George Wythe, signer of the "Declaration of Independence"

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George Wythe

Birthplace: Back River, Virginia, United States
Death: June 08, 1806 (79-80)
Richmond, Virginia, United States
Place of Burial: Richmond, Richmond City, Virginia, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Thomas Wythe, lll and Margaret Wythe
Husband of Anne Wythe and Elizabeth Eggleston Wythe
Brother of Thomas Wythe, IV and Anne Sweeney

Occupation: Classics scholar; politician, Lawyer
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About George Wythe, signer of the "Declaration of Independence"

George Wythe (1726 to June 8, 1806) was an American lawyer, a Virginia judge, and a prominent opponent of slavery. He was the first law professor in the United States and a noted classical scholar in Virginia. He taught and was a mentor to Thomas Jefferson and other men who became Virginia leaders. The first of the seven Virginia signatories of the United States Declaration of Independence, Wythe served as a representative of Virginia and a delegate to the Constitutional Convention.

  • Born 1726 in Chesterton, Virginia (now Hampton) Man of integrity and virtue, respected by all. First Virginia signer of the Declaration of Independence. Framer of the federal Constitution. Instrumental in design of seal of Virginia. Poisoned by his grandnephew in 1806. Buried at the church where Patrick Henry made his "liberty or death" speech.


Early years

George Wythe (pronounced "with") was born in 1726 at Chesterville in what is now Hampton, Virginia. His father was Thomas Wythe, a planter who died soon after George's birth. Wythe was reared by his mother, Margaret Walker Wythe, and probably received his early education from her. Margaret Wythe instilled in her son a love of learning that served him all his life. Even as an old man, Wythe took up new subjects, teaching himself Hebrew, for example. George Wythe read law with his uncle Stephen Dewey, who lived near Petersburg.

Admitted to the colony's General Court bar in 1746, Wythe first practiced in Elizabeth City County and later with the prominent lawyer Zachary Lewis. In 1747, Wythe married Zachary's daughter Ann. Wythe was admitted to the York County bar January 16, 1748; his wife Ann died August 8 the same year. The young widower was appointed clerk to the Committee of Privileges and Elections of the House of Burgesses in October.

Highly respected by fellow Virginians

George Wythe's signature is first among the Virginia signatures on the Declaration of Independence. He was so highly respected by his fellow Virginians that the other delegates left a space so that his signature would appear first, as he was absent from the meeting the day they signed the document.

"No man ever left behind him a character more venerated than George Wythe," Thomas Jefferson wrote. "His virtue was of the purest tint; his integrity inflexible, and his justice exact; of warm patriotism, and, devoted as he was to liberty, and the natural and equal rights of man, he might truly be called the Cato of his country."

Jefferson learned the law from Wythe, and, in a manner of speaking, Wythe's signature on the Declaration was a teacher's endorsement of his pupil's finest brief. Among Wythe's other law pupils were John Marshall, perhaps the greatest chief justice of the United States, and St. George Tucker. When Wythe was Virginia's chancellor, Henry Clay was his assistant.

Life of significant achievement

If Wythe had accomplished nothing more than signing the Declaration of Independence and teaching Thomas Jefferson, he would have earned a place in history -- but his life was crowded with achievement! He was Virginia's foremost classical scholar, dean of its lawyers, a Williamsburg alderman and mayor, a member of the House of Burgesses, and house clerk. He was the colony's attorney general, a delegate to the Continental Congress, speaker of the state assembly, the nation's first college law professor, Virginia's chancellor, and a framer of the federal Constitution.

Served in the House of Burgesses

Wythe was elected a burgess for Williamsburg in 1754, and soon he married Elizabeth Taliaferro (pronounced "Tolliver"). She was the daughter of planter and builder Richard Taliaferro, who built what is now called "the George Wythe House" about 1755, and also made substantial repairs and additions to the Governor's Palace about 1752. Taliaferro gave his daughter and her husband life rights to the house.

