Virginian William Byrd II (1674-1744) painted by Hans Hysing 1724
Colonel William Byrd II (1674–1744), a Virginia planter & slave owner, kept a journal of his life, when he returned to take possession of the family estate Westover, after his father's death in 1704. The early years of that journal were later transcribed in the 1940s & became "The Secret Diary of William Byrd of Westover, 1709-1712." William Byrd II had been sent to study in England, when he was 7.
Upon Byrd's return to Virginia in 1705, he began his search for a wife; his goal was not only to find companionship, but to increase his wealth. Lucy Parke was an obvious candidate. Not only was she beautiful, but her father, Colonel Daniel Parke II, was wealthy & politically connected. Lucy had already reached the age of 18, & her mother was concerned, that she would not find a husband. When Byrd wrote a letter to the Parkes asking to court Lucy, they immediately accepted. The couple soon wed.
Soon after their wedding, Lucy found her husband to be incapable of the emotional & intellectual relationship she desired. William was able primarily to provide sexual intimacy. Like many men of the time (including Lucy's father), Byrd was sexually unfaithful in his marriage. His wife often tried to turn a blind eye to his affairs.
Lucy & William did quarrel over other matters, particularly about the running of the household. William wanted a patriarchal household, while Lucy wanted to have some say over household matters. The two disagreed on whose power reigned over the various parts of the estate. Lucy refused to conform to the traditional role of the submissive wife & wished to assert her authority over slaves & servants. William often rebuked her in front of others, when she acted upon this inclination, visibly undermining her authority.
William also required absolute sovereignty over the library he inherited from his father & continued to expand. To him, the library was a very intimate & personal place, one in which Lucy did not belong. He disliked her entering the library at all, & he loathed her tendency to borrow books, when he was away.
Despite the couple's differences, they seemed to be in love. When she died of smallpox in 1715, Byrd suffered greatly. He blamed himself for her death, telling friends & family that he felt God was punishing him for his pride in his wife's beauty & likeability.
Passages in his early journal recount his fascination with his library, his garden, & women other than his wife. Byrd gathered the most valuable library in the Virginia Colony, numbering some 4,000 books. His attention to refining his garden also was noted. Early in 18C Pennsylvania, botanist John Bartram (1699-1777) wrote to English botanist Peter Collinson (1674-1768), on July 18, 1740, about Colonel William Byrd's (1674-1744) grounds at Westover in Virginia. "Colonel Byrd is very prodigalle...new Gates, gravel Walks, hedges, & cedars finely twined & a little green house with two or three orange trees...he hath the finest seat in Virginia."
These selections from William Byrd II's early journal reflect his daily activities in his garden & record only a few of the other events of each daily entry. Byrd often walked in his garden with visitors to Westover & with his wife. The garden was a spaced away from others, where they could discuss governmental, economic, & personal issues with the assurance of some privacy.
Wednesday, May 4, 1709
A ship arrived in the York River about 9 o'clock. Captain Berkeley came to see us, who is a very good-humored man. We walked in the garden about an hour; then we went to dinner.
Friday, May 13, 1709
In the evening I took a walk about the plantation and in the garden where I ate abundance of cherries.
Friday, May 20, 1709
John Pleasants and Isham Randolph came to see me and dined with us. In the afternoon we played at billiards and I won half a crown of Isham Randolph. Then we walked in the garden and ate some cherries.
Saturday, May 21, 1709
I ate mutton and sallet for dinner. In the evening they went away and I took a walk about the plantation. I was out of humor at my wife's climbing over the pales of the garden, now she is with child.
Sunday, May 22, 1709
In the evening I walked in the garden. I read some news. I said my prayers.
Thursday, May 26, 1709
He went away in the evening and I walked about the plantation. I said my prayers and had good health, good thoughts, but was out of humor with Tom for the disorder of the garden.
Thursday, June 2, 1709
I ate nothing but beans and bacon for dinner. In the evening we rode out to take the air. When we returned I took a walk in the garden till it was dark.
Monday, June 6, 1709
I said my prayers and ate milk for breakfast, and raspberries. I ate pork and turnips for dinner. Mumford went away about 5 o'clock and I walked in the garden.
Thursday, July 7, 1709
In the evening we took a walk in the garden.
Monday, July 25, 1709
In the evening it left off raining and I walked in the garden.
Sunday, July 31, 1709
In the evening Mr C-s came to see me and we drank a syllabub. We walked in the garden till late.
Friday, September 23, 1709
In the afternoon I was angry with Grills for being sick and not telling me of it and with Tom for not doing well in the garden.
Friday, October 14, 1709
I ate fresh pork and sallet for dinner. In the evening I took a walk in the garden.
Tuesday, November 15, 1709
The rain did not hold up till towards evening when I took a walk in the garden.
