Extracts from the Private Diary of
Colonel William Byrd II of "Westover"

from Henry Duke Councilor, His Descendants & Connections, by Walter Garland Duke

The following extracts from the private diary of Colonel William Byrd II, of "Westover," Charles City County, Virginia., are set forth here in order to show the close association and friendship that existed between Colonel Byrd and Colonel Henry Duke. This may be accounted for by reason of the fact that for many years they were both members of the Royal Council at Williamsburg if it was not from actual relationship. It will be noted that many references relate to visits paid to "my brother Duke" whose wife he calls "my sister." This refers to James Duke, of James City County, Va., very probably the son of Col. Henry Duke. His wife's Christian name is not given. William Byrd I had a daughter Mary who married James Duke and this may account, it is believed, for the uniformly definite way in which she is designated in the diary as "my sister" and "my sister Duke." These designations of James Duke and his wife imply a much closer connection than would arise from any association with Colonel Henry Duke1 or what may have been termed in those early days "neighborliness."

Westover, home of William Byrd II,
on the James River, near Williamsburg, Va.



April 28--"Passed over the creek and then rode to my brother Duke's whom I found just recovered of the ague by means of my physic. Here I ate some roast beef for dinner and then proceeded to Col. Duke's who I found indisposed. He entertained me very courteously."

Dec. 7--"I proceeded with Col. Randolph over the bridge" (Soane's Warehouse) "to Col. Duke's. It was exceedingly cold. We did not get over until after sunset. We found the Colonel under great fear of the distemper, which he said was very violent in the neighborhood." Dec. 9--"About 10 o'clock I rode to Col. Duke's, but it was so cold I was forced to walk twice to give myself a heat. * * * About 3 o'clock we dined and I ate boiled beef for dinner. Then we rode to my brother Duke's, * * *"

Dec. 10--"About 10 o'clock I took my leave and Col. Duke was so complaisant that he came about three miles with me." 1710 Feb. 13--"I wrote a letter to Col. Duke and another to my brother Duke." April 30--"About 11 o'clock I took my leave and rode to Col. Duke's where I came about 2 o'clock. There I found my brother Duke who told me all were well at his house. I ate some cold beef and salad. In the afternoon it rained exceedingly and thundered terribly for about an hour. However, it did not prevent me from proceeding to my brother Duke's where we came before sunset. My sister and her child were very well." June 6--"Half an hour after" [10 o'clock] "my sister Duke came without my brother who could not leave his business."

Sept. 12--"After I had settled my business I went over the creek and about 1 o'clock got to my brother Duke's where I found my sister but he was not at home. * * * We ate some bread and butter and about 3 o'clock went over the river. I just called at Col. Duke's but did not light off my horse and got to Queen's creek about 7 o'clock."



Nov. 18--"In the evening I went to see Col. Duke who was sick of a fever." Nov. 19--"Col. Carter and I went to see Col. Duke and found him still sick with a fever."

Nov. 20--"In the evening I went to see Col. Duke who was much better and there I found my brother Duke."

Nov. 21--"Col. Duke was much better and rode out of town."



Jan. 4--"About 12 o'clock I received a letter from my brother Duke that told me they were all well."

Feb. 8--"* * * Then we proceeded to Col. Duke's where I got fifty black cherry trees for the Governor [Francis Nicholson]. "We ate some boiled beef for dinner and then sat and talked all the evening."

Feb. 9--"About 1 o'clock we rode to my brother Duke's and just called to know how they did."

Mar. 7--"About 9 o'clock I got on horseback and rode to Mr. Gee's * * * and then proceeded to my brother Duke's. He was not at home but my sister was and gave us a cast over the river, and from thence we rode to Col. Duke's where we came about 5 o'clock. He could tell us no news. He received us, according to custom, very courteously. We had milk for supper and sat talking till about 9 o'clock before we went to bed." Mar. 10--"About 11 o'clock I rode to Col. Duke's where I got about 2 o'clock. * * * Col. Duke and I took a walk. We talked till 10 o'clock."

Mar. 11--"* * * Then" [after dinner] "we went over the river to my brother Duke's. Col. Duke went over the river with us."

