Hero or Traitor? Bacon's Rebellion

Teacher Notes:

Introduction to Case:

In this case, students will determine whether Nathaniel Bacon should be honored as a hero or looked upon as a traitor to a beloved governor. Just as New England struggled over land in Metacomet’s war, Virginia faced a more complicated uprising here in the Chesapeake. Nathaniel Bacon’s rebellion was a struggle between immigrants, wealthy land owners, and Native Americans for control over sections of land. 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. Students will analysis and evaluate text, primary sources, and secondary sources to come to their own personal conclusions about Nathaniel Bacon. After watching video clips and discussing the provided questions, students will write a summary concerning the outcome of this rebellion. Was Nathaniel Bacon a colonial Robin Hood and someone to admire or was he a scoundrel and traitor who deserved his early death? Students should use the voices of the participants within the rebellion to support their opinions. Historians over time have changed their opinions about Nathaniel Bacon’s behavior. Students can conclude with telling whether there was enough evidence to support the events or were there questions still left unanswered.

Higher quality video clips, additional historical documents, multiple lesson plans and activity ideas are available on an instructional DVD - Pivotal Decisions in American History: Revolution or Resolution? Bacon's Rebellion in Virginia. The DVD is available online at Pickett Educational Resources.


This activity was inspired by the living history character of Elizabeth Bacon, played by Peggy Pickett. Her monologue told in an inquiry method continues to inspire the listener to come to their own conclusions. The following text below are also used within the investigation. This activity was developed by Julie Bray, Peggy Pickett, Bill Warder, and Mark Hofer.

American Passages: A History of the United States. Ayers, Edward, Lewis Gould, David Oshinsky, and Jean Solderlund.Harcourt, Inc. 2000. (pages 81-82)

The American Journey. Appleby, Joyce, Alan Brinkley, and James McPherson. Glencoe McGraw-Hill, 2003. (pages 88-89)

Bacon’s Rebellion. Cobblestone: Discover American History. Meg Chorlian, editor. Volume 22, Number 7, October 2001.


NCSS Theme II: Time, Continuity and Change
Focus on reading and reconstructing the past to:
1. Include various perspectives on historical events;
2. Draw upon historical knowledge during the examination of social issues;
3. Develop the habits of mind that historians and scholars employ.

National Center for History in the Schools
Standard 2: Historical Comprehension
Standard 3: Historical Analysis and Interpretation
Standard 4: Historical Research Capabilities
Standard 5: Historical Issues-Analysis and Decision-Making

Essential Understandings: The colonies were made up of different groups of people whose lives varied depending upon their social position.

Focus Questions and Learning Goals:

How did England impose its political and economic control over the colonies? What was the colonial governor’s position in the colonies?
* Political relationships-colonists had to obey English laws that were enforced by governors; colonial governors were appointed by the king or by the proprietor. Colonial legislatures made laws for each colony; monitored by colonial governors. England wanted to remain a world power and control the trade within the colonies. Some colonists resented power of colonial governors.

The student will develop skills for historical and geographical analysis, including the ability to identify and interpret primary and secondary source documents to increase understanding of events and life in United States history to 1877.

The student will demonstrate knowledge of European exploration in North America and West Africa by describing cultural interactions between Europeans and American Indians (First Americans) that led to cooperation and conflict;

Implementation Ideas

This investigation can be conducted entirely online or offline. The video clips can be projected on a classroom screen. Documents can be given as handouts and discussion questions can be done via the computer or as handouts.

  1. Students may prepare for the case by reading the Cobblestone version of Bacon’s Rebellion as a source of information.
  2. Students watch the video clips and participate within the discussion questions provided for each segment.
  3. Students complete the plus and minus chart. They read each statement and give a response. Finally they a write a summarizing paragraph or paper based on the information given, Was Nathaniel Bacon considered a traitor or a hero? The response is a personal response based on what they read and heard.
  4. Students share their responses with the class. Class votes on whether they feel he is hero or a traitor.

Extension Options:

For more in-depth study of the events, higher quality video clips, additional historical documents, multiple lesson plans and activity ideas are availble on an instructional DVD - Pivotal Decisions in American History: Revolution or Resolution? Bacon's Rebellion in Virginia. The DVD is available online from Pickett Educational Resources.

Students are welcome to email questions to "Elizabeth Bacon":