Sunday, December 4, 1709
I danced my dance, and then took a walk in the garden because the weather was very tempting for so late in the year. God continue it for the service of those that have but little corn. In the afternoon I ate an apple and then took a long walk about the great pasture with my wife and I found they finished stacking.
Friday, March 10, 1710
About 12 Mr Isham Randolph came. They walked in the garden till dinner. In the evening we took a walk about the plantation.
Friday, March 24, 1710
We took a walk in the morning, then we had some sack and toast, after which we took leave and returned home where we found all well, thank God. I ate pigeon and asparagus for dinner. In the afternoon I took a little nap. Then Mr Randolph and I took a walk to Mr Harrison's who had been very sick but was something better, and young Drury Stith was sick there likewise. We stayed there about an hour and then walked home and walked with my wife in the garden.
Tuesday, May 16, 1710
After dinner we ate cherries and talked till about 6 o'clock and then I took leave and rode home, where I found all my family well except my son, who still had a fever. It rained very much till about 2 o'clock. I took a walk about the garden.
Saturday, June 3, 1710
I rose at 6 o'clock and as soon as I came out news was brought that the child was very ill. We went out and found him just ready to die and he died about 8 o'clock in the morning. God gives and God takes away; blessed be the name of God. In the afternoon it rained and was fair again in the evening. My poor wife and I walked in the garden.
Monday, June 5, 1710
My wife continued very melancholy, notwithstanding I comforted her as well as I could. Then we walked in the garden.
Sunday, June 11, 1710
It continued to rain so that we could not go to church. My wife was still disconsolate. In the afternoon we took a little walk but the rain soon sent us home. In the evening we took a walk in the garden because the grass was wet.
Thursday, June 15, 1710
It rained this afternoon very hard with a little wind and thunder. This hindered my walking anywhere but in the garden.
Monday, July 10, 1710
hen we talked till 6 when the company went away and we walked in the garden.
Thursday, August 10, 1710
Mr [Gee] with a present of grapes. In the afternoon we walked about the garden and Major Burwell was very well pleased with everything. He and the rest of the company stayed till the evening when we walked in the garden.
Saturday, August 12, 1710
It rained and hindered our walk; however we walked a little in the garden.
Sunday, August 20, 1710
About 11 o'clock we went to church and had a good sermon from Mr Anderson. We had some watermelon in the churchyard and some cider to refresh the people. In the evening we took a walk but only in the garden for fear of the rain.
Monday, September 11, 1710
My wife and I played at billiards. My wife and I walked in the garden.
Wednesday, September 20, 1710 I received at the landing with Mr C-s and gave him three guns. Mr Clayton and Mr Robinson came with him. After he had drunk some wine he walked in the garden and into the library till it was dark. Then we went to supper and ate some blue wing. After supper we sat and talked till 9 o'clock.
Sunday, December 17, 1710
I took a walk in the garden.
Sunday, December 31, 1710
In the afternoon I looked over my sick people and then took a walk about the plantation. The weather was very warm still. My wife walked with me and when she came back she was very much indisposed and went to bed.
Friday, January 19, 1711
Then I went to plant trees in the garden, and in the pasture. Then I went and planted more trees and afterwards took a walk about the plantation.
Thursday, February 15, 1711
I read some English and took a walk in the garden. I ate roast mutton for dinner. In the afternoon I walked about the plantation till the evening and then my cousin Harrison came and when she had stayed here about an hour my wife and I walked home with her and did not return home till 8 o'clock.
Monday, April 30, 1711
I met with nothing extraordinary in my journey and got home about 11 o'clock and found all well, only my wife was melancholy. We took a walk in the garden and pasture. We discovered that by the contrivance of Nurse and Anaka Prue got in at the cellar window and stole some strong beer and cider and wine. In the evening I took a walk about the plantation and found things in good order. At night I ate some bread and butter. I gave my wife a powerful flourish and gave her great ecstasy and refreshment.
Monday, May 7, 1711
My wife and I walked in the garden.
Wednesday, May 9, 1711
I took a walk into the garden and ate some cherries. My wife and daughter were both indisposed, the first with breeding, and the last with a fever. I ate some pork and peas. In the afternoon I took another walk and then returned and settled my accounts. Then I read in the Tatler till the evening and then my wife, being better, took a walk with me in the garden.
Thursday, May 10, 1711
It continued to rain till about 8 and then cleared up for a little while. I took a walk to look over my people. My daughter was a little better, thank God, but my wife was indisposed by fits as women are in her condition. I went onto the garden and ate some cherries. In the afternoon it rained again and hindered my taking a walk so that I took a nap. In the evening I took a walk and ate some cherries at M-n-s. The season has happened so late this year that cherries are three weeks more backward than they used to be. I wrote a letter to the Governor to send by Tom with some cherries.
