Join me in learning about the start of racial divide in America.

By. Nisie Jimenez


The 16th and early 17th Centaury offered a short life of indentured servitude for poor whites and blacks. As European immigrants arrived at Virginia, they would sign away their life for 5 years or longer. In return, the elitist planters would give a piece of land, tools, and sometimes money at the end of their contract. Indentured servitude was a dreadful life, including unlivable living conditions. Shacks were often filthy, ridden with rodents, lice, and disease. Near the end of their servitude, their “Contract Holders” would purposely overwork them so to get the most out of their bondage. To the planters’ significant profit, they would often avoid having to pay out at the end of the contract because the servants usually died by that time. By 1619 there was already a general distinction between white indentured servants and black slaves. Black slaves had already lost most of their rights in Virginia by 1639 as the first law to exclude, (black people) from normal protections by the government was enacted. Black slaves were tasked to transform the wooded swampland into a functional town. The labor was gruesome and included leveling the thick soil, turning it into good farmland, moving boulders, and cutting down trees. Jamestown was to become a thriving colony.

Of course, for the Black Slaves and Indentured Servants, growth meant more work and even fewer rights. Indentured servants began to write home to families to warn them of their ill-fated journey to the colonies. Servents often told family members to not sign away their lives to a servitude contract. Writing home was rarely an option for Black slaves. Many were arriving by massive slave ships by 1619, and families were separated forever. The two massively exploited groups began to share a mutual feeling of injustice. Some attempted to escape, but as word began to spread of a breakdown amongst the elitist landowners and the government, a sense of vengeance began to take hold. A flurry of unfortunate events began to lead up to the rebellion. Nathanial Bacon had challenged Royal Rule by his blatant disrespect of the government. And to add fuel to the fire King Charles the 2nd was increasing the tax on the export of Tabaco- Virginia’s most lucrative crop. This tax increase directly impacted farmers as planters began to turn to slavery as a more economical option.


Engraving captioned “The Burning of Jamestown” showing the burning of Jamestown during Bacon’s Rebellion (1676). From Illustrated School History of the United States and the Adjacent Parts of America: from the Earliest Discoveries to the Present Time (1857) available at the Internet Archive.

Date 1857

Source From p. 117 of Ilustrated School History of the United States and the Adjacent Parts of America. From a digital scan at the Internet Archive

Author Engraver F.A.C. (signed lower right) of Whitney-Jocelyn, N.Y.

Disdain for Governor William Berkley and King Charles began to spread through Jamestown. Nathanial Bacon issued a “Declaration in the Name of the People” On July 30, 1676. The Document argued Neglect and corruption on the part of the governing elite. While Bacon’s chief complaint was lack of support from the government, his new army of slaves, indentured servants, and disgruntled farmers were after freedom and opportunity. This rebellion became more and more violent as the governor attempted to regain control of Jamestown. Indentured Servants and slaves took the streets and had the entire town under siege. Governor Bearkly couldn’t take the heat and eventually fled. September 19, the rebellion hit a high point when Bacon ordered the capital to be burned. But just a month later, Bacon would die suddenly of dysentery, and his body would never be found. The remaining rebels continued fighting for months until King Charles sent reinforcements to stifle the rebellion. Governor Barley was able to return and immediately began to confiscate land from rebel leaders and had 23 of those leaders hung. However, Governor Bearkly also found himself meeting an untimely end just months later. Bacon’s Rebellion was over. Some Historians often highlight this event as a precursor to the American Revolution. But this rebellion was so much more. The Governing elite of Jamestown Virginia almost lost control of their land, power, and privilege. And it terrified them to know it could have been lost to Black Slaves, White Indentured servants, and Poor Farmers. Slowly changes made to keep these oppressed groups from joining again began to take form. Before the rebellion, only landowners were allowed to vote. Still, by the 18th century, that right was extended to any white male citizen of the commonwealth at 21. As slavery began to become the primary source of farming labor, farmers who had previously been out of work were now slave drivers. By, 1682: A law establishing the racial distinction between servants and slaves was enacted. Racial and economic division ensued and continues to poison American Society today.

Unfortunately, the thread of racism had been sewn into American society at our very inception. But Bacons Rebellion demonstrates the power Americans have if they stand together in the face of oppression.


  • Tracing memory: A Glossary of Graphic Signs and Symbols in African Art and Culture, by Clementine M. Fiak-Nzuhi,\

  •  Bacon’s Rebellion 1676 by Thomas J. Wertenbaker 

Skip to content