April 15--"After dinner * * * went over the river to my brother Duke's where I found all well and from thence to Col. Duke's where I ate some custard for supper. * * * My brother Duke came with me to Col. Duke's."

Sept. 18--"About 1 o'clock * * * rode to my brother Duke's but neither he nor my sister were at home. However, the Negroes set me over the river and I proceeded to Col. Duke's. * * * He had not been well. * * * The Colonel was very kind to me and very cross to his old woman according to custom. She was grown very deaf, so that the Colonel conceives some hope of outliving her. We sat and talked till about 9 o'clock and then I retired." [It is very evident from this entry that the wife referred to was not Lydia Hansford for she would not have been an old woman at this date, as she was probably not born before 1675.] Sept. 21--"About 11 o'clock rode away to Col. Duke's. The weather was hot but I got there in two and a half hours. Here I found my brother James Duke who was not very well. About 2 o'clock I ate some stuffed chicken and about 4 we took the Colonel with us and went to my brother's. * * * We found my sister well and all the family."

Nov. 17--"I went to Col. Duke's who entertained me with good cider and toast."

Nov. 18--"In the evening Col. Duke and I took leave and walked to Col. Bray's."

                All of Byrd's Daily Diary Entries in November 1711

Dec. 25--"About 2 o'clock I got to Col. Duke's and found both him and his old woman in good health, only the last was grown very deaf. We sat and talked until about 4 and then went to dinner and I are some wild duck. In the meantime the Colonel sent a Negro man to see whether the river was open at my brother Duke's and he brought back word that it was, and therefore I took leave of the Colonel and his old countess and rode away to the river and with some difficulty got over as soon as it was dark. I found all well there and we drank a bottle of wine."



Jan. 22--"I got on my horse about 2 o'clock and got to Mr. Duke's about 5 and there I found the Colonel and all in good health. In the evening I ate some roast beef and Mr. Duke gave us a bottle of wine. We sat up till about 9 o'clock."

Jan. 23--"About 10 o'clock * * * we made a shift to go over the river with our horses and then rode to Col. Duke's and there I ate some toast and cider. All this time it continued to snow but held up about 2 o'clock and then I took leave of the Colonel, who promised to follow me the next day."

Feb. 2--"We went to Col. Duke's. * * * About 4 o'clock we reached Col. Duke's, just as it began to rain. The Colonel was kind but had no more than one bottle of wine. I ate some cold chicken for supper and then we sat and talked until 9 o'clock."

Feb. 3--"I rose about 9 o'clock. * * * We sat by a good fire and discoursed our affairs till 2 o'clock and then went to dinner and I ate some roast turkey but we had no wine and only bad cider. * * * However, we made a shift to wear out the day in chatting, and the Colonel is always good company and is kind as far as he is able."

Feb. 4--"About 11 o'clock we took our leave of the Colonel and of one another, and about two miles from thence I met my brother Duke who turned back with me again and we went over the river to his house, where I found my sister well and her child. My brother's boat was not good, but because I came often that way I promised to present him with a boat if he would send for it."

Feb. 9--"My brother Duke sent two Negroes for the boat I promised to give him and I sent the flat of nine hogsheads which I presented him with."

Feb. 19--"We rode away to my brother Duke's and from thence we went to the Colonel's whom we found very well by his own confession, and then I told him he was to go to Council next day which made his back ache."

Aug. 17--"I prepared to go to Col. Duke's * * * and I got to my brother Duke's where I found them all well, though they had lately been sick. Here I stayed till about 11 and then was set over the river and got to Col. Duke's about 12. Col. Duke was well and resolved to go with me the next day to Council. About 2 o'clock I ate some boiled beef for dinner. Col. Duke gave us the best he had and we were very merry. In the evening we took a  walk in the orchard and ate some peaches."


 William Byrd II
 as a young man



The quoted extracts are from the first volume of the published diary, the original of which is in the Huntington Library at Huntington Park, Los Angeles, California. Another volume has recently been published which covers a period later than Colonel Duke's death which occurred in 1713/14, having served as a member of the Royal Council of the Dominion of Virginia under the Royal Governor, Francis Nicholson, a period of twelve years.