The House of Burgesses sent Attorney General Peyton Randolph to England as its agent in 1753. George Wythe succeeded Randolph as attorney general but resigned the office in Randolph's favor after Randolph returned in 1755. Wythe remained a Williamsburg burgess until 1758, when he was elected burgess for the College of William and Mary. He represented the college until 1761, when he was elected for Elizabeth City County.

Early supporter of revolution

An early opponent of the Stamp Act, Wythe was appointed to the Committee of Petition and Remonstrance in 1764 and drafted the remonstrance to the House of Commons that protested against the tax. Nevertheless, Wythe, like Peyton Randolph and others, opposed freshman burgess Patrick Henry's stormy resolves against the act the next year, regarding the resolves as redundant and ill timed.

Despite Virginia's deepening disputes with the Crown, Wythe maintained close friendships with governors Francis Fauquier and Norborne Berkeley, baron de Botetourt.

Association with Jefferson and the college

Thomas Jefferson met George Wythe during Governor Fauquier's administration. They were introduced by Professor William Small of the College of William and Mary. Wythe in turn introduced Jefferson to Fauquier, who invited the young man to play his violin in a Palace amateur quartet. Small, Wythe, Fauquier, and Jefferson often made a party of four at Palace dinners, where science, politics, and morals became regular topics of conversation.

Wythe was appointed to William and Mary's board in 1768 and was elected Williamsburg's mayor December 1 of that year . He became a vestryman of Bruton Parish Church in 1760 and was appointed clerk of the House of Burgesses July 16, 1769. When the burgesses ordered the Public Hospital built in 1770, Wythe was named one of its trustees. He remained house clerk until 1775, when he was elected a delegate to the Second Continental Congress.

Following instructions from the Virginia Convention in Williamsburg, Richard Henry Lee, another member of the Virginia delegation, rose at the Second Continental Congress and moved for American independence. Jefferson's declaration was approved July 4, but the document was not engrossed and ready for signing until August 2. By that time, Wythe had returned to Williamsburg, thus he and the other absent delegates signed later. Below Wythe's name appear the signatures, in order, of: Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, and Carter Braxton.

Designed seal of Virginia

Though 50 years old, Wythe proposed to fight in the Revolution, but his true service remained in government. He worked on the drafting of the first Virginia constitution, written mostly by George Mason. Wythe served with Jefferson, Mason, Thomas Ludwell Lee, and Edmund Pendleton on the committee that revised Virginia's laws. George Wythe was one of two members of the committee who designed the seal of Virginia. Virtue, sword in hand, stands with her foot on the prostrate form of Tyranny, whose crown lies nearby. The motto, "Sic Semper Tyrannis," may be translated "Thus Ever to Tyrants."

First professor of law in America

In 1777, Wythe was elected speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates. Two years later, he accepted appointment as professor of law and police in now-Governor Jefferson's reorganization of the College of William and Mary. It was the first such professorship in the nation. After the government moved to Richmond in 1780, Wythe taught classes, presided over moot courts, and conducted mock legislatures in the old Capitol.

Wythe accepted law students as boarders in his home and treated them as if they were the sons he never had. His kindness was returned by admiring pupils like Jefferson, who called him "my faithful and beloved Mentor in youth, and my most affectionate friend through life."

Late in the1780s, student William Munford preserved a glimpse of Wythe's domestic establishment. "Old as he is," Munford wrote, "his habit is, every morning, winter and summer, to rise before the sun, go to the well in the yard, draw several buckets of water, and fill the reservoir for his shower bath, and then, drawing the cord, let the water fall over him in a glorious shower. Many a time have I heard him catching his breath and almost shouting with the shock. When he entered the breakfast room his face would be in a glow, and all his nerves were fully braced."

In a dispute with the administration, Wythe resigned from the college in 1789 and accepted an appointment as judge of Virginia's Court of Chancery in Richmond. He moved there in 1791, turning his home over to Taliaferro's heir. The Reverend James Madison, president of the College of William and Mary, bought the house in 1792 following the death of the Taliaferro heir.

