these laws were already on the books for consideration well before Bacon was elected to the Burgesses. Bacon's only cause was his campaign against the Indians.

Upon his arrival for the June Assembly, Bacon was captured, taken before Berkeley and council and was made to apologize for his previous actions. Berkeley immediately pardoned Bacon and allowed him to take his seat in the assembly. At this time, the council still had no idea how much support was growing in defense of Bacon. The full awareness of that support hit home when Bacon suddenly left the Burgesses in the midst of heated debate over Indian problems. He returned with his forces to surround the statehouse. Once again Bacon demanded his commission, but Berkeley called his bluff and demanded that Bacon shoot him.

"Here shoot me before God, fair mark shoot."

Bacon refused. Berkeley granted Bacon's previous volunteer commission but Bacon refused it and demanded that he be made General of all forces against the Indians, which Berkeley emphatically refused and walked away. Tensions ran high as the screaming Bacon and his men surrounded the statehouse, threatening to shoot several onlooking Burgesses if Bacon was not given his commission. Finally after several agonizing moments, Berkeley gave in to Bacon's demands for campaigns against the Indians without government interference. With Berkeley's authority in shambles, Bacon's brief tenure as leader of the rebellion began.

Even in the midst of these unprecedented triumphs, however, Bacon was not without his mistakes. He allowed Berkeley to leave Jamestown in the aftermath of a surprise Indian attack on a nearby settlement. He also confiscated supplies from Gloucester and left them vulnerable to possible Indian attacks. Shortly after the immediate crisis subsided, Berkeley briefly retired to his home at Green Springs and washed his hands of the entire mess. Nathaniel Bacon dominated Jamestown from July through September 1676. During this time, Berkeley did come out of his lethargy and attempt a coup, but support for Bacon was still too strong and Berkeley was forced to flee to Accomack County on the Eastern Shore.

Feeling that it would make his triumph complete, Bacon issued his "Declaration of the People" on July 30, 1676 which stated that Berkeley was corrupt, played favorites and protected the Indians for his own selfish purposes. Bacon also issued his oath which required the swearer to promise his loyalty to Bacon in any manner necessary (i.e., armed service, supplies, verbal support). Even this tight rein could not keep the tide from changing again. Bacon's fleet was first and finally secretly infiltrated by Berkeley's men and finally captured. This was to be the turning point in the conflict, because Berkeley was once again strong enough to retake Jamestown. Bacon then followed his sinking fortunes to Jamestown and saw it heavily fortified. He made several attempts at a siege, during which he kidnapped the wives of several of Berkeley's biggest supporters, including Mrs. Nathaniel Bacon Sr., and placed them upon the ramparts of his siege fortifications while he dug his position. Infuriated, Bacon burned Jamestown to the ground on September 19, 1676. (He did save many valuable records in the statehouse.) By now his luck had clearly run out with this extreme measure and he began to have trouble controlling his men's conduct as well as keeping his popular support. Few people responded to Bacon's appeal to capture Berkeley who had since returned to the Eastern Shore for safety reasons.

On October 26th, 1676, Bacon abruptly died of the "Bloodie Flux" and "Lousey Disease" (body lice). It is possible his soldiers burned his contaminated body because it was never found. (His death inspired this little ditty Bacon is Dead I am sorry at my hart That lice and flux should take the hangman's part".)

Shortly after Bacon's death, Berkeley regained complete control and hanged the major leaders of the rebellion. He also seized rebel property without the benefit of a trial. All in all, twenty-three persons were hanged for their part in the rebellion. Later after an investigating committee from England issued its report to King Charles II, Berkeley was relieved of the Governorship and returned to England where he died in July 1677.

Thus ended one of the most unusual and complicated chapters in Jamestown's history. Could it have been prevented or was it time for inevitable changes to take place in the colonial governmental structure? Obviously, the laws were no longer effective as far as establishing clear policies to deal with problems or to instill new lifeblood into the colony's economy. The numerous problems that hit the colony before the Rebellion gave rise to the character of Nathaniel Bacon. Due to the nature of the uprising, Bacon's Rebellion does seem at first glance to be the beginnings of America's quest for Independence. But closer examination of the facts reveals what it really was: a power struggle between two very strong personalities. Between them they almost destroyed Jamestown.


Neville, John Davenport. Bacon's Rebellion. Abstracts of Materials in the Colonial Records Project. Jamestown: Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation.

Washburn, Wilcomb E. The Governor and the Rebel. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1957.

Webb, Stephen Saunders. 1676-The End of American Independence. New York: Alfred A. Knope, 1984.


Timeline: the battle between left and right

Late summer 1944 German forces withdraw from most of Greece, which is taken over by local partisans. Most of them are members of ELAS, the armed wing of the National Liberation Front, EAM, which included the Communist KKE party

October 1944 Allied forces, led by General Ronald Scobie, enter Athens, the last German-occupied area, on 13 October. Georgios Papandreou returns from exile with the Greek government

2 December 1944 Rather than integrate ELAS into the new army, Papandreou and Scobie demand the disarmament of all guerrilla forces. Six members of the new cabinet resign in protest

3 December 1944 Violence in Athens after 200,000 march against the demands. More than 28 are killed and hundreds are injured. The 37-day Dekemvrianá begins. Martial law is declared on 5 December

January/February 1945 Gen Scobie agrees to a ceasefire in exchange for ELAS withdrawal. In February the Treaty of Varkiza is signed by all parties. ELAS troops leave Athens with 15,000 prisoners

1945/46 Right-wing gangs kill more than 1,100 civilians, triggering civil war when government forces start battling the new Democratic Army of Greece (DSE), mainly former ELAS soldiers

