On this day in 1706 William Byrd II married young Lucy Parke, daughter of the notorious Daniel Parke II. (Why notorious? He once brought a mistress home from England, called her Cousin Brown, promptly got her pregnant, and named the child Julius Caesar, only to abandon the whole family for England again. He then had the chutzpah to insist that his wife raise the little runt. That’s just one example.)
Lucy’s sister Frances married John Custis on the same day, and that marriage was particularly stormy. To quote Henry Wiencek, “The couple argued violently and often, until they had to sit down with lawyers in Williamsburg and hash out an agreement by which Frances promised to forbear calling her husband ‘any vile names or give him any ill language, neither shall he give her any but to live lovingly together.'” (For those keeping score at home, Frances was Martha Washington’s first husband’s mother; her second mother-in-law was no pushover, either.)
Anyway, Lucy’s marriage was serene by comparison, and yet still the subject of scrutiny by nosy historians combing through Byrd’s secret diaries. One concluded that “it is likely William was a selfish lover,” and noted that “he sometimes stole a kiss from a ‘Negro girl’ or ‘made … good sport’ with an Indian.” Most famously, though, he liked to “roger” poor Lucy in the library or, after a fight, give her a “flourish.” Lucy, in turn, reacted to such indignities by turning on her slave “little Jenny,” whom she “burned with a hot iron,” according to Byrd. Another time she beat Jenny with a pair of tongs.
One biographer speculates that Byrd was not properly loved by his father. Speculation about Lucy has been less forthcoming, as if that were just one more indignity to endure. She died of smallpox in November 1716.
A version of this post was originally published on May 4, 2011.
IMAGE: Lucy Parke Byrd, ca. 1716, by studio of Sir Godfrey Kneller (Private Collection)