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November 2, 1709
I rose at 6 o’clock and read a chapter in Hebrew and some Greek. … I said my prayers and ate milk for breakfast. … We went to dinner about 4 o’clock and I ate boiled beef again. In the evening I went to Dr. [Barret’s] where my wife came this afternoon. Here I found Mrs. Chiswell, my sister Custis, and other ladies. We sat and talked till about 11 o’clock and then retired to our chambers. I played at [r-m] with Mrs. Chiswell and kissed her on the bed till she was angry and my wife also was uneasy about it, and cried as soon as company was gone. I neglected to say my prayers, which I should not have done, because I ought to beg pardon for the lust I had for another man’s wife. However, I had good health, good thoughts, and good humor, thanks be to God Almighty.
William Byrd II (1674-1744), a wealthy planter in Charles City County, Va., is considered the founder of Richmond. Born in Virginia and educated as a lawyer in England, Byrd owned around 4,000 books, the most valuable library in Virginia. His day typically began with reading Greek or Latin texts.
Byrd was hailed as an American Samuel Pepys after the discovery of his secret diaries, written in a shorthand code—some of which, such as the “[r-m]” in this passage, remains undeciphered. In such a case, the diarist is more apt to be truthful and less self-conscious about his writing.
The diaries reveal Byrd’s daily life, interactions with Indians, often cruel treatment of his slaves, and relationships with his wife and with other women during his marriage. Though at times shocking, Byrd’s writings are important as the earliest surviving diaries of a Southerner. It’s believed he kept detailed diaries for most of his adulthood, but not all have been discovered. The first book was published in 1941 as The Secret Diary of William Byrd of Westover, 1709-1712, edited by Louis B. Wright and Marion Tinling.
From the May 2010 Family Tree Magazine