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William Byrd

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History 250

Byrd Diary Paper

February 19, 2008

The Worldview of William Byrd II of Westover

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of a person is their private life. I know that I do different things when I am alone or with close friends, which leads many of us to wonder what William Byrd, a wealthy Virginia planter, did in both his social and private sides of life, as well as what prompted him to write the various statements in his diary.

At first glance, William Byrd II gave me the impression of a spoiled, rich boy who feels he can do as he pleases. In reality, he did do what he pleased since he was a major Virginia planter and owner of many slaves. His hard work consisted of writing letters to England or talking to the other council members, considering the fact that if he was not doing either of those tasks, then he was walking around his plantation, reading in his private library, entertaining guests, or gambling away his money in some game.

If I had a nickel for every time he said the phrase good health, good thoughts, and good humor, thanks be to God Almighty, then I would easily be much wealthier than Byrd. However, this statement does show us that he was a religious man, as well as the fact that he prays every morning and evening. I did notice that he would occasionally neglect his prayers, and it seems as if he simply treats his prayers as chores, and some days he really does not want to do that chore.

Although he may skip his daily chores of praying, he does attend church, and some days he is the one who must read the sermon, since many people (anyone without wealth) could not read or write. However, a few times he mentioned that he did not invite anyone back to his manor after church. I think he believes that people would attend church so that they would be invited to Byrd’s estate, which in turn made their trip to church completely useless if they did not really want to be there.

There were a few times when he mentioned a dream he had one night, and how that dream had foreshadowed something. No matter how wealthy and powerful you are, there is a time when you must admit that you or your dreams do not predict the future, but William Byrd “The Great” probably believed that he was endowed with natural talent.

Perhaps he was not that egocentric, but the fact remains that he did not consider anyone in Virginia to be at the same level as him. Obviously, his wife, kids, and slaves were all under his control, even though his wife Lucy did make herself known for standing up to his dominating attitude. As for his neighbors and fellow Virginians, William Byrd was the peak of excellence with his large estate and high standing amongst others.

It was almost a daily occurrence at Westover; guests spending the entire morning, day, and evening at the manor. Whether it was women or men, William entertained his guests in many ways. For the women, he often read in Italian or other languages, and on occasion he would steal a kiss from another woman, much to the dismay of Lucy and the woman being taken advantage of. He would also play cards with the women, but not gamble like he did with his male companions. Whether it was cricket, croquet, billiards, or cards (piquet), William was eager to lay down a bet on anything, and by his accounts, he usually won.

Although he was with his male friends a lot, I do not believe that he opened his heart to them. In fact, the hours William spent walking about his plantation were most likely his hours of alone time, in which he was not hiding out in his library, but instead beginning to welcome the outside into his personal life. Or perhaps he saw his walk around his estate as a way of not appearing worried or stressed in any manner, but instead confident and strong, for his appearance was of great importance to him.

This is evident when his wife Lucy makes an entrance when she should not or performs some sort of disobedient act towards William, which results in him appearing less of a man to his male company. Lucy probably recognized this and continued to embarrass William whenever she was not getting



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