1948-49 DSE suffers a catastrophic defeat in the summer of 1948, with nearly 20,000 killed. In July 1949 Tito closes the Yugoslav border, denying DSE shelter. Ceasefire signed on 16 October 1949

21 April 1967 Right-wing forces seize power in a coup d’état. The junta lasts until 1974. Only in 1982 are communist veterans who had fled overseas allowed to return to Greece


Chapter 5&6 test

c . the ability to lure slaves to fight for the British in exchange for their freedom.

d . an intimate knowledge of the terrain.

a . parliament empowered military commanders to lodge soldiers in private homes.

b . town meetings were restricted.

c . parliament closed the port of Boston to all trade until the tea destroyed by the Boston Tea Party was paid for.

d . the royal governor of Mass. received authority to appoint previously elected members of the council.

a . the Continental Congress handed over most of the war effort to the French.

b . Washington's army used full-frontal assaults.

c . Washington kept the training of his men to a minimum to ensure that morale stayed high.

d . Washington preffered to let the Native Americans fight for the colonists.

a . he shared Washington's view of the importance of the natural rights.

b . they had an agreement that Adams would then be put in charge of administering the army in the New England colonies.

c . the fact that Washington was from Virginia could help unify the colonists.

d . he knew that Washington was a military genius.

a . in the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson endorsed slavery.

b . as compensation for the war, the British sent many slaves from the Caribbean to the United States.

c . the North increased its demand for slaves and surpassed the amount of slaves residing in the south.

d . owning slaves in the south was seen as a key ingredient to economic autonomy.

a . a poor white women who worked as a seamstress.

b . a poor white farmer in Virginia.

c . a Native American in the Ohio River Valley.

d . a slave in South Carolina.

a . enlistment as soldiers on each side during the Revolutionary War.

b . petitions advocating freedom.

c . running away from their owners.

d . lawsuits challenging the legality of slavery.

a . the Declaration of Independence.

c . the appointment of William Pitt as British prime minister.

a . from fighting in the southern states to fighting in New York and New England.

b . to the South, where the British captured Savannah that year.

c . from the minor skirmishes of fewer than a hundred men to battles, each involving thousands of soldiers.

d . to emancipation, when General Washington decided to declared all slaves who fought for American Independence should be free.

a . most men considered women t be naturally submissive and irrational and therefore unfit for citizenship.

b . many women who entered public debate felt the need to apologize for there forthrightness.

c . in both law and social reality, women lacked the essential qualification of political participation.

d . the winning of independence did not alter the law of family inherited from Britain.

a . congress urged that household items be bought with gold or silver.

b . some merchants hoarded goods.

c . the government refused to issue paper money.

d . the national government passed a law mandating prices that every state had to follow.

a . endorsed by the stamp act congress 1765.

b . that the king should appoint delegates to represent the colonies in the British House of Commons.

c . that each member of Britain's House of Commons represented the entire empire, not just his own district.

d . that only those who were elected by a given population could represent that population in a legislative body.

a . encouraged Indians to fight for the British cause.

b . burned tobacco fields of patriots.

c . confiscated property of Loyalists.

d . promised freedom to slaves that joined the British cause.

a . Thomas Paine's criticism of them in Common Sense greatly influenced the many who had read this pamphlet.

b . King George III had supported them, and anything associated with the king was unpopular in the United States.

c . the of freedom inherent in apprenticeship and indentured servitude struck growing numbers of Americans as incompatible with republican citizenship.

d . may apprentices and indentures had refused to fight in the Revolution, and their bosses, resenting them for it, got rid of them.

a . anti-catholicism increased when Quebec Catholics volunteered in large numbers for the British Army.

b . the alliance with France, a predominantly Catholic country, helped diminish American anti-catholicism.

c . because Americans represented Catholic France's negotiating a separate peace with Great Britain, anti-catholicism became more prevalent.

d . Spain's wartime aid to Britain led Georgian colonists t attack Catholic Missions in Florida.

a . closed the Port of Boston on account of the Boston Tea Party.

b. proclaimed the colonies' independence form Great Britain.

c . rejected Americans' claims that only their elected representatives could levy taxes.

d . declared that colonists had to house British soldiers in their homes.

a . all retained tax-supported churches as a way of ensuring a virtuous citizenry.

b . became far more democratic in the southern states than in northern states

c . did nothing to change the composition of elite-dominated state legislature.

d . completely eliminated property qualifications for voting.

a . it would acknowledge Great Britain's right to tax the colonies.

b . it would aid a different part of the empire than their own, and they felt that was the kind of discriminatory action that violated the concept of liberty.

c . it raised the tax on tea so much as to made tea prohibitively expensive.

d . the British East India Company made inferior tea, and colonists preferred not to drink it.

a . Benjamin Franklin went public with his opposition to it.

b . lawyers were offended that they could be jailed for not using the correct stamp on legal documents.

c . it was designed to help finance the military, creating the prospect of a permanent army on colonial soil.

d . it marked the first indirect tax approved by parliament.

a . placed a tax on all imported goods from Canada.

b . added Canada to the British empire in North America.

c . granted religious toleration for Catholics in Canada, which convinced colonists that the British government hoped to strengthen Catholicism in it American empire.

d . restricted English migration west of the Appalachian mountains.

a . a husband who is the primary breadwinner and has all of the assets in his name.

b . a spouse who makes all the decisions concerning the children's education.

c . an arranged marriage between immigrants.

d . a union based on love with equal say in running the household.

a . the adoption of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress.

b . General Washington's decision to retreat to Valley Forge for the water.

