The Secret Diary of William Byrd of Westover, 1709-1712


The diary of William Byrd of Westover, Virginia, transcribed from the shorthand and published in this volume, belongs to the category of secret journals. Such diaries, written only for the eyes of their authors, are, of all types of writing, the least self-conscious, the least embellished to make an impression on the reader. Because no effect is intended, we can expect to find greater sincerity and more truthful statements in these journals than in more formal writings, even than in personal letters, which, after all, are composed with an eye to the recipient's interpretation. Though men may deceive themselves in their most intimate thoughts, the written record never intended for the public gaze at least approaches complete sincerity, and the rare diaries kept only as safety valves by men and women who felt an imperative urge for this type of self-expression have a peculiar value, both as historical documents and as records of human traits. No one can read the famous diary of Samuel Pepys without gaining a new comprehension of the world the diarist lived in, as well as a deeper understanding of certain universal qualities of mankind.

So rare are intimate diaries kept by personages of historical importance that the discovery of Byrd's lengthy journal is an event of considerable consequence to students of American history. The document is particularly important because it is the earliest extensive diary in the South that has come to light. For some reason, Southern colonists were less introspective and less inclined to trust their thoughts to paper than were their contemporaries in New England. Until Byrd's diary turned up, we had no personal record from the Southern colonies to compare with those of John Winthrop, Samuel Sewall, or Cotton Mather--to mention only the best-known examples of New England diarists. Now at last there is a detailed narrative of early colonial life in the South, a daily journal kept by the greatest . . .

Additional information

Publisher: Place of publication:
  • Richmond, VA
Publication year:
  • 1941


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