What’s in a name? | Richmond Free Press


Instead of a general defending slavery, a key bridge over the James River may soon be named after a plantation where slaves worked.

Fifth District Councilwoman Stephanie A. Lynch led the revived effort to rename the Robert E. Lee Memorial Bridge after nearly 90 years to erase its association with the Confederate army leader who fought to secede from the Union and create a country where slavery was perpetual.

His proposal, which was approved by a board committee on Tuesday, would change the name to Belvidere Bridge. Second District Katherine Jordan signed off as a supporter of the ordinance, which the full council is expected to approve at the Monday, Nov. 14, meeting.

A council initiative to rename the bridge began two years ago but had languished since June 2020. Frustrated, Ms Lynch took up the cause this summer and tabled legislation in September.

She had many options, such as influential Richmondians past and present whose contributions would have deserved such recognition. Or she could have chosen a generic name, like The Bridge.

Ms Lynch said she felt the name was appropriate. “I often hear people call it the Belvidere Bridge,” she said, because the span connects the north side to the section of US 1 called Belvidere Street. Plus, she said the name is Italian and translates to “beautiful view.”

However, the name she chose turns out to be an English misspelling of the Italian word “belvedere”, which translates to panoramic view.

And its choice also ignores the history of Richmond’s name, which refers to the plantation home and operation of William Byrd III, the son of Richmond’s founder, William Byrd II.

William Byrd III had the house built in 1758 on what is now Oregon Hill and apparently named it Belvidere in honor of the river view it offered. The large, simple-designed house stood just south of Pine and China streets, according to Oregon Hill resident Charles Pool, who researched the house.

What is known is that slaves were integral to the operation of the household that William Byrd III occupied with his second wife and the 10 eventual children she bore him. And this continued to be the case after his suicide in 1777, as he faced huge debts which he could not pay.

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