Bad Thoughts, Good Health, & Good Humor

William Byrd II was a planter, an explorer who helped fix the line between Virginia and North Carolina, and a founder—he established Richmond. (He even put an ad in the paper announcing the new town!) He also was a prolific, and secret, diarist. In a coded scribble that he learned from this book, he noted how he “made … good sport” with various servants and slaves or how he liked to “roger” his poor wife with a “flourish.” He also danced … a lot.
In the three excerpts below, all from this day in 1709, 1710, and 1711, he reveals the rather dull life of a member of the governor’s Council: kissing up to the governor, eating boiled beef, and committing various sorts of uncleannesses.

October 23, 1709
… Daniel came and shaved my head. About 11 o’clock I waited on the President and Colonel Harrison to church, where Mr. Cargill preached a good sermon. After church Colonel Harrison asked me to go to Mr. Blair’s to dinner. I ate fish and goose for dinner. I went in the evening to Colonel Bray’s where we found abundance of company and agreed to meet there the next day and have a dance. About 10 o’clock I came home and neglected to say my prayers and for that reason was guilty of uncleanness. I had bad thoughts, good health and good humor, thanks be to God Almighty.
October 23, 1710
… About 9 o’clock I went to wait on the Governor, where I found Colonel Custis. I read my proposal about naval stores to the Governor and he approved of it. Then we went to court. I sat a little while and then returned to my lodgings and prepared my public accounts and continued at them till 3 o’clock … I said my prayers but I committed uncleanness, for which God forgive me. However I had good health and good humor, thank God Almighty.
October 23, 1711
… About 9 o’clock I took leave of my wife and daughter and was set over the creek and was angry with Tom for forgetting the strap of my portmantle and I was displeased with Eugene for forgetting his cape. It rained all the way I rode to Williamsburg, where I got about 3 o’clock pretty wet. Then I got ready to go to court that I might not lose my day and accordingly did save it. I made my honors to the Governor and to the gentlemen of the council and took my place. We sat in court till about 5 o’clock and then the Governor took me home to dinner and there I found Mrs. Russell returned from her travels. I ate boiled beef for dinner. The Governor told me that our design upon Canada had miscarried by the fault of the Admiral. About 8 o’clock we went to the coffeehouse where I played and won 50 shillings. About 10 I went to my lodgings and wrote a letter to my wife. I said my prayers and had good health, good thoughts, and good humor, thank God Almighty.

SOURCE: Louis B. Wright and Marion Tinling, eds., The Great American Gentleman: William Byrd of Westover in Virginia, His Secret Diary for the Years 1709–1712 (New York: Putnam, 1963).
IMAGES: William Byrd II (Virginia Historical Society); a page from Byrd’s coded diary
AFTER THE JUMP: What if God had wired up William Byrd’s braces? From Real Genius (1985).




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