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Bacon's Rebellion

William Sherwood's Account

[William Sherwood, according to one of his letters, came to Virginia
in 1668. He had been convicted of crime in England ("one of those
who robbed me, whom I saved," says Williamson), and was pardoned,
on the intercession of Sir Joseph Williamson, Secretary of State. He
had probably been bred to the Bar, and became one of the leading
lawyers of Virginia. It seems likely, from a suit for slander, recorded
in York county, that his English career was unknown in the colony, as
no mention of it is made by a violent and abusive defendant.

     He was a member of the House of Burgesses, 1685; Coroner and
Justice of James City county, 1687, and in March, 1677, was appointed
Attorney-General. (Robinson's Notes from General Court Records.)

     In all of Sherwood's letters to Williamson (which are preserved in
the English Public Record Office) he expresses great gratitude to his
correspondent, and penitence for his offence—a penitence which seems
to have lasted through life, for his epitaph at Jamestown, after stating
his birth-place as White Chapel, declares that here was a miserable sinner awaiting the resurrection. At Surry C.H. was found, not long
ago, a volume of the Universal History, lettered, "Ex dono William
Sherwood." The fly leave and title page are missing, so it cannot be
discovered to whom, or what, it was presented.

     There is recorded in Middlesex County a power of attorney, dated
October 24, 1609, from Jeffrey Jeffreys, of London, Esquire, to Dudley
Digges, William Churchill and Arthur Spicer, merchants, to recover
such personal estate as was bequeathed him by the last will of Wil-
liam Sherwood, of James City, Virginia, deceased, dated August 11,
1697, and also all such lands, houses and other real estate as Sherwood
bequeathered to him in reversion after the death of his wife Rachel Sher-
wood; so there are no descendant s who might be troubled by a knowl-
edge of Sherwood's offence in England. His after-life of nearly thirty
years in Virginia appears to have been honorable and he esteemed.]

Rt. Hon'ble*

     That I may manifest that gratitude which I shall always to
make it p't of the great obligacons I have Rec'd from yo'r hon'r and
considering my allegeence to my soveraigne, & duty to yo'r hon'r
doe presume to informe yo'r hon'r of some p'ticular passages in
the p'nte state of this Country, w'ch is thus: a Nacon of Indians,
called susquehanoes haveing killed some of ye Inhab'ts of the
Country were p'sued & several of y'm destroyed by the English,
and S'r William Berkeley our hon'ble Govern'r (who hath had
long experience of warr with ye *Indians) that he might p'vide
for ye safety of this Country caused our Assembly (who are our
Representatives) to meete in March last, who enacted y't forts
should be built att ye heads of the severall Rivers, being the
most way for security of our fronteere plantacons, but as noe

                                  BACON'S REBELLION.                 169

good Law can be so made to please all men, especially ye rude
sort of people, One Mr. Nathaniell Bacon Jun'r a p'son of little
experience & but of two yeares continuance in this countrey,
thinking himselfe wiser then ye Law, hath sitrred upp a great
number of indigent & disaffected p'sons to obstruct ye p'ceede-
ings upon ye acts of Assembly, raiseing forces by beate of Drum,
marcyhing in a warr like posture, in terror of his ma'ties good sub-jects, the intent of w'ch soe neere as all sover man Judge, is ye
subvercon of the Laws & to Levell all, this Mr. Bacon being
styled by the rabble their General (& indeed soe he hath
beene in ye loss of more men than ever was in all rights with ye
Indians) he haveing entered into Oaths to stand by y'm and not-
withstanding ye greate care of our Govern'r & his sev'll p'clama-
cons, fuseing to render himself, which causeth great feeres to
his Ma'ties loyall subjects & is of most daingerous consequence in
this time of warr with the Indians and this hopefull Country w'ch
hath for many y'rs past beene under a quiett Governm't haveing
Justice equally distributed to all men, is now in a languishing
condicon, the Rabble giveing out they will have their owne Laws
demanding ye Militia to be settled in y'm with such like rebellious
practices, Rt. hon'ble this Country hath had thirty fower y'rs ex-
pericnece of ye bvaour, conduct, Justice & Impartial p'ceedings
of our hon'ble Govern'r who hath endeavoured ye Gen'll good of ye
Country, by spending & layout out his estate amongst us, yett he & all authority & Magistracy are by ye rabble contemned.
The incloased Declaracon of our Govern'r will informed yo'r hono'r
more fuly of our p'nte condicion, as alsoe Capt. Griffen Mt. of
the Shipp Griffin if yo'r hon'r pleaseth to order him, will give an
ample acc't. Thus beging yo'r hon'rs p'don for this trouble de-
siering y't if in anything in these p'ts of ye World I may be ser-
viceable, you will lay yo'r Commands on.

