Home > Uncategorized > Colonial Virginia – Westward Expansion and Prelude to Revolution 1710-1763

Colonial Virginia – Westward Expansion and Prelude to Revolution 1710-1763

Source:  Richard L. Morton, Colonial Virginia, Volume 2, Westward Expansion and Prelude to Revolution 1710-1763 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1960).

[page 565]


The disputed boundary line between Virginia and North Carolina was a formidable handicap to the settlement on the southern border of the Colony.  Although the need for a settlement of the dividing line long had been apparent, it was not until 1728 that arrangements were completed for its location.  On March 6, the commissioners of the two colonies with their respective surveyors and a chaplain and a group of eighteen assistants for the Virginians set out from the Currituck Inlet on their difficult task.  The Virginia commission was made up of three Councilors — William BYRD II, Richard FITZWILLIAM, and William DANDRIDGE.  Alexander IRVIN, professor of mathematics at the College of William and Mary, and Major William MAYO were the Virginia surveyors; and the Reverend Peter FONTAINE, BYRD’s rector of Westover Church, was chaplain.

The members of the Virginia delegation were an interesting group of men.  Their leader, William BYRD, was a man of varied experiences, intellectual attainments, and practical knowledge.  The young man not only had received a classical education in England but also had studied business in Holland and with Perry & Lane in London, and had lived at the Middle Temple where he studied law and received his call to the bar.  So sprightly was this Virginian and so fortunate was he in his association with men of distinction that in 1696, at the early age of twenty-two, he received membership in the Royal Society.  In that same year he began his long political

[page 566]

career in Virginia as member of the House of Burgesses, a career which included the duties of representative of the Colony before the Board of Trade, auditor general, Councilor, and commissioner in drawing both the Virginia-North Carolina line and the Fairfax line.  In his brick mansion which he built at Westover he collected one of the finest libraries in the country: history, biography, travel, a wide range of English literature, law, divinity, philosophy, ancient classics, science and mathematics, architecture, gardening and agriculture, “in short, almost any book that a cultured and thoughtful aristocrat might want.”  In his diary, written in shorthand, are frequent references to his reading in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, French, and Italian.  His History of the Dividing Line, A Journey to the Land of Eden, and A Progress to the Mines — all written during the last thirty years of his life — place him among the most sprightly writers of eighteenth-century America.  It was this gentleman farmer, public official, and land speculator who led the expedition which ran the dividing line between Virginia and North Carolina in 1728.1

In concluding his account of the boundary survey, BYRD gave due credit to his assistants, who stopped at no obstacles in running the line.  He added special praise for the surveyors, particularly Major MAYO, “who besides an eminent degree of skill, encountered the same hardships and underwent the same fatigue that the forwardest of the men did, and that with as much cheerfulness as if pain had been his pleasure, and difficulty his real diversion.”  Major MAYO was closely associated with the expansion of both the James River and the Roanoke River frontiers.  He and his brother Joseph came to Virginia from England, by way of Barbados, in the early eighteenth century.  They were first cousins of Dr. William CABELL.  Major William MAYO was the first county surveyor and one of the first justices of Goochland County.  William BYRD found him “very useful, as well as an agreeable companion” not only on the southern boundary but also on his journey to the Carolina frontier, the “Land of Eden,” in hunting out profitable tracts of land, in laying out the town of Richmond, and in settling the bounds of the Fairfax grant.  It was MAYO who, after the latter survey, “formed a very elegant

1.  The most interesting brief account of the first two William BYRDs is that in Wright, The First Gentlemen of Virginia, 312-347.  For Westover, see Waterman, Mansions of Virginia.

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map of the whole Northern Neck by joining all the particular surveys together.”2

William BYRD and his men ran and marked the line from Currituck Inlet westward through the great Dismal Swamp, across many miles of sparsely settled backwoods country and far beyond the last settlement to the foothills of the Blue Ridge at Peters Creek in the present county of Patrick — a distance of 242 miles from the Atlantic Ocean.

2.  Writing of Col. William BYRD, ed. Bassett, 253, 324, 403.  With the MAYOs there came from Barbados George CARRINGTON, ancestor of the prominent family of that name and one of the founders of Cumberland County in 1749.  Brown, The CABELLs and Their Kin, 171-183.

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