c . the immediate surrender of all British troops to the Continental army.

d . British commanders taking the war into the heart of New England for the first time.

a . made sugar, a key consumer good, too expensive.

b . increased the tax on molasses and made rum more expensive to produce.

c . mandated that violators of the act be tried in a court with a jury.

d . eliminated the admiralty courts, which colonists had long favored.

a . allow the free market to operate without regulation.

b . adopt measures to fix wages and prices.

c . establish food banks to distribute food to the needy.

d . raise taxes on the wealthy.

a . property from Loyalists.

c . exclusive trading rights with Spain.

d . a large piece of territory west of the Appalachian Mountains.

a . France and Germany (as Hessians).

d . Spain and Germany (as Hessians).

a . to tear down and abolish existing churches and replace hierarchical leaderships with non-hierarchial.

b . to remove public funding for.

c . to revoke churches' bills of attainder and letters of marque.

a . both documents contradicted the ideas of John Locke.

b . both showed how a king can be a tyrant.

c . both Jefferson and Paine discussed how the United States could create a navy.

d . Paine criticized using slaves from Africa, and that same criticism appeared in the Declaration of Independence.

a . Lexington and Concord, which included "the shot heard 'round the world".

b . the siege of Boston, which culminated in Sir William Howe's troops abandoning the city.

c . Fort Ticonderoga, where soldiers commanded by Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold forced a British surrender.

d . Breed's Hill (Bunker Hill), where the British suffered heavy casualties trying to dislodge colonial militiamen.


Benny Morris: Ilan Pappe's New Book Is Appalling

lan Pappe and I walked a stretch together in uneasy companionship, but we have now parted ways. In the late 1980s and early 1990s we belonged to a group dubbed the "New Historians" of Israel, which also included Avi Shlaim and Tom Segev. This group, contrary to the conspiratorial image projected by our critics, was never a close-knit or monolithic school of intellectuals who plotted together around the table at Friday-night meals. Some of us barely knew one another. Each, in different institutions and different cities and different countries (indeed, only Pappe was on the faculty of an Israeli university), had plied his craft alone and reached his conclusions on his own. But we had all written histories focusing on Israel and Palestine in the 1940s, and they had all appeared, mostly in English, in the late 1980s, and taken together they had shaken the Zionist historiographic establishment and permanently undermined the traditional Zionist narrative of the Israeli-Arab conflict.

From the first Pappe allowed his politics to hold sway over his history. Initially he was rather restrained. His first book, Britain and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1948-51, published in 1988, was bland and flat in tone. Perhaps this was due to its origins as a doctoral dissertation perhaps there were other reasons. In any event, the book avoided blunt iconoclasm, and its innovations are extremely hesitant (unlike Avi Shlaim in his Collusion Across the Jordan, published the same year, where it was trenchantly argued that the Yishuv--the Jewish community in Palestine--and the Hashemite rulers of Jordan had colluded to limit their war in 1948 and to nip in the bud the emergence of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, as endorsed by the U.N. partition resolution of November 1947). In his second book, The Making of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1947-1951, which appeared in 1992, Pappe allowed his politics more leeway, and they are apparent in his descriptions and in his interpretations but here, too, there is an effort toward objectivity and accuracy.

In both books Pappe in effect tells his readers: "This is what happened." This is strange, because it directly conflicts with a second major element in his historiographical outlook. Pappe is a proud postmodernist. He believes that there is no such thing as historical truth, only a collection of narratives as numerous as the participants in any given event or process and each narrative, each perspective, is as valid and legitimate, as true, as the next. .

Since so much of the debate about the New Historians is political, I should add that Pappe and I differ not only in our methods but also in our politics. We are both men of the left but whereas since the late 1960s I have consistently voted Labor or Meretz (a Zionist party to the left of Labor), Pappe, so far as I know, has always voted the Israel Communist Party ticket (under its different names) and has figured repeatedly in the party's list of Knesset candidates. During the past few years Pappe has veered even further leftward. Although his party still advocates a two-state solution, Pappe, like his mentor Edward Said, believes that the only solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict is a single bi-national state in all of Palestine. (I shall return to this theme.).

As for Pappe, the outbreak of the Palestinian revolt has thrust him into academic and political prominence as one of the most outspoken Israeli advocates of a Western boycott of Israel's universities. During the past three years, many pro-Palestinian academics in the West have campaigned (not very successfully) to persuade their universities to cut off contact with their Israeli counterparts and to block research and investment funds from reaching Israel's universities academic journals have refused to consider or to publish papers by Israelis a handful of academics have refused to supervise Israeli postgraduate students and scholars, such as Eugene Rogan, head of the Middle East Centre at Oxford's St. Antony's College, have refused to give lectures in a country governed by Ariel Sharon (presumably they would give lectures in countries run by the likes of Bashar al-Assad and the Ayatollah Khamenei). Pappe has been at the forefront of this effort.

This has been Pappe's political evolution. A History of Modern Palestine is a milestone in his evolution as an historian. He sets out to tell the story of Palestine, which he far less frequently also refers to as the Land of Israel, during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, starting with Napoleon's invasion in 1799. It is mainly the story of two peoples--Arabs and Jews--and the interaction between them. Needless to say, a great many pages are devoted to the development of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict but Pappe is at pains, as he tells us in his foreword, not to confine himself to the usual tale of high politics and military history--to the thoughts, the words, and the actions of leaders and generals. In keeping with the politically correct norms of the profession in the contemporary West, he focuses, rather, on "the victims" of "the invasions, occupations, expulsions, discrimination and racism" to which Palestine has been subject. His "heroes," he says, are the "women, children, peasants, workers, ordinary city dwellers, peaceniks, human rights activists"--and his "'villains' . the arrogant generals, the greedy politicians, the cynical statesmen and the misogynist men."

