Diaries of William Byrd II of Westover
William Byrd II (1674-1744) was master of Westover Plantation, on the north side of the James River and about a mile upstream of Flowerdew Hundred Plantation which is on the south side of the River. Westover is operative today at 7000 Westover Road, Charles City, VA 23030, phone 804-829-2882.
Westover is one of the more elegant of colonial plantations. It was built about 1730. Its builder, William Byrd, is widely credited to be the founder of both Petersburg and Richmond. The home is highly regarded as architecture, notably for the early-18th century gates. The lawn overlooks the James River.
Mr. Byrd was an obsessive diarist, chronicling the most minor events in his life almost daily. Byrd wrote his diaries in code so he was not particularly writing for an audience and thereby gains a measure of credibility. The code was his own and was easily deciphered in the years following Byrd’s death. The diaries were published as three diaries: The Secret Diary of William Byrd of Westover, 1709-1712, the second titled the Diary of 1717-1721 (a.k.a. The London Diary) and a third titled Another Secret Diary of William Byrd of Westover, 1739-1741.
It appears doubtful that Byrd himself titled the diaries by name and years, this seems more likely to be the choice of the several later publishers, translators and/or transcribers. Given this fact, page numbers are omitted and instead the date of the entry is used as reference.
Contacts with the Poythress family are three. In the years prior to 1717, the Poythress individual is most often spelled out as Peter Poythress (RBBatte# 27). In the 1717-1721 entries the “Mr. Poythress” is likely Peter’s brother John Poythress (RBBatte# 27) as this man appears to be a lawyer for both Byrd and Byrd’s sister Mrs. Duke. The Mrs. Poythress of the final entry (1741) is possibly Hannah Ravenscroft Poythress (d. 1765), widow of Francis Poythress (1707-1738) who would be RBBatte # 232.
The Secret Diary of William Byrd of Westover, 1709-1712
8 Sep 1711
“……After dinner we sat in council concerning the Indians and some of the Tributaries came before us who promised to be very faithful to us. It was agreed to send Peter Poythress to the Tuscaroras to treat (with) them and to demand the Baron Graffenriedt who was prisoner among the Indians. It was also resolved that the militia of Prince George, Surry, and Isle of Wight should rendezvous at Nottoway town on Wednesday next and the Governor [Spotswood] be there with them to show some part of our strength to the Indians. In the evening came several gentlemen and Mr. Bland among them with letters from the Governor of Carolina which told him how backward the people of that country were to (advantage) themselves. About 10 o’clock we went to bed. Colonel Ludwell and I lay together. I neglected to say my prayers but had good health, good thoughts, and good humor, thank God Almighty”.
Footnotes to passage above:
9 Oct 1711
“ About 3 o’clock the Tuscarora Indians came with their guard and Mr. Poythress was with them. He told the Governor that the Baron was alive but that Mr. Lawson was killed because he had been so foolish as to threaten the Indian who had taken him. About 6 o’clock we went to dinner and I ate some roast mutton.”
[The Indians were “treated with” and dispersed].
21 Jan 1711/12
“ I rose about 7 o’clock and read a chapter in Hebrew and some Greek in Lucian…. The weather was clear and pretty warm. I was out of humor because I missed a book out of the library which I thought my wife had taken for Mrs. Dunn without my knowledge, but she denied it. Mr. Peter Poythress came to our house and brought me a letter from my brother Curtis who told me the Governor was angry about what I had said concerning the
5 Feb 1711/12
“……..In the afternoon I ordered my sloop to go to Colonel Eppes’ for some poplar trees for the Governor [Spotswood] and then I went to visit Mrs. Harrison that I found in a small way. She entertained me with apples and bad wine and I stayed with her till evening and then I took a walk about my plantation. When I returned I learned Peter Poythress had been there. At night I read some Latin. I said my prayers and had good health, good thoughts, and good humor, thank God Almighty…….”
4 Mar 1711/12
“……I rose about 7 o’clock and read some Hebrew but no Greek because I prepared to go to the wedding of Mrs. Anne B-k-r……we set out in the coach and got to Colonel Hill’s before 12 o’clock. We did not find much company there but only the relations and some neighbors. About 12 o’clock Mr. Poythress and Mrs. Anne B-k-r were married and about 2 we went to dinner and I ate some boiled tongue for dinner.”
Footnote (by editors) : “Probably Peter Poythress. In Wm. Q., XV, 45-71, there is a detailed study of the Poythress family. The name of Peter’s wife is unknown. But he had an only daughter and heir named Anne born December 13, 1712.”
11 Mar 1711/12
“……In the evening Peter Poythress came with 14 of the Tuscarora Indians whom he was going to conduct to the Governor. They told us the Carolina men had killed no more than about 20 old men and women of their people and had taken about 30 children prisoners when all the young men were not at home, that the Tuscaroras could (cut) them all off but that they saw some English among them which hindered them and their business with the Governor was to give the reason why they could not perform their articles and to inquire whether they might defend themselves in case they’re attacked. We were merry till about 9 o’clock and then retired. I neglected to say my prayers but had good health, good thoughts, and good humor, thank God Almighty.”
16 Mar 1711/12
“…….In the afternoon Peter Poythress came over and told me the Governor received the Tuscaroras very coldly and ordered them to go and help the people of Carolina cut off Hancock town, which they all said they would.” [“over” is likely over the river from Flowerdew Hundred Plantation, then the home of Governor Spotswood].
Diary of 1717-1721 (The London Diary)
2 Mar 1719/20
“…..After most of the company went away and I then wrote a letter to Mr. Poythress and then took a walk….”
16 May 1720
“….(I) then wrote more letters till about 1 o’clock and then came Mr. Poythress and dined with me and I ate some boiled beef. After dinner I settled some accounts with Mr. Poythress till 4 o’clock and then he went away and I wrote more letters to England till 6…”
19 Sep 1720
“About 12 o’clock came Mrs. Duke and her lawyer Mr. Poythress and dined with my brother and sister Duke and I ate some pork collops. After dinner we sat and talked and then I went and put up my things. In the evening we sat to drink several healths till 9 o’clock and then retired…..”
Another Secret Diary of William Byrd of Westover, 1738-1741
26 July 1741
“I rose about 5, read Hebrew and Greek. I prayed and had coffee. I danced.
Editor’s footnote re: “Mrs. Poythress”:
“Evidently a member of the Poythress family long prominent in Charles City and Prince George Counties. William Poythress was justice of the Prince George, 1738, and William and Francis Poythress were militia officers of Prince George, 1738. In Charles City, July 1741, there was a suit by Robert Poythress and Robert and Thomas Poythress, executors of Joshua Poythress vs. Benjamin Harrison. (Va. Mag., XXIII, 32; see Diary, 1709-1712). Joshua Poythress had been quite wealthy, for his administrators gave bond at £ 5,000 current money when his will was presented in court (Prince George Minute Book, 1737-1740, April 1740, p. 400).