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National Commentary

Continuous Effects of Bacon’s Rebellion

Wornie Reed

Many of us are trying to understand Trump’s appeal to so many white Americans. He has done significant damage to several American institutions, including the Department of Justice, the State Department, and the judiciary, to name three.

And he has major psychological problems that are so evident as not to need so many prominent mental health experts to tell us so—and to label his probably more concrete problem as “Malignant Narcissism.” Thus he is a “dangerous case,” as they told us.

To understand significant parts of Trump’s appeal, one must accept that it is based on racism. One of the consistent themes among Trump voters is the concern that whites are losing control of the country to minorities.

Some of this loyalty to Trump and what he stands for—white supremacy–might be traced back to Bacon’s Rebellion back in 17th century Virginia.

What started as a dispute between settlers and Native people on the Virginia-Maryland border in the fall of 1675 became a full rebellion against the Virginia Governor and his government. This rebellion was led by Nathaniel Bacon, who, along with his followers, sought to acquire more land by driving Native people out of Virginia altogether. They wanted the government to be more aggressive in their cause.

Dissatisfied with the Governor’s response to their desires, Bacon and his armed rebels took action. They burned Jamestown to the ground, threatened its Governor, and upended Virginia’s social order.

Bacon died of dysentery soon after they ransacked Jamestown, and his militia fell apart, making it easy for the Governor to quell the insurrection and execute the remaining leaders. Interestingly, Bacon’s rebels consisted mainly of indentured servants and black slaves.

Bacon’s rebellion brought a great degree of equality as it unified different races and economic classes. But white planters were shaken because a rebel militia that united white and black servants and slaves had destroyed the colonial capital.

The backlash from Bacon’s rebellion is credited with helping kick off the racial distinctions in colonial America and the United States.  Historians often connect this event to the decline of indentured servitude and the corresponding rise of slavery within the British American colonies. Planters increasingly distinguished between people of African descent and people of European descent and enacted laws that held that people of African descent are hereditary slaves.


Bacon’s rebellion might be the last time that blacks and poor whites joined in a common cause. Legend says that the elite vowed that they would never again let poor whites join with blacks. For one thing, there were more of these whites and blacks than there were of the elites. So they had to be kept under control.

Whether they specifically met and planned the restructuring of society or not, this is exactly what happened. Whites were given the status of being better than blacks in an unspoken exchange for their support of the white leaders/planters and their opposition to blacks.

Any doubt about that should be erased if one considers how these poor whites were used as cannon fodder in the Civil War so that the elite could keep their slaves.

But what about middle-class whites? They are a significant part of the Trump cult, and they got no economic benefits from Trump. According to the nonpartisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, Trump’s tax cut was a windfall for businesses and the one percent; however, the benefits to middle-wage earners were about $65 a month.

It looks like many in the white middle class are victims of this historical con game, which says a key benefit of being white in America is to be better than blacks (and now other nonwhites) and to be tied to the systems of control in society.

With the unwarranted perception that white control is slipping away, many whites are alarmed–and they are beginning to take action.

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