Sunday, May 13, 1711
In the evening we walked in the garden and at night we drank a bottle of wine.
Wednesday, May 16, 1711
Then I went into the garden to eat some cherries. In the afternoon came Frank Eppes to bring me his father's bills for the quitrents. He stayed here till about 6 o'clock and then went with me to see the gates and my wife came and walked with me. Just as I was going to bed the Captain of the salt ship came and stayed about half an hour with me and I gave him a bottle of cider. I rogered my wife, in which she took little pleasure in her condition.
Wednesday, May 23, 1711
In the evening the master of the salt ship came and he agreed next week to send up 100 barrels of salt to my store at Appomattox. I walked with him in the garden and said my prayers.
Tuesday, May 29, 1711
The company went to breakfast but I could eat nothing with them and therefore walked in the garden.
Saturday, June 2, 1711
I ate beans and bacon for dinner. In the evening we walked in the garden, because it was too wet to walk about the plantation.
Wednesday, June 6, 1711
I walked in the garden because I could not walk in the pasture.
Wednesday, June 27, 1711
In the evening it rained a little, enough to hinder me from walking about the plantation. However, I walked in the garden. I was a little out of order today and had a small looseness.
Wednesday, July 18, 1711
I ventured to eat a pear. I ate some broth and lamb for dinner and ate a great deal. In the afternoon I ate some Virginia cherries and some watermelon. I took a little walk in the garden.
Thursday, July 19, 1711
I ate some Virginia cherries. I settled some accounts and took a walk in the garden.
Friday, July 20, 1711
I sent Tom to Drury Stith's for watermelons. In the afternoon Tom returned and brought four watermelons, one of which we ate and then wrote more letters till 5 o'clock, when I ate more eggs and in the evening I took a walk to the store and in the garden.
Saturday, July 21, 1711
I wrote more of my accounts till 6 o'clock and then ate some more of my chicken. Then I took a walk in the garden.
Saturday, July 28, 1711
In the evening I drank some warm milk and walked in the garden till it was almost dark.
Tuesday, July 31, 1711
In the afternoon I settled more accounts and read some French till the evening and then I walked in the garden because it threatened rain and as soon as it was dark it began to rain and thundered very much and did so good part of the night.
Wednesday, August 1, 1711
In the evening it threatened more rain. However I took a walk in the garden. The rain blew over.
Monday, August 13, 1711
In the evening I walked a little in the garden.
Tuesday, August 14, 1711
I read some French and walked about till dinner, and then I ate some crab and four poached eggs. I ate some watermelon and peaches and drank some canary. . In the evening I ate a poached egg and then took a walk in the garden.
Wednesday, August 15, 1711
In the evening I wrote a letter to the Governor, to make my excuses for not going to council tomorrow. Then I ate more snipe and took a walk in the garden.
Monday, August 20, 1711
I sent further orders to Colonel Frank Eppes about the militia and gave them to Colonel Littlebury by word of mouth and walked about in the garden pretty much without being tired.
Tuesday, August 21, 1711
I ventured to dress myself today and was very easy and well. I ate some mutton for dinner. In the afternoon I prepared some infusions of the bark to take at the end of the week. I read some French and in the evening I wrote to Colonel Frank Eppes to send with a copy of the Governor's letter to me. I took a walk in the garden.
Wednesday, August 22, 1711
I slept well last night and could hardly wake this morning. I took a walk in the garden. I ate some squirrel and onions for dinner. Then I took a walk in the garden a little while but the air was a little too damp for me.
Friday, August 24, 1711
In the evening I took a walk to the point and in the garden.
Sunday, August 26, 1711
In the evening it rained a good shower after which I took a walk in the garden.
Wednesday, August 29, 1711
In the evening I took a walk in the garden. Mr Chamberlayne brought me a letter from Robin Mumford that told me he was better. After it was dark came Dr Cocke but he brought no news. I ate some bread and butter with him and we drank a bottle of wine.
Friday, August 31, 1711
Then came Captain H-n-t the master of the ship from Mr Offley and brought me 77 empty bottles from the vessel that had been taken and lost my cider. In an hour he went away and then I put my library in order till the evening and then I took a walk in the garden.
Saturday, September 1, 1711
A man brought some peaches for which I likewise ordered him a pair of wool cards. Then I took a walk into the garden because it rained a good shower and made it wet without.
Tuesday, September 4, 1711
In the afternoon the company went away about 4 o'clock and then I read a little Latin and afterwards took a walk about the plantation and finished my walk in the garden. I was a little displeased with my wife for talking impertinently.