Rt. Hon'ble

You'r most humble servant

[signed] Wm. Sherwood.

James Citty
Virg'a

[1] June, 1676.

170                VIRGINIA HISTORICAL MAGAZINE.

Rt. Hon'ble

     My L'tre of the 1st instant, gieves a briefe acc't of the then
Condicon of this hi Ma'ties Country, and for that new matter
every day offereth I thinke itt my duty to give your hon'r a more
ammple acc't of the sad condicon this poore & languishing country
is now in, for what by the comon enemy ye Indians on one
hand, & farr more by ye rebellions and outrages of the comon people this once hopefull Country, if not timely assisted by the
Kings Ma'ties especiall care of us, will inevitable be ruined, and y't
yo'r hon'r may be truly informed of our p'nte condicon I have
presumed to intimate thus: That the Indians haveing committed
many murders, our Assembly in March last, ordered y' 5000 men
should immediately be raised & in a readiness in forts att ye heads
of the sevall Rivers, not onely for security of the fronteere
plantacons but to Joyne with others, when necessary, this was thought to 'bables secure way, But Mr. Nath'll Bacon Jun'r dis-
suading ye people from theire subjection to ye Laws, giveing out
he would do strange matters & ease y'm of their levies, the rabble
rise, exclameing ag't the p'ceedeings of the Assembly and
seem weary of it, in y't itt was of 14 y'rs continuance; the Gover-
ern'r p'ceiveing a new Assembly would be greatefull Issues forth
writts for new elections, and a new assembly mett here ye 5th
instant, and Mr. Bacon by his rueling faction was elected in Henrico County theire Burgess, who came in a Boate or sloope
with 50 armed men & lyes before ye Towne, with intent that
when ye house of Burgesses satt, to force his way amonst y'm
Itt was judged he was not a fit p'son to sitt as Burgess, but that
he should first be brought to answere the great charge ag't him,
of this he was informed by some of his faction, & endeav'rs to
escape, upon w'ch severall boates with armed men were sent to
force his submission and a Command from ye Govern'r to one
Capt. Gardner (whose ship rides att sandy point) not to p'mitt
him to pass: The small Boates p'sue hi in y't shipp, by w'ch he is
fyred att to come to Anchor and soe he was taken & with all his
men brought to Towne ye 7th instant & delivered to ye Goven'r,
the whole intent was to cause him to submitt, & not obstruct the
good intencons, & ways proscribed for carry on ye warr ag't ye
Indians, for itt was not then fitt to p'ceede violently, & use

                                 BACON'S REBELLION.                        171

severity ag't him; the next day upon his humble submission to
the Govern'r & faithful p'mises y't upon his good behaviour he should
have a commission, within fower dayes after he returnes home;
The assemmbly p'ceede in ordering ye peace of the Country &
p'secuteing ye warr ag't the Indians, But now Mr Bacon studys
revenge for his late confinementm & resolves to have what he will
himselfe, privately possesseth ye people that many Injuries
were offered him, and y't the Assembly were bringing greate
taxes upon y'm and soe he procures a greate number of necessi-
tated & desp'ate p'sons, and on

