Hero or Traitor? Bacon's Rebellion

Becoming a Detective

The American Revolution in 1776 was not the first time that the British colonists confronted uprisings in the “new world.” In 1675, colonists in New England struggled over land in King Philip's War. Almost simultaneously, colonists in Virginia faced an even more complicated uprising. Nathaniel Bacon’s rebellion was a struggle between immigrants, wealthy land owners, and Native Americans for control over sections of land in the Virginia Colony. Low tobacco prices and high land prices made the dream of obtaining plantations in the Chesapeake next to impossible. Did Native Americans hold too much land in the treaty of 1646? Many immigrants felt they did and headrights could not provide them with their desired land. Each of these groups of people had conflicts and distrust between themselves. The class system played an important role within this event. Twenty-nine year old Nathaniel Bacon became the leader for the landless immigrants even though he himself came from a different class. In this case, you will hear “eyewitness” testimony and come to your own conclusions about Bacon. Was Nathaniel Bacon a colonial “Robin Hood” and someone to admire or was he a scoundrel and traitor?


Investigating the Evidence

  1. Introduction
  2. New Beginning
  3. 1646 Treaty
  4. Indian Troubles
  5. New Elections
  6. Reclaiming Position
  7. Confrontation Over the Commission
  8. Difficult Times
  9. Capturing Women as Tactics of War
  10. Jamestown Burns
  11. Bacon's Death
  12. The Aftermath

Searching for Clues

As you watch the clips of the events, please list the pros and cons for both Nathaniel Bacon and Governor William Berkeley on this chart. When you have finished you will chose which character you support and tell why. After watching each of the video clips, discuss these questions with your partner.


Cracking the Case

Based on your analysis of the documents and citing evidence to support your answer, please write a paragraph or two answering the following questions: So what happened that caused Nathaniel Bacon to burn down Jamestown statehouse and church? Was Nathaniel Bacon a hero or a traitor in your words? Within your analysis, please indicate whether you were satisfied with the evidence and list any additional questions that have been left unanswered through your investigation.