William Byrd III

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William Byrd III
Portrait by John Hesselius
William Byrd III

(1728-09-06)September 6, 1728
DiedJanuary 1 or January 2, 1777 (aged 48)
Charles City, Colony of Virginia, British America
Resting placeOld Westover Church cemetery
EducationMiddle Temple
Occupation(s)Plantation-Enslaver, Soldier, Member of the Virginia House of Burgesses
Eliza Carter
(m. 1748; died 1760)

Mary Willing
Children15, including Charles Willing Byrd
Parent(s)William Byrd II
Maria Taylor Byrd
RelativesWilliam Byrd I (grandfather)
Military career
Allegiance British America
Service/branchSecond Virginia Regiment
Battles/warsFrench and Indian War

Colonel William Byrd III (September 6, 1728 – January 1 or January 2, 1777) was an American planter, politician and military officer who was a member of the House of Burgesses.[1]


He was son of William Byrd II and Maria Taylor Byrd, and the grandson of William Byrd I. Byrd inherited his family's estate of approximately 179,000 acres of land in Virginia and continued their tradition of serving 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.[2] He initiated what was said to have been the first major horse race in the New World, involving fellow Virginia planters John Tayloe II, Francis Thornton, and Samuel Ogle & Benjamin Tasker Jr. of Maryland.

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 plantation.

Although his sale of property in assets of land, and enslaved, 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.[3]

Marriage and family[edit]

Coat of Arms of William Byrd

In 1748, Byrd married Elizabeth Carter, daughter of Robert Carter I, who had recently died. An excellent political match, as her father had been the colony's richest man. Gaining his wealth as a prominent plantation owner, and enslaver. He served in the House of Burgesses and then the colony's Governor's Council (eventually becoming its president by seniority). Together they had five children, 4 sons and 1 daughter. Byrd had repudiated Carter before her death in 1760, which is considered a probable suicide. [4] Byrd remarried, and fathered ten more by his second wife, Mary Willing, daughter of Charles Willing of Philadelphia. Despondent and nearly broke, Byrd killed himself 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
  • Richard Willing Byrd


  1. ^ Evans, Emory G. "William Byrd (1728–1777)". Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved 15 July 2015.
  2. ^ "A gambler's tale: The son of Richmond's founder had quite a life - and death". Richmond Times-Dispatch. Retrieved 2021-06-10.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ "A gambler's tale: The son of Richmond's founder had quite a life - and death". Richmond Times-Dispatch. Retrieved 2021-06-10.

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