1.

William Byrd married
a 21-year-old widow
whose dead husband
was the son
of a former governor
of Virginia.
She agreed
that William’s first son
would be named
after him;
a heritage the son wore so proudly
he went on to become
the future founder of Richmond.

2.

William Byrd, the son, married Lucy,
one of two daughters
of Daniel Parke
who holds the honor
of being the only British
colonial governor to be lynched
out of existence.

Lucy’s sister married John Custis
and they had one son
Daniel Parke Custis
the first husband of Martha Washington.
3

Daniel died and left Martha
17,500 acres, 300 slaves
and control of the inheritance
of two of their children still alive
and two years after he died
Martha married George.

When George was eleven
his father died
and he inherited ten slaves.
In the Virginian scheme
of things
ten was middling, minor;
certainly not enough to recast(e) him
into the upper echelons
of plantation society

Martha brought George great wealth
and George bought land and more slaves
before sailing across the Delaware
to a future first presidency.

 

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The poor Indians would have had less
reason to complain
that the English took away their land
if they had received it
by way of portion
with their daughters.

A sprightly lover is the most prevailing missionary.

If a Moor may be washed white
in three generations
surely an Indian
might have been blanched
in two.

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Cento sourced from The Westover Manuscripts

On my book blog, I have written about how absolutely fascinated I am by the Great Dismal Swamp. I have started but not yet finished Daniel A. Sayers’ A Desolate Place for a Defiant People: The Archaeology of Maroons, Indigenous Americans, and Enslaved Laborers in the Great Dismal Swamp; started but not yet finished Charles Royster’s The Fabulous History of the Dismal Swamp Company: A Story of George Washington’s Time; started and finished Sylviane A. Diouf’s Slavery’s Exiles. All that starting and not [yet] finishing led to a bout of writing that turned out to be a series of centos that basically described the founding of Virginia, one of the two states which formed around the Great Dismal Swamp.

Even though I have not yet finished two of the books mentioned above, research detours led me to The Westover Manuscripts written by William Byrd, colonial founder of Richmond, Virginia. The source material for the cento part of the series is drawn from that document.

I have been playing around with how to present these pieces since, at this point in time, they won’t be in my next book. I thought of just putting all the pieces in one post and  letting them be read that way. But that idea didn’t sit too easy, visually speaking. So I decided to kind of serialize them.

Click here to read the first in the series.