In the summer of 1675, the Indians, in despair, invaded Virginia from the north. When they were sweeping through Maryland, John Washington, the great-grandfather of our Beloved Patriot, met them with a force of Virginians. A fierce border war ensued. Governor Berkeley, who had the monopoly of the beaver trade with the Indians, and was willing to be just, treated them leniently. When he heard that six of their chiefs who came to treat for peace had been treacherously murdered by Englishmen, he exclaimed with warmth: "Had they killed all of my nearest relations, yet if they had come to treat of peace they ought to have gone in peace."
Fired by this treachery, the Indians swept over the country between the Rappahannock and the James rivers, strewing their pathway with death and desolation. They ceased not to kill until their wrath was appeased by the slaughter of at least ten Englishmen for each of their chiefs slain. Insecurity was everywhere felt, and dread filled every cabin. The apparent supineness of the governor in the presence of the great peril, aroused the people to vigorous action. Led by the young and wealthy Nathaniel Bacon, a planter and lawyer on the James, who was fluent in speech and bold in action, and who was very popular, they petitioned the governor for leave to arm and protect themselves. The governor had reason to suspect Bacon of ambitious rather than patriotic motives, for he had been concerned in a partial insurrection the previous year, suffered imprisonment and had been generously pardoned by the executive. So Berkeley refused their petition.
The impetuous Bacon took fire at this refusal. He knew the hidden cause. He at once proclaimed that he was ready to lead the people against the dusky invaders, without permission, if another white person should be murdered. Very soon the news came that some on his own plantation, near Richmond, had been slain. The people gathered under the shadows of a great tulip tree to consult. Bacon was among them. He mounted a stump, and with impassioned eloquence stirred their hearts as if with electric fire. He denounced the governor as neglectful or imbecile, and advised his hearers to take up arms in their own defence.
The excited colonists followed Bacon's advice. The multitude were soon embodied in military form, and chose Bacon to be their general. He asked the governor to give him a commission in confirmation of the expressed will of the people. Berkeley refused, and Bacon marched against the Indians. He had not yet crossed the York River, when the governor, yielding to the bad advice of an aristocratic faction in the Assembly, proclaimed him to be a rebel and ordered his followers to disperse. A few weak-kneed Peters obeyed, but a large portion clung to Bacon's standard. He led the expedition forward. At the same time the lower settlements arose in insurrection, and demanded the immediate dissolution of the aristocratic Assembly.
Bacon drove the Indians back toward the Rappahannock. A new Assembly was chosen, and he was elected to a seat in the House of Burgesses, from Henrico county.
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