Chancellor Wythe seized the opportunity of one of his cases to try to cripple the institution of slavery. He ruled that Virginia's Declaration of Rights -- written by Mason and adopted in 1776 -- included African Americans among the "all men" born free and equally independent. "They should," Wythe said, "be considered free until proven otherwise." His ruling did not survive appeals.

Murdered by an heir

Elizabeth Taliaferro Wythe died in 1787. Long a foe of slavery, George Wythe freed several slaves, including Lydia Broadnax, who chose to remain in Wythe's service. He conveyed other slaves to Elizabeth's Taliaferro relatives. Near the end of his life, Wythe wrote his will in favor of a grandnephew, George Wythe Sweeney, but also gave generous bequests to his former slaves Mathew Brown and Lydia Broadnax. A ne'er-do-well, Sweeney forged checks against Wythe's accounts to cover pressing debts. Hoping to avoid detection and inherit his great uncle's entire estate, he resorted to murder. Strawberries or coffee seem to have been the vehicle by which Sweeney poisoned both his great uncle and Matthew Brown, who died within days. Wythe endured two weeks of agony, but as he lay dying, Sweeney's forgeries were discovered, and Wythe revised his will.

A grand jury indicted Sweeney for murder, but Sweeney went free, because the evidence against him was circumstantial. No witness was able to testify that he saw Sweeney poison the food. African American Lydia Broadnax was thought to have been in the kitchen when the food was poisoned, but she was not allowed to testify against a white person in court.

Wythe is buried at St. John's Church in Richmond, the church in which Patrick Henry made his "Liberty or Death" speech.


George Wythe was a member of the House of Burgesses (1754–1755, 1758, 1761–1766) and the Conventions of 1776, 1787, 1788, a member of the Second Continental Congress during the American Revolution (1775–1783), Speaker of the House of Delegates (1777–1778), and judge of the High Court of Chancery (1778–1806). His signature is first among Virginians on the Declaration of Independence. Born in Elizabeth City County, Wythe was educated by his mother and read the law under the guidance of an uncle, eventually building a lucrative practice in Williamsburg, where he mentored a young Thomas Jefferson. He supported independence during the Revolution and served on a General Assembly committee with Jefferson and others charged with revising Virginia's laws. In 1778, the assembly elected Wythe to serve on the newly created High Court of Chancery, where he stayed the rest of his life, even after receiving offers of seats on higher courts. He twice used his position to rule that slavery was unconstitutional, including in Pleasants v. Pleasants (1799), but was twice overruled by the Court of Appeals. He later freed his own slaves. From 1780 to 1789 he taught law at the College of William and Mary, becoming the first law professor at any American university; John Marshall was one of his students. He served briefly in the U.S. Constitutional Convention and then appealed for its ratification in Virginia. Wythe died in Richmond in 1806, likely poisoned by his great-nephew, George Wythe Sweeney Jr.

Early Years

Wythe was born late in 1726 or early in 1727, almost certainly at Chesterville, the family plantation on Back River in Elizabeth City County. He was probably the youngest of the three children of Thomas Wythe and Margaret Walker Wythe. The Wythes were a substantial but not wealthy family. For four generations their enslaved laborers had cultivated tobacco at Chesterville, and four generations of Thomas Wythes had sat on the Elizabeth City County Court, including George Wythe's older brother. Although there was a wharf at Chesterville the family also purchased a half interest in a wharf in the town of Hampton.

Wythe's father died in 1729. His will entailed the family land to the elder son, and as a result when Wythe was a young man he had to find another means of support than farming. His mother, who did not remarry and reared him until her death in about 1746, was certainly the most formative influence in his early life. Unlike most women in Virginia at the time, she was literate. She was the daughter of George Walker and Anne Keith Walker, who educated their children regardless of gender. Wythe's great-grandfather was the fiery college-educated Scot George Keith, a colonial Quaker missionary who had been a crusader against slavery. Wythe owned at least one book his great-grandfather wrote and had probably read Keith's militant pamphlet on slavery. Wythe's passionate devotion to liberty for his country and all its inhabitants thus likely also welled up out of his mother's tutelage. Wythe learned reading, writing, arithmetic, and the basics of Latin at his mother's knee. Whether he ever had any formal schooling is uncertain, but he loved learning, apparently taught himself Greek, geometry, and natural history (that is, science), studied Hebrew in the 1790s, read voraciously all of his life, and eventually became a teacher. Latin and Greek words pepper his judicial opinions.

