Home > 001560. William Mayo > At The Falls: Richmond, Virginia and Its People

At The Falls: Richmond, Virginia and Its People

Source: Marie Tyler-McGraw, At The Falls: Richmond, Virginia and Its People (Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 1994).

[page 42]

[…] William BYRD I understood the single-minded attention to accumulation necessary to acquire wealth and power, but he also understood that accumulation would not be sufficient to make his family preeminent in Virginia or in England.  He sent his two daughters, Ursula and Susan, and his son, William II, to England at tender ages for an education.  He succeeded in raising the family from entrepreneurial wealth to intellectual eminence.  William BYRD II became, as well as the founder of Richmond, the exemplar of the New World planter and the English gentleman of letters in America […]

William BYRD II, who returned to Virginia in 1704 upon his father’s death, expanded his father’s base of land and slave property using much the same techniques his father had used: steady aggrandizement of land and acquisition of state office.  For forty years (1704-44), BYRD was active on both sides of the Atlantic in consolidating his colonial empire and establishing himself as a colonial gentleman.  For the second twenty-year period, he worked closely with the two MAYO brothers, William and Joseph MAYO, who arrived at the falls around 1723 by way of Barbados.

[page 44]

[…] The Warehouse Act of 1730, which provided for inspectors to grade tobacco at forty locations throughout the colony, made the James River falls one of those sites and pressured William BYRD II to lay out a town, disrupting his informal monopoly of tobacco warehousing.

The second William BYRD, an inveterate journal keeper, recorded on 19 september 1733, his famous paragraph about the origins of Richmond: “When we got home we laid the foundations of two large Citys.  One at Shacco’s, to be called Richmond, and the other at the point of Appamattux River to be named Petersburgh.  These Major MAYO offered to lay out into Lots without Fee or Reward.  The Truth of it is, these two places being the uppermost landing of James and Appamattux Rivers, are naturally intended for Marts, where the Traffick of the Outer Inhabitants must center.  Thus did we not build castles only, but also cities, in the air.”

There may have been as much irony as exuberance in this comment, since BYRD had been reluctant to place a town at the falls of the James.  Most of the site’s advantage as a fall line trade center had accrued to the BYRD family for some fifty years before the House of Burgesses pressured BYRD to lay out lots and offer them for sale.  After lamenting that he would lose his monopoly on warehouses at the falls and vowing that he would not willingly sell an acre there, BYRD determined that town development was inevitable and had MAYO lay out the town, east of Shockoe Creek and north of the James River.  In imposing a grid over the area’s undulating ridges and valleys, MAYO used the pattern favored in colonial America but failed to incorporate either the example of nearby Williamsburg or the spectacular views offered from several

[page 45]

heights in Richmond.  The town plan was part of a commercial venture at the falls, and its authors were no less pragmatic than the practical Captain NEWPORT of a century earlier.

In April 1737 Major MAYO laid out thirty-four squares of four lots each.  At the top of the grid were twelve large lots, varying in size from eight to seventeen acres, intended for suburban estates and given English names like “Hampstead.”  The smaller lots sold for seven pounds sterling in Virginia currency on the condition that within three years the purchaser build a house twenty-four by sixteen feet and fronting near the street.

[…] While William MAYO acquired land and seated himself in Goochland County, his younger brother, Joseph MAYO, purchased land below the falls and built Powhatan Seat, a two-story brick house, on a plateau overlooking the James River near the site of the Indian village.

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