Bacon, Nathaniel (1647–1676), a leader of an uprising in colonial Virginia in 1676 against the colony's royal governor, Sir William Berkeley. The revolt, known as Bacon's Rebellion, was sparked by Berkeley's failure to protect the frontier against Indian attacks.
Nathaniel Bacon was born in Suffolk, England. He was a cousin of Francis Bacon. After attending Cambridge University and Gray's Inn, he came in 1674 to Virginia, where he bought land and was appointed to the governor's council. Bacon soon became a leader of those Virginians dissatisfied with Berkeley's autocratic rule. When the governor refused to authorize raids against marauding Indians (for fear that friendly Indians would be slaughtered as well), Bacon raised a force of his own and defeated the Indians twice in May, 1676.
Berkeley, viewing Bacon's actions as a challenge to his authority, proclaimed him a rebel and a traitor. Bacon, however, had strong support among many colonists, who by this time were also demanding governmental reforms. Berkeley was forced to call new elections to the House of Burgesses, the first in 14 years. Many Bacon supporters were elected, some democratic reforms were enacted, and Bacon was pardoned.
However, after Bacon renewed attacks on the Indians, Berkeley raised an army against him, and civil war broke out. Bacon drove him from Jamestown, the capital, and burned it to the ground. When Bacon died suddenly in October, 1676, the rebellion collapsed. Although Charles II had pardoned the rebels, Berkeley had many of them hanged.