It goes almost without saying that Pappe's "victims" are primarily Palestine's Arabs and all, or almost all, of the "greedy" and the "cynical" are Israelis. In fairness I should add that he does dish up some "misogynist" Palestinians, which is not surprising, given the fact that in Arab and Islamic societies women are by tradition, and often by law, third-class members, who often lack basic rights (in some countries they have no vote, in others they cannot drive cars, and so on). In this respect, Palestinian society is similar to Syrian or Jordanian or Egyptian society, but Pappe papers this over by repeatedly pointing to the continuously "improving" nature of Palestinian women's status at certain points in time--for example, during the two Palestinian intifadas or rebellions against Israel.

Unfortunately, much of what Pappe tries to sell his readers is complete fabrication. In trying to demonstrate women's growing political involvement (and, incidentally, Israeli beastliness), he tells us at one point that "one third of the overall [Palestinian] casualties [in the intifada of 1987-1991] were women," and that "rural women" took "a central role, boldly confronting the army." Among urban women, the proportion of participants in the intifada was even higher, he says. All of this is pure invention. In fact, women constituted about 5 percent of the Palestinian casualties in the first intifada. According to B'Tselem, the Israeli human rights group, eleven hundred Palestinians died at the hands of Israeli army and security personnel during that uprising, and of these, fifty-six were women. Even a cursory glance at film footage of the intifada's riots shows that there were generally no female participants. Women did make an appearance, in small numbers, when pleading with soldiers not to take away arrested men for questioning or when mourning male casualties lying bloodied in the streets but the women remained remarkably absent from the front lines of the intifada--as they remained, and still remain, absent from the front lines of the current intifada and from the coffee shops of the West Bank and Gaza and other venues where serious matters in the Arab Middle East are discussed, and sometimes decided. Indeed, the recent surge in Islamic fundamentalism in Palestinian society has restricted women even more firmly to hearth and home than was the case before the 1970s. Arafat, with his good sense for public relations, inducted two women--Hanan Ashrawi and Umm Jihad--into the political elite, and Arafat's Fatah has dispatched a handful of female suicide bombers into Israel's cities, but these are token representations of a gender that is essentially disempowered in Palestinian society.

In Pappe's account, there is no faulting the Palestinians for regularly assaulting the Zionist enterprise--in 1920, 1921, 1929, 1936-39, 1947-48, the late 1960s and early 1970s, 1987, and 2000--as there can be no criticizing them for rejecting the various compromises offered by the British, the Americans, the Jews, and the world community in 1937, 1947, 1977- 1978, and 2000. The Palestinians are forever victims, the Zionists are forever "brutal colonizers." To his credit, Pappe wears his heart on his sleeve. There is no dissembling here. He even tells us in his acknowledgments--as if he cannot wait to inform his readers of his loyalties-- that while his "native tongue is Hebrew," "today [he] converses more and more in Arabic," and his "love of the country [Palestine]" is matched only by his "dislike of the state [Israel]." .

The multiplicity of mistakes on each page is a product of both Pappe's historical methodology and his political proclivities. He seems to admit as much when he writes early on that

my [pro-Palestinian] bias is apparent despite the desire of my peers that I stick to facts and the 'truth' when reconstructing past realities. I view any such construction as vain and presumptuous. This book is written by one who admits compassion for the colonized not the colonizer who sympathizes with the occupied not the occupiers and sides with the workers not the bosses. He feels for women in distress, and has little admiration for men in command. Mine is a subjective approach.

For those enamored with subjectivity and in thrall to historical relativism, a fact is not a fact and accuracy is unattainable. Why grope for the truth? Narrativity is all. So no reader should be surprised to discover that, according to Pappe, the Stern Gang and the Palmach existed "before the revolt" of 1936 (they were established in 1940-1941) that the Palmach "between 1946 and 1948" fought against the British (in 1947-1948 it did not) that Ben-Gurion in 1929 was chairman of the Jewish Agency Executive (he was chairman from 1935 to 1948) that the Arab Higher Committee was established "by 1934" (it was set up in 1936) that the Arab Legion did not withdraw from Palestine, along with the British, in May, 1948 (most of its units did) that the United Nations' partition proposal of November 29, 1947 had "an equal number of supporters and detractors" (the vote was thirty-three for, thirteen against, and ten abstentions) that the "Jewish forces [were] better equipped" than the invading Arab armies in May, 1948 (they were not, by any stretch of the imagination) that the first truce was "signed" on June 10, 1948 (it was never "signed," and it began on June 11) .

Brazen inaccuracy similarly marks Pappe's treatment of the Arab Revolt of 1936-1939. Pappe writes that the Arab Higher Committee had tried to "negotiate a principled settlement with the Jewish Agency" (it did not) that in "October 1936" the AHC "declared a general strike" (it was declared in May, 1936 and ended in October) that "in August [1937]" Palestinians assassinated "Major Andrew," the British acting Galilee district commissioner (his name was Lewis Andrews, he was a civilian, and he was assassinated in September) and that "quite a few" of the Palestinian dead in the 1936-1939 rebellion were women (there are no accurate figures, but there can be no doubt that only a handful of the three thousand to six thousand Palestinian dead were women, who generally took no part in the rioting and the fighting).

