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Colonial Virginia

Colonial Virginia

William Byrd II in Colonial Virginia

William Byrd II (1674-1744) was a Virginia planter and author. He briefly sat in the House of Burgesses and served on the Governor's Council for 35 years. He was the son of William Byrd, a wealthy tobacco planter, fur trader, and the owner of more than 25,000 acres. Young Byrd was sent to England for his education in 1681 and, for the most part, lived in London until 1705. While there he was admitted to England's leading scientific association, the Royal Society of London. Byrd returned to Virginia after his father's death in 1704, to take over the management of his lands. Over the course of his life, Byrd II built an estate of more than 175,000 acres.

As a member of the Governor's Council between 1709 and 1744, Byrd joined the other wealthy planters in opposing the attempts of Virginia's governors to strengthen the executive branch against the Council and the House of Burgesses. He was instrumental in securing the removal of Governor Alexander Spotswood in 1722.

As an author, Byrd's enduring contribution was his Secret Diaries, frequently cited today by historians of early Virginia. In these he frankly described his racial and sexual attitudes, providing vivid accounts of his abuse and sexual exploitation of his slaves.

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