Primary Resource

Bacon's Death and "Bacons Epitaph"; an excerpt from "The History of Bacon's and Ingram's Rebellion in Virginia, in 1675 and 1676" by John Cotton (1677)

In this excerpt of "The History of Bacon's and Ingram's Rebellion, 1676," the likely author, John Cotton, describes the death of Nathaniel Bacon, whose rebellion against Governor Sir William Berkeley came to an end soon after. Cotton's writing style is witty, bombastic, and full of literary allusions, and here he includes two poems the first of which, "Bacon's Epitaph," has been lauded as the first notable poem composed in America. It is not known whether Cotton wrote either or both of the poems. Cotton's narrative was likely written soon after the rebellion but not published until 1814.

Transcription from Original

— page 75 —

Bacon haveing for som time bin beseiged by sickness, and now not able to hould out any longer, all his strength, and provissions being spent, surrendred up that Fort he was no longer able to keepe, into the hands of that grim and all conquering Captaine, Death; after that he had implor'd the assistance of the above mentioned Minester, for the well makeing his Artickles of Rendition. The onely Religious duty (as they say) he was observ'd to perform dureing these Intregues of affaires, in which he was so considerable an actor, and soe much consearn'd, that rather then he would decline the cause, he became so deeply ingaged in, in the first rise there of, though much urged by arguments of dehortations, by his nearest Relations and best friends, that he subjected him selfe to all those inconvenences that, singly, might bring a Man of a more Robust frame to his last hom. After he was dead he was bemoned in these following lines (drawne by the Man that waited upon his person, as it is said) and who attended his Corps to there Buriall place: But where depossited till the Generall day, not knowne, onely to those who are ressalutly silent in that particuler. There was many coppes of Verces made after his departure, calculated to the Lattitude of there affections who composed them; as a relish taken from both appetites I have here sent you a cuple.

Bacons Epitaph, made by his Man.

  • Death why soe crewill! what, no other way
  • To manifest thy splleene, but thus to slay
  • Our hopes of safety; liberty, our all
  • Which, through thy tyrany, with him must fall
  • To its late Caoss? Had thy riged force
  • Bin delt by retale, and not thus in gross
  • Griefe had bin silent: Now wee must complaine
  • Since thou, in him, hast more then thousand slane
  • Whose lives and safetys did so much depend
  • On him there lif, with him there lives must end.
  • If't be a sin to thinke Death brib'd can bee
  • Wee must be guilty; say twas bribery
  • Guided the fatall shaft. Verginias foes,
  • To whom for secrit crimes just vengance owes
  • Disarved plagues, dreding their just disart
  • Corrupted Death by Parasscellcian art
  • Him to destroy; whose well tride curage such,
  • There heartless harts, nor arms, nor strength could touch.
  • Who now must heale those wounds, or stop that blood

— page 76 —

  • The Heathen made, and drew into a flood?
  • Who i'st must pleade our Cause? nor Trump nor Drum
  • Nor Deputations; these alass are dumb,
  • And Cannot speake. Our Arms (though nere so strong)
  • Will want the aide of his Commanding tongue,
  • Which Conquer'd more than Ceaser: He orethrew
  • Onely the outward frame; this Could subdue
  • The ruged workes of nature. Soules repleate
  • With dull Child could, he'd annemate with heate
  • Drawne forth of reasons Lymbick. In a word
  • Marss and Minerva both in him Concurd
  • For arts, for arms, whose pen and sword alike,
  • As Catos did, may admireation strike
  • In to his foes; while they confess withall
  • It was there guilt stil'd him a Criminall.
  • Onely this difference doth from truth proceed:
  • They in the guilt, he in the name must bleed,
  • While none shall dare his Obseques to sing
  • In disarv'd measures, untill time shall bring
  • Truth Crown'd with freedom, and from danger free,
  • To sound his praises to posterity.
  • Here let him rest; while wee this truth report,
  • Hee's gon from hence unto a higher Court
  • To pleade his Cause: where he by this doth know
  • Whether to Ceaser hee was friend, or foe.

Upon the Death of G: B.

  • Whether to Ceaser he was Friend or Foe?
  • Pox take such Ignorance, do you not know?
  • Can he be Friend to Ceaser, that shall bring
  • The Arms of Hell, to fight againt the King?
  • (Treason, Rebellion) then what reason have
  • Wee for to waite upon him to his Grave,
  • There to express our passions? Wilt not bee
  • Worss then his Crimes, to sing his Ellegie
  • In well tun'd numbers; where each Ella beares
  • (To his Flagitious name) a flood of teares?
  • A name that hath more soules with sorow fed,
  • Then reched Niobe single teares ere shed;
  • A name that fil'd all hearts, all eares, with paine,
  • Untill blest fate proclamed, Death had him slane.

— page 77 —

  • Then how can it be counted for a sin
  • Though Death (nay though my selfe) had bribed bin,
  • To guide the fatall shaft? we honour all
  • That lends a hand unto a T[r]ators fall.
  • What though the well paide Rochit soundly ply
  • And box the Pulpitt in to flatterey;
  • Urging his Rethorick, and straind elloquence,
  • T' adorne incoffin'd filth and excrements;
  • Though the Defunct (like ours) nere tride
  • A well intended deed untill he dide?
  • 'Twill be nor sin, nor shame, for us, to say
  • A two fould Passion checker-workes this day
  • Of Joy and Sorow; yet the last doth move
  • On feete impotent, wanting strength to prove
  • (Nor can the art of Logick yeild releife)
  • How Joy should be surmounted, by our greife.
  • Yet that wee Grieve it cannot be denide,
  • But 'tis because he was, not cause he dide.
  • So wep the poore destresed Ilyum Dames
  • Hereing those nam'd, there Citty put in flames,
  • And Country ruing'd; If wee thus lament
  • It is against our present Joyes consent.
  • For if the rule, in Phisick, trew doth prove,
  • Remove the cause, th' effects will after move,
  • We have outliv'd our sorows, since we see
  • The Causes shifting, of our miserey.
  • Nor is't a single cause, that's slipt away,
  • That made us warble out a well-a-day.
  • The Braines to plot, the hands to execute
  • Projected ills, Death Joyntly did nonsute
  • At his black Bar. And what no Baile could save
  • He hath commited Prissoner to the Grave;
  • From whence there's no repreive. Death keep him close
  • We have too many Divells still goe loose.