Berkeley, Sir William (1607–1677), an English colonial governor of Virginia. In his early years as governor, he did much to strengthen the young colony. In his later years, however, while continuing some constructive policies, he became increasingly irascible and arbitrary. He is best known for his suppression of the uprising known as Bacon's Rebellion.
Berkeley was born near London and attended Oxford University. He was knighted in 1639. He was appointed governor of Virginia in 1641 and arrived there the following year. Berkeley forced the colonists to work together in their own interests, granted limited self-government, and encouraged crop diversification. In 1644 he crushed an Indian uprising, bringing about a generation of peace.
When the Puritans overthrew Charles I in 1649, Berkeley invited the king's supporters to settle in Virginia and tried to drive out Puritans and Quakers. These actions aroused Oliver Cromwell, lord protector of England, who sent troops to depose him in 1652. Berkeley remained in Virginia as a private citizen. When the monarchy was restored in 1660, he became governor again. His second administration was marred by economic distress, the curtailment of self-government, political favoritism, and high taxes.
When Berkeley failed to protect the frontier against renewed Indian attacks, a group of colonists under Nathaniel Bacon took up arms against the Indians, without the governor's consent, in May, 1676. Berkeley declared Bacon a rebel, and soon there was a popular uprising against the governor. The rebellion collapsed when Bacon died in October. When Berkeley had 23 rebel leaders hanged, despite their having been granted pardons by Charles II, he was recalled to England. He died soon after.