William Byrd II (1674-1744) was a colonial lawyer, diarist and plantation owner, considered by many to be the founder of Richmond, Virginia. Byrd was born in the colonies but educated in Britain, where he studied law and obtained membership of the Royal Society. In 1705, he returned to the colonies after his father’s death.
Back in Virginia, Byrd inherited 1,200 acres, the largest private holding in the area. He also married Lucy Parke, the beautiful daughter of another prominent British colonist. The two were sincerely fond of each other but quarrelled often, after which they generally made love (Byrd religiously recorded their sexual encounters as either “rogering” or “flourishing”).
A staunch traditionalist, Byrd considered himself the lord and master of his plantation. He had no qualms about dispensing immediate and often brutal justice to those who disobeyed or displeased him. This included children, servants, slaves and even animals:
“July 2nd 1720… I took a walk around the plantation and shot an old dog with an arrow for flying at me…”
“July 23rd 1720… Jack told me of some horses that had destroyed a hogshead of tobacco and I gave him orders to shoot them as not being fit to live…”
But probably the worst to suffer from Byrd’s wrath were two of his slaves: a houseboy named Eugene, aged around 11 or 12, and a teenaged maid, Jenny. Byrd’s diary records the dispensation of several punishments:
“February 8th 1709… I ate milk for breakfast. I said my prayers. Eugene and Jenny were whipped. I danced my dance. I read law in the morning and Italian in the afternoon…”
“June 10th 1709… In the evening I took a walk around the plantation. Eugene was whipped for running away and had the bit put on him. I said my prayers and had good health, good thought and good humour…”
“September 3rd 1709… I ate roast chicken for dinner. In the afternoon I beat Jenny for throwing water on the couch…”
“December 1st 1709… Eugene was whipped…”
“December 16th 1709… Eugene was whipped for doing nothing…”
Even more inhumane was Byrd’s response to Eugene having wet his bed:
“December 3rd 1709… Eugene pissed abed again for which I made him drink a pint of piss…”
“December 10th 1709… Eugene had pissed in bed for which I gave him a pint of piss to drink…”
Byrd’s diary does not record whose urine was served up to the unfortunate houseboy.