    Thirsday 22th It was generally reported (& before night con-
firmed) y't Mr. Bacon was marching hither was 500 men in
Armes, the Gover't thereupon orders y't fower great Guns should
be drawne from ye fort to sandy Bay (being a narrow passage &
the onlely in to this Island) which being don by the souldiers
then on ye guard being about 30 of Col Holts company & all
y't could possible in soe short a time be ready, Itt was purposed
to raise a Barracadoe, but night coming prevented and such
scouts as was sent out to observe Bacons macon & strength were
by him secured:

     ffryday 23th This morning the Govern'r went to the Sandy
Bay in order to mounting ye Guns, and all ye cry was Armes,
Armes, Bacon is within two myles of the Towne, where he was
told ye Guns were planted ag't him, which caused him & all his
men to resolve if a Gun was shott ag't y'm to kill & distroy all;
News being brought he was soe neere, and itt being considered
there was so asmall a number of soulders in towne, (& those such
as inclined to his faction rather than our safety the whole Country
being paysoned by his specious pretences) the Guns were throwne
off theire carridges, the Govern'r & all other returned to the
state house, all men ordered to layby theire Armes, (that being
then the most politick way.) Mr. Bacon with att least 400 foote ye
scum of the Country, & 120 horse enred the sandy Bay, there
leveing a p'ty to secure ye passage, then he marched into Towne,
sends p'tyes to the ferry, River & fort, & draws his forces ag't
the state house, where the Govern'r councell & burgesses were
sitting, expecting this fiery mans actions, and first he sends one

172             VIRGINIA HISTORICAL MAGAZINE

of his Cap'ts requireing ye Goern'r to send some of the Councell
to him, Coll Spencer and Coll Cole were assigned to goe to hin,
he demanded 1st that a comission should imediately be sent him
as Gen'l of all volunteeres ag't the Indians: 2'dly to know how the
1000: men ordered by the Assembly to be raised should be paid,
if by a Levy, they declared thay would not submitt to itt, all
crying out Noe Levies: These demands were communicated to
the Burgesses, who sent this resolve y't what was 3 times read &
passed (that is, ye raiseing ye 1000 men at ye severall Counteys
charge) could not be altered of w'ch Mr. Bacon was informed with
this desier of the Govern'r y't the p'r'ceedings of the Assembly
might be redd att the head of Mr. Bacons Company for theire
sattisfaccon, and on this assureance y't he should have a comission,
Mr. Bacon declared he would not be longer put off, he would
not p'mitt any Laws to be read there, walking att the head of his
men saying he would fane know who dare oppose him, upon w'ch
the Govern'r went to him saying for prevencin of ye efusion of
Christian Blood lett you & I decide this controversye by our
swords, come along with me, Mr. Bacon answered y't was not his
business, he came for redress of ye peoples grievances; the
Govern'r demanded, what they were, he replyed two were
already delivered, & ye rest they would loudly proclaime. In ye
meane time ye comission was prepared, & being sent to him, he
read itt to souldiers, saying it was not sufficient, they must have
a larger. Then it was left to him to make his exceptions, which
he did in these words: The grounds of the comission are wholy
dissatisfactory, the people desier the grounds may be as follow-
eth, The assurance of my loyalty & First intencons, as alsoe ye
Inclinacon of the people tof ollow me who have given them a
sufficient of my sincere desires to serve the King and Country,
for ye people expect me to be Gen'll of the warr, This being
carried to the Govern'r he was straingely provoked att the mans
insolency & came & told him his hand should be cutt off rather
then he would consent to owne Mr. Bacons loyalty & ye like, he
swore his useall oaths he would have itt, upon which to prevent
utter ruin these proposealls were sent to the Burgesses to con-
sider, & present theire sence & opinionmn concerning y'm, who de-
bateing longer than he thought fitt, Mr. Bacon comes under ye
window of ye house, calls to them saying you Burgesses I ex-

 

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