Pappe writes that "in the 1969 election, the moderate Eshkol could not prevail against the more inflexible Golda Meir" (Eshkol simply died in office, and his party, Mapai, selected Meir as his successor, and later, in the general elections of 1969, the incumbent prime minister Meir, heading the Mapai list, ran against, and beat, a collection of right-wing, religious, and left-wing parties) that there were one million Palestinians living outside Palestine by the end of the 1948 war (the number was no more than three hundred thousand) that "the fida'iyyun [literally, self-sacrificers or guerrillas] . activities initially consisted of attempts to retrieve lost property" (this was probably true of infiltrating Palestinian refugees, but the fida'iyyun, set up by Egypt only in 1954-1955, from the first were engaged in intelligence and terrorist activities, not in property retrieval) that "Lebanon was destroyed in [Israeli] carpet bombing from the air and shelling from the ground" in 1982 (Lebanon was not destroyed, though several neighborhoods in a number of cities were badly damaged, and there was no "carpet bombing"). Again, the list is endless.

This truly is an appalling book. Anyone interested in the real history of Palestine/Israel and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would do well to run vigorously in the opposite direction.


The Indian Revolt of 1857

In May 1857, soldiers in the army of the British East India Company rose up against the British. The unrest soon spread to other army divisions and towns across north and central India. By the time the rebellion was over, hundreds of thousands—possibly millions—of people had been killed, and India was changed forever. The British government disbanded the British East India Company and took direct control of India, bringing an end to the Mughal Empire. This seizure of power initiated a period of rule known as the British Raj.


Legacy

From the American Revolution to the 1950s, the most common understanding of Bacon’s Rebellion was that it was a precursor of the American Revolution, a premature revolt against British tyranny that represented but a temporary setback for American liberty. Best encapsulated in Thomas Wertenbaker’s Torchbearer of the Revolution: The Story of Bacon’s Rebellion and Its Leader (1940), this interpretation still enjoys some popularity. Since the 1950s, however, historians have soundly rejected this interpretation for the simple reason that there is no evidence to support it and much evidence to the contrary. Bacon himself worked hard at presenting his rebellion as being in the king’s interests, repeatedly representing it as an uprising against a corrupt governor and his followers, who were the real traitors against the Crown.

The causes and consequences of Bacon’s Rebellion were not so simple. Considered from the perspective of the Pamunkeys, Occaneechis, and Susquehannocks, it was obviously about Indians. It was sparked by conflicts with Indians, and Bacon and his followers devoted considerable energy to pursuing Indians. Although the rebellion was suppressed, subsequent governors generally heeded the call of Bacon and his successors for a harsher Indian policy. As Lieutenant Governor Alexander Spotswood summarized the situation, “a Governour of Virginia has to steer between Scylla and Charibdis, either an Indian or a Civil War,” for Bacon’s Rebellion was caused by Berkeley’s “refusing to let the People go out against the Indians.” Not coincidentally, Virginia Indians’ fortunes declined precipitously in the generation following the rebellion.

Considered from the perspective of Virginia society, the conflict brought to a head problems that had been brewing long before the rebellion. In his History and Present State of Virginia (1705), Robert Beverley Jr. , the son of a loyalist officer who was at the forefront of the fighting during the winter of 1676–1677, attributed the rebellion to three major causes in addition to “the disturbance given by the Indians”: First, The extreme low price of tobacco, and the ill usage of the planters in the exchange of goods for it, which the country, with all their earnest endeavors, could not remedy. Secondly, The splitting the colony into proprieties, contrary to the original charters and the extravagant taxes they were forced to undergo, to relieve themselves from those grants. Thirdly, The heavy restraints and burdens laid upon their trade by act of Parliament in England.

In short, Virginians faced a combination of falling tobacco prices and a heavy tax burden. Beverley’s “splitting the colony into proprieties” referred to the granting of the land on the Northern Neck to private individuals, which prevented the colony from selling it. Faced with this loss of revenue, the General Assembly dispatched agents to London to argue for the grant’s revocation. This cost money. So did the General Assembly itself: as the royal commissioners recognized, taxes to pay the members’ expenses during frequent assemblies were “Grievous and Burdensom.” So too did the Third Anglo-Dutch War (1672–1674), when the Crown had forced Virginia to build a useless and expensive fort at Point Comfort.

Under these circumstances, Berkeley’s plan to build frontier forts struck many frustrated and frightened planters as unhelpful. They figured that it would be cheaper, and perhaps more satisfying, to simply attack Indians wherever they could be found. Bacon’s success came largely because of his ability to direct these people’s fear and anger toward two targets: Indians and Berkeley, who was, according to Bacon’s wife, Elizabeth Duke Bacon, “the Indians’ friend and our enemy.” Although Virginia’s elites were divided over the rebellion and provided the leadership for both sides, small planters who were disproportionately threatened by the Indian war and burdened by taxes tended to lean toward Bacon’s side in the conflict.

After Bacon’s Rebellion the planter elite consolidated its power over the colony, but there were winners and losers even among the gentry. Losers in the struggle tended to be newer men, like Bacon, who had not been in the colony long and who may have resented the power and privileges of established elites. Those who gained the most were an older gentry who had helped found the colony decades earlier or, most importantly, royalists who had fled to Virginia in the 1650s following the English Civil Wars . These members of the Washington, Randolph, Carter, and Lee families, to name a few, would dominate Virginia for many years to come.

The rebellion had also taken place in the midst of a fundamental shift in Virginia’s labor force, several decades after leading planters had collectively decided to replace white indentured servants with more easily controlled enslaved Africans, but roughly twenty years before the supply of slaves would make that possible. By 1700 the slave population had soared, British immigration had slowed, and many poor whites had either become better established or had departed the colony. At the turn of the century white Virginians were increasingly united by white populism, or the binding together of rich and poor whites through their sense of what they considered their common racial virtue and their common opposition to the interests of Indians and enslaved Africans. Thus Bacon’s Rebellion was, as one writer has put it, a critical element in “the origin of the Old South.”


