- Paul David Nelson
Byrd, William (1652–04 December 1704), Virginia colonial officer and planter, was born in London, England, the son of John Bird, a goldsmith, and Grace Stegge. Because his father was a member of a powerful labor guild, Byrd (who later changed the spelling of his name, probably because it sounded more “elegant”) grew up aspiring to a comfortable but lower-middle-class position in caste-bound London. However, when he was eighteen he received a letter from his uncle, Thomas Stegge, a plantation owner in Virginia, asking Byrd to join him and become his heir. Accepting the opportunity to secure position and wealth as a landed gentleman in the new world, Byrd sailed to Virginia in the autumn of 1670 and joined his kinsman on his plantation of 1,800 acres near the fall line of the James River. A year later Stegge died, and Byrd inherited his entire estate. In that same year Byrd accompanied a party that crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains and explored the western wilderness. Quickly, the young man proved himself an able husbandman, caring for his tobacco plantations and improving the Indian trade that his uncle had begun. Soon he was recognized throughout the colony as a rising man of property and influence. In fact, he was typical of that group of Virginia leaders that arrived in the colony in the last half of the seventeenth century and established powerful families that would dominate Virginia in the next century. Needing a wife with experience in managing slaves and handling the domestic duties of a plantation, he married Mary Horsmanden, a well-connected widow, in 1673. They had five children before her death in 1699....