Choosing to be a lawyer, Wythe had a pedestrian experience studying under his uncle Stephen Dewey and essentially taught himself law with the aid of Benjamin Waller, an accomplished Williamsburg attorney. In June 1746 Wythe received his license to practice law and moved to Fredericksburg to work with Waller's eminent brother-in-law Zachary Lewis. On December 26, 1747, Wythe secured a marriage license and on that date or soon thereafter married his law partner's daughter Anne Lewis. Wythe's practice blossomed but on August 8, 1748, his wife died, probably of complications of pregnancy. Devastated, Wythe took to drink, but with the help of friends soon pulled himself together and moved to Williamsburg, where his Waller connections aided him to build a lucrative law practice.

Political Career and Revolution

In October 1748 members of the House of Burgesses named Wythe clerk of the important committees of Privileges and Elections and of Propositions and Grievances. In the next assembly, which first met in February 1752, Wythe again was appointed to the influential clerkships. Late in January 1754 the lieutenant governor appointed Wythe acting attorney general of the colony. He served until early in 1755 and again from November 1766 to June 1767.

In the autumn of 1754 Wythe won a special election to fill a vacant seat in the House of Burgesses representing Williamsburg and served on the Committee for Courts of Justice as well as the Committees of Privileges and Elections and of Propositions and Grievances, for both of which he had formerly been clerk. Early the following year, after Wythe's brother died childless, he inherited Chesterville and succeeded his brother on the Elizabeth City County Court. About the same time on an unrecorded date Wythe married Elizabeth Taliaferro, the teenaged daughter of a James City County planter. They had no children and lived in Williamsburg in what became known as the Wythe House, which his father-in-law designed and gave him a life estate in. During probably the happiest time of Wythe's life he formed close social and intellectual friendships with William Small, a young professor at the College of William and Mary, the learned lieutenant governor Francis Fauquier, and, when he arrived in the 1760s to be Wythe's student, Thomas Jefferson. The four dined together often. Jefferson was the first of several young men who studied law under Wythe.

Wythe was among the original trustees for the colony's hospital for the mentally ill, a Williamsburg alderman for two decades, and the city's mayor in 1768–1769. He did not win reelection to the House of Burgesses in 1756, but in 1758 the president and professors of the College of William and Mary chose him to represent the college, and he won elections in 1761 and 1766 to represent Elizabeth City County. Wythe served on the same committees as in his first term and beginning in 1764 on the Committee on Trade. He was one of the most active members of the House. From March 1768 to the end of the colonial period, Wythe was the last clerk of the House of Burgesses.

Wythe had opposed Patrick Henry's resolutions against the Stamp Act in 1765 because he believed them too strong, but he did not approve of the law. He was a member of the committee that residents of Williamsburg elected late in 1774 to enforce the Virginia and Continental Associations adopted to pressure English merchants to force an alteration in Parliamentary policies. The Virginia Convention of July–August 1775 elected Wythe a delegate to the Second Continental Congress. Along with John Adams, Samuel Adams, and Richard Henry Lee, he proved to be one of the strongest advocates for American independence. Wythe's signature is the first of the Virginians' signatures on the Declaration of Independence. Late in June before Congress voted on independence, he returned to Williamsburg to serve during the final weeks of the Convention of 1776 that adopted the first written constitution for Virginia.

On November 5, 1776, the House of Delegates named Wythe, Jefferson, Edmund Pendleton, and two others who declined to participate to a committee to revise Virginia's laws consistent with revolutionary principles. In June 1779 they submitted 126 comprehensive bills to the General Assembly, and during the following decade the assembly passed most of them, some of them after modification.