From such county and family records as are obtainable, if extant, it is not possible to establish definitely the exact relationship between Col. Henry Duke and James Duke, but it is more than probable that the latter was his son. The relationship of James Duke to Col. William Byrd II was very probably that of brother-in-law. This appears evident from the fact that Colonel Byrd speaks of him as "my brother Duke" and of his wife (without naming her) as "my sister." The writer regards it as unfortunate that it has not been possible to secure any positive data as to the descendants of this couple.

Col. Henry Duke's children, definitely known, were his son Henry Duke, Jr., and Elizabeth Duke, a daughter, who married first James Mason and secondly Etheldred Taylor, both of Surry County, Va. The descendants... include members of the Holt, Cocke, Harwood, Lewis, Marshall, Taylor, and Robinson families. James Duke, of James City County, is believed to have been a son and there were probably other children, but existing records contain no mention of any. It has been stated that Edmund Duke, of Cumberland County, Va., was a son of James Duke and that he was the father of Dr. Joseph Duke, physician, of Goochland County, Virginia, who married March 12, 1791, Mary Quarles, of Spotsylvania County, Virginia, and had a daughter, Louisa Duke.

The will of the elder Col. William Byrd, father of Mary, was written on July 8, 1700, in which he gave "to my youngest daughter Mary three hundred pounds." This clearly indicates she was not yet married, especially in light of the fact that he refers to the two other daughters as "my daughter Mrs. Susan Brain" and to his "daughter Ursula" as the "late wife of Robert Beverly." For confirmation of the marriage of James Duke and Mary Byrd the Duke family is again indebted to Col. William Byrd ( the second of that name and brother of Mary Byrd), who obviously had a penchant for record-keeping. The secret diary of Col. William Byrd, deciphered and printed in recent years, has provided much needed information of James Duke. The Secret Diary of Col. William Byrd of Westover, 1709-1712, edited by Louis B. Wright and Marion Tingling, makes it quite clear that James Duke married Mary Byrd., sister of the second Col. William Bryd of Virginia, that James Duke was the son of Col. Henry Duke, Esquire, whom Col. Bryd visited often. Both Col. Duke and Col. Byrd were members of the Council of Virginia. Notes in the above-mentioned diary reveal he frequently rode to his brother Duke's and together they went "over the river " to Col. Duke's. Col. Byrd would, on occasion, spend the night with one or the other before returning home or going on to Williamsburg, to Queen's Creek, where his brother-in-law John Custis lived.

*As you can see, some Duke family researchers consider the above diary entries proof that Colonel William Byrd I and Mary Horsmanden Byrd, the  parents of the above Col. William Byrd II, are direct ancestors of the Duke families of North Carolina. Colonel William Byrd I and Mary Horsmanden Byrd are buried in the family cemetery (photo) at Westover. (William Byrd II is buried in the garden at Westover.) Westover is one of the famous James River Plantations in Virginia, near Williamsburg, and is open to the public. An 1861 description of Westover and some family data on the Byrds appeared beginning at the bottom of page 177 of "Historic Landmarks in Lower Virginia," a journal article in the Southern Literary Messenger of September that year. In April 1871, the article "The Westover Estate," appeared in Harper's New Monthly Magazine. The article, "Some Old Virginia Houses," in Appletons' Journal, November 4, 1871 provides detailed descriptions and drawings of Westover and its neighboring plantations, mentioned below.

Nearby Westover is Evelynton Plantation, also owned by William Byrd II, and named after his daughter Evelyn.  Two other James River Plantations, Berkeley and Sherwood Forest, once were owned by the Harrison family, to which Elizabeth Harrison, wife of George Washington Stainback, appears to be related. Sherwood Forest was later inherited by President William Henry Harrison, and then sold to President John Tyler, who gave it its present name. The remaining plantation, Shirley, was owned by the Carter family, into which three of William Byrd II's children married, including his son William Byrd III. Information about each of these homes and their owners appeared in the above-mentioned 1861 article, "Historic Landmarks in Lower Virginia."

Also see:
William Byrd II & Robert "King" Carter:
Their Stories & the Homes that Helped to Define Their Legacy

History of Westover
Notes on the Architecture of Westover
William Byrd's Family Background

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