William Fitzhugh, 1697 (copied in 1751)
The British-born William Fitzhugh (1651–1701) was among the first Virginia colonists to establish a dynasty on the land. In this portrait he looks more like a prominent Londoner than a resident of what was still a colonial backwater. Fitzhugh chose a rural life because it seemed the quickest way to make money; he used slaves to cultivate his 54,000 acres, which were largely in tobacco. He was a self-made man, a successful planter and lawyer, who had accomplished much with the opportunities afforded him in Virginia. However, Fitzhugh was never entirely comfortable with his achievements, because his newly won wealth was tenuous, given the fluctuation of tobacco prices, and his social position was gained in a largely undeveloped setting where he felt isolated.
Virginia was "a strange land" to Fitzhugh, where his peers expected him to project a "creditable" appearance. Once he did so, he could live "comfortably & handsomely." He "never courted unlawfull pleasures with women, avoided hard drinking as much as lay in my power, & always avoided feasting." On occasion he entertained visitors with "good wine, . . . three fiddlers, a jester, a tight-rope dancer, [and] an acrobat who tumbled around." He furnished his large, thirteen-room house handsomely, with tapestries and an extraordinary collection of 122 pieces of English silver, much of it engraved with the family crest. The silver answered well Fitzhugh's conflicting urges for moderation and luxury. He termed his collecting both "politic" and "reputable," meaning that silver was a sound financial investment (it could be melted) that at the same time made a social statement about dynasty.