Slaves in the United States of America were commonly viewed as chattel and were subjected to long working hours, harsh conditions, floggings, and separation from families and loved ones. It was also relatively common, though, for slaves to display their autonomy and rebel against their masters. Common forms of rebellion included feigned illness, sloppy work, and sabotage. Running away, however, was the ultimate form of rebellion and resistance.[1] Slave owners, often befuddled as to why their property ran away, placed advertisements in newspapers to find their escaped property. Analyzing the history of slavery in North Carolina provides valuable clues that allow the scholar to understand the role of slavery and why many slaves chose to run away.

Colonial North Carolina: 1748-1775

North Carolina, unlike neighboring South Carolina and Virginia, lacked a substantial plantation economy and the growth of slavery was sluggish in colonial times. In 1705 the black population was one thousand, twenty percent of the state&rsquos population, while in South Carolina the black population numbered over four thousand. By 1733 there were an estimated six thousand blacks in the state, while South Carolina was home to approximately 39,155 blacks by the end of the decade. North Carolina, however, experienced a rapid population increase between the years of 1730-1755. The number of slaves in the state increased from six thousand to more than eighteen thousand. [2]

One of the reasons North Carolina lagged behind was the state&rsquos geography. The shore of the state is fickle with coastlines surrounded by shoal. The coastline had only a few natural harbors. A network of north-south roads developed in the Coastal Plain and Piedmont, but rivers slowed the growth of east-west routes. Minimal trade was established with the backcountry, emphasizing the supply routes to Charleston and Virginia. After 1750 the colony revitalized its road systems, promoting the growth of sea towns such as Edenton, New Bern, and Wilmington. North Carolina would become the lead exporter of naval stores in the colonies, in addition to exporting large quantities of sawn lumber, shingles, wheat, and livestock. [3]

In the northeastern and central counties tobacco was the main cash crop. Tobacco required fifty percent of a fieldhand's time, with the remaining time split between growing food and other cash crops. Slaves near the Tar and Cape Fear Rivers worked in the production of naval stores. Many slaves were forced to spend numerous hours in swampy environments rendering resins over open fires to create tar and pitch. The largest population of slaves was found in the the counties of Brunswick and New Hanover. Rice was a predominant cash crop in the Wilmington area. Rice planting was a long and arduous process under very hot and humid conditions. [4]

Revolutionary North Carolina (1775-1783)

North Carolina&rsquos population at the beginning of the 1770s, was an estimated 266,000, of whom 69,600 were black. [5] Numerous slave revolts and insurrections at the start of the decade frightened many of the tidewater elite, alienating their alliances against the British. Lord Dunmore, the last colonial governor of Virginia, issued a proclamation in 1775 stating that any slave who joined his all-black regiment was guaranteed freedom. Many slaves from northern North Carolina attempted to join Dunmore&rsquos regiment, causing panic amongst slave owners. The Revolution would continue to create chaos within the slave system in North Carolina. During the Southern Campaign many slaves flocked to British lines, hoping to find freedom. Other slaves took advantage of the confusion created by warfare and escaped. [6]

Antebellum North Carolina (1784-1860)

Slavery continued to grow in North Carolina after the end of the Revolution. In 1790 North Carolina possessed an estimated one hundred thousand slaves, making up one quarter of North Carolina&rsquos population. In the antebellum era, North Carolina gained significance as marketplace for slaves for the newly opened slave territories out west. The invention of the cotton gin increased migration rates towards the western territories and entrepreneurs purchased slaves from North Carolina prior to moving out to the western territories. A land rush increased populations in territories such as Alabama, Mississippi and eventually Texas. Between the years of 1810 and 1860 an estimated one hundred forty thousand enslaved African Americans were either sold or transported out of North Carolina. [7]

Slave and Family Life

The majority of slaves in North Carolina worked as farm laborers. The work week was five and a half days, sunup to sundown. Children and the elderly often worked in the vegetable gardens and took care of the livestock.Common crops included corn, cotton, and tobacco. Oral histories collected from the Federal Writers Project of the Works Progress Administration for the state of North Carolina illustrate the difficulties faced by slaves on a daily basis. Former slave Sarah Louise Augustus spoke frankly about slave life, &ldquoMy first days of slavery (was) hard. I slept on a pallet on the floor of the cabin and just as soon I wus able to work any at all I was put to milking cows.&rdquo [8] The majority of the enslaved population lived in huts or log cabins referred to as &ldquoquarters.&rdquo Slaves typically received three to five pounds of smoke and salted pork per week along with cornmeal. Some slaves were fortunate enough to receive ample rations from their masters, others were fed the bare minimum. Slaves typically received two suits of clothes throughout the year. During the summer slaves wore clothes made of cheap cotton, winter clothing was made from linsey-woolsey cloth. Children&rsquos clothes were commonly made of old flour or gunny sacks. Clothing was commonly given out at Christmas. [9]

Social and leisure time played a significant role in slave life. Holidays, religion, family life and music provided an escape from harsh working conditions. Former slave Charlie Barbour recalled the New Year festivities stating: &ldquoOn de night &lsquofore de first day of January we had a dance what lasts all night. At midnight when de New Year comes in marster makes a speech an&rsquo we is happy dat we is good, smart slaves.&rdquoAccording to Barbour and other slaves, Christmas was the most important holiday in the social calendar, &ldquoAt Christmas we had a big dinner. De fust one what said Christmas gift ter anybody else got a fit, so of cour&rsquose we all try to ketch de masters.&rdquo [10]

