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Sunday, May 14, 2017

Richard Womack 1655-1684- William Byrd I

William Byrd I

Young Richard Womack connected with one of the wealthiest men in the colony when he became a trader for William Byrd I. Byrd had inherited 1200 acres from his uncle, Thomas Stegge, at the falls of the James, the western frontier of the settlement. While still in his twenties, William Byrd became a captain in the local militia and a member of the county court. His main livelihood, however, was that of an explorer and trader. He was interested in exploring the lands that lay to the west; lands still held by local Indian tribes. He became active in Indian trade and sent out caravans of traders to remote villages to expand the lucrative fur trade. He also imported bonded servants and slaves to Virginia; white bonded servants, negro slaves, and captured Indian children. Byrd increased his lands, eventually owning nearly 30,000 acres.  He grew tobacco on his plantation and owned warehouses along the James River. He was one of the wealthiest men in the colony of Virginia.

He nearly lost his fortune when he sided for a time with Nathaniel Bacon, nephew of Governor Berkeley and an Henrico neighbor with whom he had explored and conducted trading expeditions at the request of the Governor. (See Bacon's Rebellion and the men of Henrico) In time, however, Byrd returned his loyalty to the Governor, thus retaining his life and his lands. His wealth continued to grow; in 1688 he bought land from the Blands for 10,000 lbs. of tobacco and cask, build a home on what became Westover Plantation. He died there in 1704.

His son, William Byrd II had been educated in England, but returned to Westover to become a planter. He was a member of the house of burgesses and served on the Governor's council until his death in 1744. He is most famous for founding Richmond, wich was laid out in 1737. He was, however, also known for being an unkind and unfaithful husband, and a cruel master who frequently beat his servants and slaves. By 1768 he had squandered his father's fortune.

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