Note: the word "gentleman" had a much different meaning in the old South, not necessarily a good one
While it usually conveys only a general meaning, the word "gentlemen," may be understood in a much more precise manner when applied to the Old South, especially Virginia. The word represents men of a specific mold, men of high birth and matching education - nobles, rich and powerful - and brings with it countless but often-accurate stereotypes. Grounded at the center of this swirling mist of labels and preconceptions was a man named William Byrd II. Byrd transcended the simple title of Noble and became the Virginian gentlemen. He was the embodiment of all the word represents, a perfect example of what it meant and what it took to be among the most honored men in colonial Virginia.
From his earliest days, Byrd was immersed in a hierarchical culture fundamental to the life of a true gentleman.
His father, William Byrd I - a self-made gentleman who had achieved his status through good fortune, diligent work and wise investments - passed his standing in the world onto his son. This inheritance ensured Byrd's future spot high up in the social hierarchy. Family lineage was one of the foremost aspects in establishing a man to be of high status, to be a gentleman. Byrd's background was therefore more than sufficient; he was a gentleman by birth; the ingredients were in his genes.
Byrd's childhood began the process of turning his gentlemanly potential into a reality. When violence erupted in the colonies, his father's continued allegiance to the Crown and his steadfast adherence to British custom - a common characteristic of Virginian gentlemen - forced him to make the decision of moving his son and wife to England. Young Byrd made several transatlantic...