Judge and Law Professor

Wythe represented Williamsburg in the House of Delegates during the 1777–1778 sessions and on May 8, 1777, was elected Speaker of the House. On January 14, 1778, the General Assembly elected Wythe a judge of the newly created High Court of Chancery. When Virginia created a Supreme Court of Appeals in 1789 he chose to remain as the state's sole chancellor and served until his death. He was resourceful, forward-looking, courageous, and immune to popular pressure as a judge. In Commonwealth v. Caton (1782) Wythe made one of the earliest and most persuasive arguments for the power of the courts to rule statutes unconstitutional. In Page v. Pendleton (1793), to the consternation of the many Virginians who owed pre-Revolutionary debts to British creditors and believed that victory had meant cancellation of them, Wythe ruled that the debts were indeed payable. He twice confounded the legal basis of white Virginia's prosperity by holding that under the language in the Commonwealth's Bill of Rights—"all men are by nature equally free"—slavery was unconstitutional, but the Court of Appeals overruled Wythe's assertion in Pleasants v. Pleasants (1799) and Hudgins v. Wright (1806).

Wythe was professor of law and police at the College of William and Mary from 1780 through 1789, the first law professor at an American university, and among his students was John Marshall. He taught against slavery during the decade. After Wythe's wife died on August 18, 1787, he began freeing some of his slaves and owned none at his death. Moreover, he paid those who stayed to work for him. He was shunned by many for these views.

In December 1786 the General Assembly named Wythe a member of the state's outstanding delegation to the Constitutional Convention. His only major contribution to that august body was the rules of procedure because he was called home by the illness of his wife less than a month after the convention had met. Consumed with grief at her death Wythe did not return to Philadelphia. In 1788 his York County neighbors surprised him by selecting him as a delegate to the Virginia Ratification Convention. Wythe ably chaired the Committee of the Whole during the intensive debate, then stepped down to endorse the Constitution and move its adoption. It passed by a vote of 89 to 79.

Later Years

In 1791 Wythe moved to Richmond where he bought a home. He had had a bad experience with his overseer at Chesterville, who proved to be a British spy and apparently pillaged the property. Wythe allowed his chosen heir, his sister's son George Wythe Sweeney, and his wife to enjoy the estate from 1786 to 1792, but Wythe's trust proved misdirected. In 1792 Wythe sold Chesterville to a Richmond merchant who was unable to maintain payments. Wythe was forced to buy the property at a tax sale in 1801 and sold it again in 1802.

Wythe's familial attention turned to his great-nephew, George Wythe Sweeney Jr., who moved into his home by 1806 following the deaths of his parents. In his will Wythe made the young man the residuary legatee of his estate. A gambler, rake, and thief, Sweeney poisoned Wythe for the inheritance. The only witness against Sweeney was an African American woman who under Virginia's laws could not give testimony against a white person, so Sweeney was not convicted. George Wythe lived long enough to disinherit Sweeney before dying at his Richmond home on June 8, 1806. After his body laid in repose at the Capitol, he was buried in the cemetery at what later came to be known as Saint John's Church.

Time Line

1726 or 1727 - George Wythe is born, almost certainly at Chesterville, the family plantation on Back River in Elizabeth City County.

October 1729 - Thomas Wythe, the father of George Wythe, dies.

ca. 1746 - Margaret Walker Wythe, the mother of George Wythe, dies.

June 18, 1746 - George Wythe takes the oath of an attorney in Caroline County Court but makes his home in Fredericksburg.

December 26, 1747 - George Wythe and Anne Lewis obtain a marriage license in Spotsylvania County.

August 8, 1748 - Anne Lewis Wythe, the wife of George Wythe, dies in Fredericksburg.

October 28, 1748 - George Wythe is appointed clerk of the House of Burgesses committees of Privileges and Elections and Propositions and Grievances.

