The Beginnings of Revolutionary Thinking

7e. A Tradition of Rebellion

Gadsden Flag
The United States Flag Page
The Gadsden Flag was an early American flag that originated in South Carolina before the Revolution.

The American colonies had known violent rebellion long before the Revolutionary War.

Each of the original thirteen colonies had experienced violent uprisings. Americans had shown themselves more than willing to take up arms to defend a cause held dear. This tradition of rebellion characterized the American spirit throughout its early history.

Bacon's Rebellion

One of the earliest large-scale insurrections was Bacon's Rebellion. In 1676, Nathaniel Bacon led a group of disgruntled citizens from the western part of Virginia eastward in search of justice. They felt their interests were not represented by Virginia's colonial legislature. They felt Governor Berkeley had done nothing to protect them from Indian raids. These frontier Virginians felt excluded from the riches of the eastern seaboard.

Over a thousand of Bacon's followers entered Jamestown and burned the capital city. Governor Berkeley fled until reinforcements could organize. The rebels pillaged and plundered the countryside until Berkeley's forces crushed them. Over twenty rebels were hanged, but fear of further rebellion was struck into the hearts of the members of the wealthy Virginia planting class.

Regulators or Traitors?


Similar uprisings took place all along the colonial backwoods. In South Carolina a rebellion broke out as a result of the Regulator movement. There was anarchy on the South Carolina frontier after the Seven Years' War.

From 1765 to 1767 outlaws roamed the landscape holding local farmers at their mercy. A band of vigilantes known as Regulators took the law into their own hands and pushed the outlaws away. The Regulators then turned their wrath on local hunters who raised a force to fight back. Near civil war conditions prevailed until the government finally agreed to institute a circuit court judicial system. A similar movement broke out in North Carolina the following decade.

Land riots took place in many colonies, but in New York they were particularly violent. Tenants of the wealthy land aristocrats demanded relief from the high rents imposed on them. When the courts ruled in favor of the land barons in 1766, the angry farmers took up arms. The governor had to bring in the Redcoats to quell the disturbance.

James Otis
Not all rebellion took the form of violence. James Otis spoke against the British as early as 1761, in his speech against the Writs of Assistance council chamber at Boston's Old State House.

In Pennsylvania, a group of Scots-Irish settlers called the Paxton Boys marched on Philadelphia in 1764 to protest the Quakers' friendly Native American policy. The Paxtons lived in Pennsylvania's hinterland and wanted both Native American land and protection from raids on their homes. A delegation, led by Benjamin Franklin met with the Paxton gang to hear their grievances. Order was restored — but just barely before the Paxtons would have attacked Philadelphia.

American colonists had proven themselves experienced rebels. Whenever they felt their rights were jeopardized, they seemed willing to take up arms. Economic exploitation, lack of political representation, unfair taxation, were among the causes that led to these clashes.

Reverberations from the rebellions reached England from 1763 to 1776. Parliament and the monarchy heard this Colonial message loud and clear: "DON'T TREAD ON ME."

The emerging American would be ready to fight for justice and if necessary independence.

On the Web
Bacon's Declaration in the Name of the People 1676
100 years before the Declaration of Independence, Nathaniel Bacon led his own rebellion which expressed many of the reform objectives that would later be further developed and bring about the American Revolution.

Bacon's Declaration in the Name of the People: July 30, 1676
1.For haveing upon specious pretences of publiqe works raised greate unjust taxes upon the Comonality for the advancement of private favorites and other sinister ends, but noe visible effects in any measure adequate, For not haveing dureing this long time of his Gouvernement in any measure advanced this hopefull Colony either by fortificacons Townes or Trade.

The rest of this rebellious declaration is well worth checking out.

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