Social occasions also allowed slaves the opportunity to visit neighbouring plantations. Social gatherings included corn huskings, candy pullings, and watermelon slicings. Slaves commonly found marriage partners at these occasions. Slaveholders often encouraged relationships to occur because it resulted in the birth of children, which equated to profit. Many slave owners expected their slaves to marry and encouraged slaves to have children. [11]

Dueling Viewpoints

The Society of Friends has a long history in North Carolina. In 1777 at the North Carolina Yearly Meeting a proposal was drafted that admonished Quakers to free their slaves. [12] In 1778 the North Carolina Yearly Meeting issued an order that prohibited the buying and the selling of slaves by Quakers. One of the reasons the Society of Friends stressed abolition was the Quaker belief that slavery was a sin manumissions (the freeing of slaces) allowed Quakers to cleanse their souls of impurities. Other Quakers freed their slaves based on ideas of Natural Rights or personal preferences. [13] The Society of Friends in North Carolina also created a Manumission Society that promoted abolition outside of the Quaker faith. The North Carolina Manumission Society, founded in 1816, lasted for only fifteen years. During that time frame the Society placed anti-slavery advertisements in the Greensboro Patriot newspaper. The Society also sent antislavery petitions to the North Carolina legislature. [14]

Slave Codes and Punishment

The era after the American Revolution led to an increase regulations through the Black Codes which limited the rights of blacks. Slaves would not be able to testify against whites, would not be able to move in the countryside without a pass, could not gamble, raise or sell livestock, read or write. Slaves were not allowed to own weapons or even hunt. One common form of vigilante justice emerged when black men were accused of raping white women it involved lynching and burning the black man without a trial. [15]

Punishment for a disobedient slave varied. Whipping and other forms of physical violence were common. Eli Colemna, a slave born in Kentucky in 1846 remembered:

Massa whoooped a slave if he got stubborn or lazy. He whopped one so hard that the slave said he&rsquod kill him. So Massa done put a chain round his legs, so he je&rsquos hardly walk, and he has to work in the field that way. At night he put &lsquonother chain around his neck and fastened it to a tree. [16]

Roberta Manson commented that it was the overseer who whipped slaves, stating, &ldquoMars Mack&rsquos oversee, I doan know his name, waus gwine ter whup my mammy onct, an&rsquo pappy do&rsquo he ain&rsquot neber make no love ter mammy comes up an&rsquo take de whuppin&rsquo fer her.&rdquo [17]

Everyday Acts of Defiance

Numerous slaves practiced day to day resistance against their masters. Many of the crimes practiced were property destruction. Slaves would commonly pull down fences destroy farm equipment steal livestock, money, liquor, tobacco, flour, and numerous other objects belonging to their master. To many slaves this was not considered stealing, but instead &ldquotaking.&rdquo Other slaves would work slowly or purposely damage the crops to delay production. Some slaves would drink to relieve their frustrations. [18] Many esacaped. There were any number of underlying reasons for escape. Many slaves ran away to reunite with their family members. Slaves also ran away from their owners to avoid being sold. Fear of being whipped and flogged also prompted many slaves to escape. Running away, however, was probably the most extreme form of resistance against slave owners.

The majority of slaves who ran away were male. Female slaves were less likely to attempt an escape they began to have children during the mid-to-late teens and were the primary caregivers for children. It was generally too risky to take young children on the run. In addition, male slaves had more experience with the countryside than their female counterparts. [22] The majority of slaves who ran away were in their teens and twenties.

Perhaps one of the most famous slaves to have escaped from North Carolina was Harriet Jacobs. Jacobs is the author of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl that was published in 1861 . Jacobs&rsquo work was instrumental because it was the first autobiography to be written that examined slavery from a woman's perspective. Jacobs claimed &ldquoSlavery is terrible for men but it is far more terrible for women .&rdquo Jacobs famously lived underneath her grandmother&rsquos crawl space for seven years prior to escaping to Philadelphia in 1842. Most importantly, Jacob&rsquos work also alluded to the high number of sexual abuse suffered by female slaves.

Life On The Run

One of the most important decisions faced by slaves, was where to run. Some slaves decided to run in the direction of lost family members while others fled to locations where they thought capture was unlikely. Many ran to the cities, hoping to get lost in the crowd. Some slaves attempted to run away in the direction of the northern United States or Canada, the mythical &ldquoPromiseland.&rdquo Slaves, while on the run, were faced with numerous obstacles to overcome. To avoid detection many attempted to pass as free persons. Free blacks differed greatly from slaves on account of their manner, language, behavior, and appearance. Slaves who knew how to write could forge a free pass that would aid in their escape. Many escaped slaves managed to incorporate themselves into the free population and worked in various occupations such as barbers, butchers, and builders.

Runaway slaves often found refuge in the swamps that populated North Carolina. One of the most popular swamps, the Dismal Swamp, located in Northeastern North Carolina provided shelter for runaway slaves for more than two hundred years. The woods and swamplands of eastern North Carolina offered many runaway slaves an opportunity to work and hide. Escaped slaves worked as shinglers, on flatboats, and in the naval stores industry.

Slaves not only had to risk the elements but also had to be weary of slave patrols. In 1802 the North Carolina&rsquos legislature passed a law enabling each county to carry out and administer its own patrol system. [19] These patrols ranged in size from two or three to a dozen men. Patrols were granted the authority to ride on to anyone's property and search buildings. Slave catchers, who specialized in hunting and capturing slaves, also posed a risk to slaves on the run. Slave catchers were commonly hired by planters and plantation managers and could typically earn upto fifty dollars for returning a runaway.

