William Byrd III

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William Byrd III
Portrait, William Byrd III, John Hesselius.jpg
Portrait by John Hesselius
William Byrd III

(1728-09-06)September 6, 1728
DiedJanuary 1 or January 2, 1777
Charles City, Virginia
Cause of deathSuicide
Resting placeOld Westover Church cemetery
EducationWestminster School, Middle Temple
OccupationPlanter, Soldier, Member of the Virginia House of Burgesses, Gambler
Spouse(s)Eliza Carter
Mary Willing
Children10, including Charles Willing Byrd
Parent(s)William Byrd II
Maria Taylor

William Byrd III (September 6, 1728 – January 1 or January 2, 1777) was the son of William Byrd II and the grandson of William Byrd I.[1] He inherited his family's estate of approximately 179,000 acres of land in Virginia and continued their planter prestige as a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses.

He chose to fight in the French and Indian War rather than spend much time in Richmond. In 1756 he was colonel of the Second Virginia Regiment.

William Byrd III had a reputation as a notorious gambler. He initiated what was said to have been the first major horse race in the New World, involving other planters Samuel Ogle, John Tayloe II, Francis Thornton, and Benjamin Tasker Jr.

Byrd eventually fathered five children by his first wife (Eliza Carter, m. 1748, d. 1760), and fathered ten more by his second wife, Mary Willing, daughter of Charles Willing of Philadelphia. After he squandered the Byrd fortune on building a magnificent mansion at Westover Plantation, gambling, and bad investments, Byrd parceled up much of the land he had inherited from his father and sold it off to raise money to pay his debts. He also sold the enslaved African laborers who had worked on his estate.

Although his sale of land and slaves generated a huge sum it still was not enough to pay off his creditors. Later, Byrd resorted to a lottery, the prizes of which would come from his estate, Belvidere, at the falls of the James River. However the lottery failed to generate sufficient revenue.[2]

Despondent and nearly broke, Byrd committed suicide on January 1 or 2, 1777. He was buried in the cemetery at the old Westover Church.

The 10 children of his second marriage (to Mary Willing) were: Maria Horsmanden Byrd, Evelyn Taylor Byrd, Charles Willing Byrd (died as child), Abby Byrd, Anne Willing Byrd, William Boyd Byrd, Charles Willing Byrd, Dorothy Byrd (died as child), Jane Byrd and Richard Willing Byrd.


  1. ^ Evans, Emory G. "William Byrd (1728–1777)". Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved 15 July 2015.
  2. ^ Dabney, Virginius (1990). Richmond: The Story of a City: Revised and Expanded Edition. Charlottesville, Virginia: University Press of Virginia. p. 19. ISBN 0813912741. OCLC 20263021. At Google Books.

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