February 1752 - George Wythe again serves as a clerk to influential committees in the House of Burgesses.

1754–1755 - George Wythe serves as acting attorney general of Virginia.

Autumn 1754 - George Wythe wins a special election to the House of Burgesses representing Williamsburg. He replaces Armistead Burwell, who died in office.

1756 - George Wythe is defeated for election to the House of Burgesses from Elizabeth City County, receiving only a single vote.

1758 - George Wythe is defeated for election to the House of Burgesses in Elizabeth City County, but professors at the College of William and Mary name him as their burgess.

1761–1766 - George Wythe serves in the House of Burgesses, representing Elizabeth City County.

November 1766–June 1767 - George Wythe serves as acting attorney general of Virginia.

1768–1769 - George Wythe serves as the mayor of Williamsburg.

March 1768–May 1776 - George Wythe serves as the last clerk of the House of Burgesses.

May 10, 1775 - The Second Continental Congress meets in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Representing Virginia throughout the Congress are Richard Bland, Benjamin Harrison, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, Francis Lightfoot Lee, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Nelson Jr., Edmund Pendleton, Peyton Randolph, George Washington, and George Wythe.

August 2, 1776 - Delegates to the Second Continental Congress sign the Declaration of Independence, including Carter Braxton, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Francis Lightfoot Lee, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Nelson Jr., and George Wythe.

November 5, 1776 - The House of Delegates names George Wythe, Thomas Jefferson, Edmund Pendleton, and two others who decline to participate to a committee to revise Virginia's laws.

1777–1778 - George Wythe represents Williamsburg in the House of Delegates.

May 8, 1777 - George Wythe is elected Speaker of the House of Delegates.

January 14, 1778 - The General Assembly elects George Wythe a judge of the newly created High Court of Chancery. He serves until his death in 1806.

June 1779 - George Wythe, Thomas Jefferson, and Edmund Pendleton submit 126 bills to the General Assembly, which had tasked them with revising the state's laws.

1780–1789 - George Wythe teaches law and College of William and Mary.

December 1786 - The General Assembly names George Wythe a delegate to the Constitutional Convention.

May–September 1787 - The Constitutional Convention of 1787 meets in Philadelphia to amend the Articles of Confederation. Virginia delegates include George Washington, John Blair, James Madison, George Mason, Edmund Randolph, and George Wythe. Patrick Henry is elected to the convention but declines to attend, later explaining, "I smelt a rat."

August 18, 1787 - Elizabeth Taliaferro Wythe, the second wife of George Wythe, dies at their home in Williamsburg.

1788 - George Wythe is elected a delegate from York County to the state convention called to consider ratification of the U.S. Constitution.

January 25, 1797 - George Wythe manumits Benjamin, an adult slave who will continue to live with him in Richmond. He will also be named a beneficiary in Wythe's will.

September 12, 1798 - Chancellor George Wythe rules in Pleasants v. Logan that all Pleasants family slaves thirty or older in 1782 were entitled to their freedom.

May 6, 1799 - In Pleasants v. Pleasants, the Virginia Court of Appeals rules in favor of Robert Pleasants, who is attempting to manumit the family slaves according to his late father's wishes.

April 1803 - George Wythe signs his will.

May 24, 1806 - George Wythe eats an evening meal of milk and strawberries, which some people will later guess to have been poisoned.

June 8, 1806 - George Wythe dies of an apparent poisoning in Richmond. He is buried at Saint John's Church in that city.

September 2, 1806 - A jury in the Richmond District Court acquits George Wythe Sweeney Jr. of murdering his great-uncle George Wythe and the free African American Michael Brown.


from - © 2008 The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

"Regularly, on the 8th of June, the anniversary of his murder, George Wythe emerges from the closet of his bedroom and lays a chilly hand on the face of whoever is sleeping therein." from "The Ghosts of Williamsburg" Vol. II by L.B. Taylor, Jr.