The coasts of North Carolina possessed a unique slave culture and economy. Numerous jobs on the coast were filled by slave labor. Slaves were used as sailors, pilots, fishermen, ferryman, deckhand, and shipyard workers. [20] The coast also provided many opportunities for slaves to escape. Many advertisements, such as this one from the State Gazette of North Carolina , published in Edenton on February 2nd, 1791, warned &ldquoAll masters of vessels are forbid harbouring or carrying them [slaves] off at their peril.&rdquo Many slaves who attempted to escape via the waterways traveled to port towns such as Wilmingoint, Washington, or New Bern. [21]

Slave Advertisements

Slaveowners suffered massive economic loss when a slave ran away. Owners, in a effort to find their missing slave, posted advertisements in newspapers to have their property returned. Slave advertisements were a common tool employed by slave owners to find their escaped property. Many of the advertisements varied from a brisque several lines to a lengthy description. Slave owners often placed advertisements in newspapers as a last resort and would wait for several months or even years before they placed advertisments. And by no means would every owner place an advertisement for a missing slave.

Many of the advertisements included descriptions such as demeanor, dress, abilities, skills and background. Often the slave&rsquos moral character would be described in the advertisement as well. In an advertisement from the Raleigh Register on October 14th, 1843, John White described his slave, Thompson, as having &ldquoa down look & is slow spoken.&rdquo Likewise, many slave owners described their slaves as intelligent. In an advertisement from November 11th, 1835, from the Greensboro Patriot, owner W.W. Williams stated that his slave, Davy, had "an intelligent countenance, and a very genteel form for a negro.&rdquo

The color of the slave commonly appeared in advertisements. Slaves who ran away who had light skin had advantages. Biracial slaves (known at the time as mulatto) were more likely to be believed as free persons. A January 16, 1824advertisement from the Raleigh Register read, &ldquoRan-away from the subscriber . a likely bright mulatto girl named BARBARY. and very probable she may have a free pass.&rdquo [02520901-1824-01-16-03] Other advertisers claimed that their slaves were &ldquonearly white&rdquo or could easily &ldquopass for white.&rdquo Biracial slaves were often employed as house slaves and in skilled positions such as waiters and tailors. With this training a biracial slave had a greater chance of passing as a free person.

Many factors went into deciding the reward amount for a slave. If the owner was confident the slave would be quickly returned, the reward was low. Conversely, if a slave was believed to have left the county or the state, the reward amount increased. Rewards for slaves ranged from twenty-five cents to five hundred dollars. The most commonly advertised reward was ten dollars. Slaves who possessed a specialized skill, or were especially handsome or clver, often fetched a higher price.If the slave was known to be out of state the price typically increased. On average runaway female slaves commanded a lower amount than their male counterparts. Reward amounts, however, were 5 percent or less of the value of the runaway. When an owner placed an advertisement in the newspaper there were many factors to contend with. Legal costs, hiring slave catchers, transportation charges, were all on the mind of the owner affecting reward amounts. If an owner realized that someone was harboring their slave, the price would often rise. [23] For example, in an advertisement placed in the Edenton Gazette on July 20th, 1819 by Thomas Palmer, the initial price for two runaways was fifty dollars but &ldquoif stolen and offered for sale by a white person, 100 Dollars Reward will be given for appreheading[sic] and giving information so that I may recover them.&rdquo

It is unknown how many slaves were returned to their owners because of advertisements. But rich details about slave life are available for the scholar and an analysis of these advertsiements can provide insight not only into conditions and lifestyles experienced by the slaves but also into the plantation economy and the perspective of slave owners. Perhaps most importantly, though, they provide documentation of a very early chapter in the civil rights movement--an assertion of freedom that preceeded more fomalized movements by many decades.

[1] Marvin L. Michael Kay and Lorin Lee Cary, Slavery in North Carolina, 1748-1775 ( Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1995), 97.

[2] Freddie L. Parker, Running For Freedom: Slave Runaways in North Carolina 1755-1840, (New York: Garland Publishing, 1993), 7.

[3] Kay & Cary, Slavery in North Carolina, 11.

[4] Clayton E. Jewett and John O. Allen, Slavery in the South: A State-by-State History, (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2004), 189.

[5] Parker, Running For Freedom, 8.

[6] Jewett, Slavery in the South, 191.

[7] Jewett, Slavery in the South, 192.

[8] Federal Writers' Project. The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography. (Westport,: Greenwood Pub. Co, 1972), 51.

[9] Jewett, Slavery in the South, 194.

[10] Federal Writer&rsquos Project, The American Slave, 74.

[11] Maria Jenkins Schwartz, Born in Bondage: Growing up Enslaved in the Antebellum South. ( Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000), 187.

[12] Hiram H. Hilty, By Land and By Sea: Quakers Confront Slavery and its Aftermath in North Carolina. (Greensboro:North Carolina Friends Historical Society, 1993), 3.

[15] Jewett, Slavery in the South, 194.

[16] George P. Rawick, From Sundown to Sunup: The Making of the Black Community. ( Westport: Greenwood Publishing Company, 1972). 57.

[17] Federal Workers Project, The American Slave, 101.

[18] John Franklin & Loren Schweninger, Runaway Slaves : Rebels on the Plantation. ( Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999),18.

[19] Parker, Running For Freedom, 39.

[20] David Cecelski, The Watermen&rsquos Song: Slavery and Freedom in Maritime North Carolina. ( Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001), xviii.


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