north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program
 

 
 
 

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Essay:
     The “Land of Eden,” the estate of almost twenty thousand acres owned by William Byrd in the Dan River valley, embodies the ambitions of an aristocratic planter whose Garden of Eden became Paradise Lost. Born to Virginia’s William and Mary Byrd in the spring of 1674, young William enjoyed all the luxuries a wealthy family could afford, including education in England. Graduating from Middle Temple University in 1692, the charming and socially refined Byrd returned home later that year, an English aristocrat in the Virginia wilderness. He almost immediately was elected to the House of Burgesses, the legislative body of the province. An eloquent speaker and prolific with his pen, Byrd, on several occasions, traveled to England to represent the interests of the Virginia colony.

     Despite his aristocratic demeanor, Byrd won the respect of the community and the esteem of his colleagues through his appointment to Virginia’s Council of State in September 1709. Although Byrd left the council soon after 1722, his retirement was more active than most. In 1728, the Lords Proprietors appointed Byrd commissioner of an expedition to survey the border between North Carolina and Virginia, an arbitrary boundary that had been contested by both sides for years. He and his team of surveyors from both Virginia and North Carolina finished their trek of over 240 miles through such places as the Dismal Swamp and Meherrin River valley late in 1728, and were reimbursed with land grants from the Proprietors. The expedition served as the basis for Byrd’s History of the Dividing Line and his entertaining Secret History of the Line.

     Byrd envisioned the land he received –almost twenty thousand acres— as an area for Germans and Swiss immigrants to form agricultural communities, or prototype colonies, for an anticipated Westward expansion movement. He embarked on an expedition in 1733 to survey and divide his land into tracts and parcels, calling his territory the “Land of Eden,” a reference to the Biblical paradise of the same name. The development project proved too bold, as Byrd was unable to find settlers for all but a few parcels. He died on August 26,1744, heavily in debt, and is buried on the grounds of the Byrd family mansion at Westover.


References:
Louis B. Wright, ed., The Prose Works of William Byrd of Westover: Narratives of a Colonial Virginian (1966)
Allen Johnson, ed., Dictionary of American Biography, III, 383-384—sketch by Thomas Jefferson Wertenbaker
Kenneth A. Lockridge, The Diary and Life of William Byrd II of Virginia, 1674-1744 (1987)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, I, 663—sketch by Lindley S. Butler
Thomas M. Long, “William Byrd of Westover Homepage”: http://community.tncc.edu/faculty/longt/byrd/William_Byrd_II_of_Westover_Homepage.htm

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north carolina highway historical marker program


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