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George Wythe (1726 – 8 June 1806) was an American lawyer, a judge, a prominent law professor and "Virginia's foremost classical scholar." Wythe's signature is positioned at the head of the list of seven Virginia signatories on the United States Declaration of Independence. Wythe served as a representative of Virginia and a delegate to the Constitutional Convention—though he left the Convention early and did not sign the final version of the Constitution.

Wythe was born in Elizabeth City County, Virginia (present day Hampton). He served as mayor of Williamsburg, Virginia, from 1768 to 1769. In 1779 he was appointed to the newly created Chair of Law at William and Mary, becoming the first law professor in the United States. Wythe's pupils included Thomas Jefferson, Henry Clay, James Monroe, and John Marshall.

Of these men, Wythe was closest to Thomas Jefferson. At a time when law students often read law for a year or less, Jefferson spent five years reading law with George Wythe, and the two men together read all sorts of other material; from English literary works, to political philosophy, to the ancient classics.

Wythe was elected to the Continental Congress in 1775, voting in favor of the resolution for independence and signing the Declaration of Independence. He helped form the new government of Virginia, was elected Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates in 1777, and also as part of a committee designed the Seal of Virginia, inscribed with the motto "Sic Semper Tyrannis", which is still in use today. In 1789 he became Judge of the Chancery Court of Virginia.

In 1787, George Washington appointed Wythe along with Alexander Hamilton and Charles Pinckney to draw up rules and procedures for the Constitutional Convention.

In John Trumbull's famous painting, The Declaration of Independence, Wythe is shown in profile farthest to the viewer's left. Trumbull's painting can also be found on the back of the U.S. $2 bill, but Wythe's image is cut off in that depiction. A slaveholder, Wythe became an abolitionist, freeing his slaves and providing for their support. Wythe provided for freed Lydia Broadnax and her son Michael Brown in his will; Broadnax had stayed on as a servant. The will also contained a provision for Brown's education. Jefferson biographer Fawn M. Brodie has alleged Broadnax was Wythe's concubine, and Brown was his son.

Wythe's other heir, his grand-nephew, George Wythe Sweeney, decided to avoid this dilution of his fortune by poisoning the servants with arsenic. In the process, he killed Wythe as well, though Wythe lingered long enough to change his will to eliminate his bequest to his murderer. Broadnax survived the poisoning.

It was the only punishment his killer received. In Sweeney's trial he was acquitted of murder in Virginia, primarily because of a law that forbade the testimony of black witnesses, a law Wythe ironically had himself penned. Sweeney was tried for forgery, and convicted, but that was overturned on appeal and Sweeney is said to have gone to Tennessee, stolen a horse, and served a term in a penitentiary. The rest of his life was then lost to history.

Wythe, in his will, left his extraordinary book collection to Thomas Jefferson who described Wythe as "... my ancient master, my earliest and best friend, and to him I am indebted for first impressions which have [been] the most salutary on the course of my life."

Wythe is buried at St. John's Church in Richmond, the same church in which Patrick Henry made his "Give me Liberty, or give me Death!" speech.

Will of George Wythe, 1806, leaving books to Thomas JeffersonWythe's home in Williamsburg, Virginia has survived and stands next to Bruton Parish Church of which Wythe was a vestryman. It was acquired by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in 1938 and is today a museum known as the Wythe House.

Wythe County, Virginia, its county seat Wytheville, Virginia, two George Wythe High Schools (one in Wytheville and one in Richmond, Virginia), George Wythe Elementary in Hampton, Virginia (the present day name of Elizabeth City County, Virginia) and George Wythe College of (Cedar City, Utah) are all named after George Wythe. The Marshall-Wythe School of Law at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, a section of US-301 named Wythe Street that intersects I-95 in Petersburg, Virginia, and the Olde Wythe Neighborhood in Hampton also bear his name.

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George Wythe, signer of the "Declaration of Independence"'s Timeline

Back River, Virginia, United States
June 8, 1806
Age 80
Richmond, Virginia, United States
June 1806
Age 80
Saint Johns Episcopal Churchyard, Richmond, Richmond City, Virginia, United States