Monday, November 12, 1711
I rose about 7 o'clock and said my prayers. Then we ate our breakfast of milk and took our leave and proceeded to Westover, where we found all well, thank God Almighty. Mr Graeme was pleased with the place exceedingly. I showed him the library and then we walked in the garden till dinner and I ate some wild duck. In the afternoon I paid money to several men on accounts of Captain H-n-t and then we took a walk about the plantation and I was displease with John about the boat which he was building. In the evening we played at piquet and I won a little. Then Mr Graeme and I drank a bottle of pressed wine which he liked very well, as he had done the white madeira. About 10 o'clock I went to bed and rogered my wife.
Friday, January 4, 1712
I took a walk in the garden till dinner. I ate no meat this day but only fruit. In the afternoon I weighed some money and then went into the new orchard to trim some trees and stayed there till it was dark almost and then took a little walk about the plantation.
Saturday, January 19, 1712
I rose about 7 o'clock and read a chapter in Hebrew and some Greek in Lucian. I said my prayers and ate boiled milk for breakfast. I danced my dance. The weather [was] cloudy and rained a little. In the afternoon it held up and I took a walk to see my people plant peach trees. In the evening I took a walk about the plantation. I dreamed a mourning coach drove into my garden and stopped at the house door.
Thursday, March 6, 1712
I rose about 7 o'clock and read nothing because of the company. However I said a short prayer and drank chocolate for breakfast. Then we walked about the garden because it was good weather and then we played at billiards and I won 3 shillings. In the afternoon we played again at billiards and then Colonel Hill went away and we took a walk about the plantation till the evening and then Mr Lightfoot and Mr Jimmy Roscow took their leave and went to Mrs Harrison's, one to make love to the mother and the other the daughter.
Monday, March 17, 1712
About 10 o'clock I took a walk in the garden and then settled several accounts and read some English in Milton till dinner and I ate some roast shoat but I dined by myself with nobody but the child, for Mrs Dunn was sick likewise. In the afternoon I went into the garden and trimmed the vines and was angry with Tom for being so lazy there. Then I returned and read some English in Milton till the evening and then I took a walk about the plantation and found things in pretty good order.
Saturday, March 22, 1712
It rained a little almost all day so that I could not walk out. In the evening I walked about the garden because the grass was wet everywhere else.
Thursday, April 10, 1712
The weather was very clear and warm but it had rained in the night and thundered. My wife and I took a walk about the garden. In the afternoon I took a walk to see my young trees. Then I wrote a letter to England and afterwards took a walk about the plantation and saw the people at work in the churchyard which Captain D-k was pale in. At night I ate some bread and butter and drank some cider and my wife and I romped for half an hour till we went to bed.
Friday, May 2, 1712
In the afternoon we opened more goods till the evening and then I took a walk with my wife in the garden and found things in good order there. Then I took a walk about the plantation. I rogered my wife in the morning and also wrote a letter to England and settled several accounts.
Tuesday, May 6, 1712
Then I took a walk in the garden because it was too late to walk about the plantation. I neglected to say my prayers but had good health, good thoughts, and good humor, thank God Almighty.
Thursday, May 8, 1712
My people washed the sheep in order to clean them for shearing tomorrow. In the afternoon I set my closet in order and afterwards read some Greek till the evening and then I took a walk about the plantation. At night I ate some strawberries and milk and after eating took a walk in the garden.
Thursday, May 22, 1712
In the afternoon I wrote two more accounts till the evening and then took a walk in the garden. I said my prayers and was reconciled to my wife and gave her a flourish in token of it.
Monday, May 26, 1712
In the afternoon I wrote more letters till the evening and then took a walk about the plantation with the ladies and afterwards Mr Catesby and I walked in the garden.
Tuesday, June 3, 1712
The company went away about 4 o'clock after being very merry and I took a little walk in the garden and the library.
Thursday, June 5, 1712
After dinner I found myself better and walked about the garden all the evening, and Mr Catesby directed how I should mend my garden and put it into a better fashion than it is at present.
Friday, June 13, 1712
In the afternoon I put things again in order in the library and then walked in the garden. I had a small quarrel with my wife concerning the [nastiness] of the nursery but I would not be provoked. In the evening Mr Catesby and I took a walk about the plantation and I drank some warm milk at the cow pen an there discovered that one of the wenches had stolen some apples.
Monday, August 4, 1712
In the afternoon I took a walk in the garden, it being very cool and then I read more law till the evening and then I took a walk to see the house, noe the roof was put up this day, notwithstanding the rain which fell often today.
Saturday, August 23, 1712
In the afternoon I put several things in order in the library and then settled some accounts and afterwards read some Latin till the evening and then I took a walk about my plantation, and then walked with my wife in the garden, where she quarreled with me about Mrs Dunn.
Sunday, September 14, 1712
The company went away about 5 o'clock between which and dinner there was abundance of rain. In the evening I took a walk in the garden.