Bacon’s Rebellion

Sir Thomas Grantham Letter to a Leader of Bacon’s Rebellion

In 1676, the colony of Virginia was rocked by a large scale rebellion. Many issues were at play during this time, not the least of which being the authority of the governor over colonist. It was yet another battle over power in the English empire.

 

 

Introduction

In early 1676, Thomas Grantham was working for the British naval captain who escorted Virginia tobacco back to England so that the taxes could be properly collected and also to preserve it from raids or capture by pirates (including pirates from the middle east). He was part of the regular naval convoy. Late in 1676, as Grantham was preparing to leave London for Virginia, news arrived of Bacon’s Rebellion in Virginia. While James, Duke of York, the King’s brother and future king, was readying a thousand more troops, he sent an initial contingent of about 150 with Grantham as a mark of what was to come.

He arrived in Virginia just after Bacon’s death: according to one source, Bacon was asking “ever and anon” about whether English soldiers had yet arrived, just before he died. When he arrived, Grantham found the rebels (which included former servants and slaves) occupying all of Virginia’s forts on the mainland. He both threatened (as you see below) and also promised rewards (including freedom for the servants and slaves who had joined Bacon’s cause).  Below are a few documents related to Thomas Grantham’s handling of the rebellion: a letter to one of the rebels, an address given to rebel leaders, and an oath Grantham administered to rebels who surrendered.

As you read the following documents, what authority did Grantham use to support his messages to the rebels? How does Grantham’s messages influence the Oath of the surrendered? How might this Virginia incident connect with other events or laws crafted in the empire?

Holly Brewer

Further Reading
  • Kathleen Brown, Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs
  • Edmund Morgan, American Freedom, American Slavery
Sources

Transcription credit: Holly Brewer, Lauren Michalak.

Cite this page
Slavery Law & Power in Early America and the British Empire (October 5, 2022) A Letter From Sir Thomas Grantham To a Member of Bacon’s Rebellion. Retrieved from https://slaverylawpower.org/sir-thomas-grantham-letter-bacons-rebellion/.
"A Letter From Sir Thomas Grantham To a Member of Bacon’s Rebellion." Slavery Law & Power in Early America and the British Empire - October 5, 2022, https://slaverylawpower.org/sir-thomas-grantham-letter-bacons-rebellion/
Slavery Law & Power in Early America and the British Empire April 30, 2020 A Letter From Sir Thomas Grantham To a Member of Bacon’s Rebellion., viewed October 5, 2022,<https://slaverylawpower.org/sir-thomas-grantham-letter-bacons-rebellion/>
Slavery Law & Power in Early America and the British Empire - A Letter From Sir Thomas Grantham To a Member of Bacon’s Rebellion. [Internet]. [Accessed October 5, 2022]. Available from: https://slaverylawpower.org/sir-thomas-grantham-letter-bacons-rebellion/
"A Letter From Sir Thomas Grantham To a Member of Bacon’s Rebellion." Slavery Law & Power in Early America and the British Empire - Accessed October 5, 2022. https://slaverylawpower.org/sir-thomas-grantham-letter-bacons-rebellion/
"A Letter From Sir Thomas Grantham To a Member of Bacon’s Rebellion." Slavery Law & Power in Early America and the British Empire [Online]. Available: https://slaverylawpower.org/sir-thomas-grantham-letter-bacons-rebellion/. [Accessed: October 5, 2022]

Letter from Sir Thomas Grantham to Richard Lawrence, one of the Virginia Rebels

“That nothing but a speedy Repentance could free him, and his Friends, and the Country from inevitable Ruin: Which the Governor was very willing to prevent, by extending to them his Mercy, as far as it was consistent with his Honour and Safety.  And that his commission was so far from being expir’d, that the King was Extending his Power, and Sending him more large Instructions.  That as for himself, and the rest of the Commanders, they durst not disobey the Governor’sCcommands, lest they should incur the high Displeasure of his Majesty at their Return; who would also doubtless be very much incens’d at the loss of his Customs, by their Impoverishing the Country; and the Merchants also, by the Loss of their Trade, would unanimously sollicit the Punishment of all those, who were the turbulent Promoters of it. And at last subscrib’d himself,

Your very Loving Friend, 

(As far as my Allegiance to my King, and my Duty to my Governor will permit,)

Tho. Grantham.”

Grantham’s address to the principal Ringleaders at Portopatank

“What, Gentlemen, are you going to your Ruin headlong?  Are you quite bereft of all Sense of Duty, and Self-Preservation?  Have neither the Staple Laws of Nature, nor those Fundamental Rules of your Country, any Influence upon you; that your Obstinacy thus blinds you?  Have you not yet heard what numerous Forces are coming from England, to suppress your tumultuous Proceedings?  And that without an immediate Submission, your Fate will be inevitable, and your Safety entirely shipwreck’d?  Hearken therefore to the Tenders of Peace, before it is too late: Consult, like Men of Sense, your own Felicity and quietly lay down your Arms; left by persisting in this open Hostility, you force them at last to be sheath’d in your own Bowels.”

Oath administered by Grantham to surrendering Rebels

“I A.B. do willingly and heartily declare, that I know, and in my Conscience believe, Richard Lawrence, and many others with him, to be in open Rebellion against the King’s most Sacred Majesty, and against the Right Honourable the Governor of Virginia, and the good establish’d Laws and Peace of this Colony of Virginia. Which Rebellion I do from my Heart abhor and detest, and do therefore most willingly, freely, and from my Heart swear my full Allegiance to the King’s most Excellent Majesty; and that I will with my Life, and whole Estate, serve and obey the Right Honourable the Governor, and obey all such Magistrates and Officers, as he shall from time to time appoint over me; and with them, or any of them, use my utmost Endeavour to my Life’s End, to take, seize, kill and destroy, all such Persons whatsoever, as either now are, or hereafter shall be in such Rebellion as is recited. This Oath I do most heartily, freely, and willingly take, in the Presence of Almighty God. So help me God.”

EARLY ACCESS:  Transcription is under editorial review and may contain errors.
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