Last modified on September 7, 2023, at 17:58

George Wythe

Founding Fathers
George wythe.jpg
George Wythe
State Virginia
Religion Christian- Episcopalian [1]
Founding Documents Declaration of Independence

George Wythe (b. 1726 ; d. June 8, 1806 ) is an American Founding Father. He was a lawyer, a vestryman of Bruton Parish Church, Clerk of the committee on Privileges and Elections for the House of Burgesses. Named Attorney General of Virginia by the Royal Governor, and elected to represent Williamsburg at the House of Burgesses until it was dissolved. He was revered as a man on great honor and integrity. America's first Professor of Law at William and Mary College and admitted to no greater love than that of forming young minds.[2] Wythe was appointed as a delegate of Virginia to attend the Continental Congress that voted for and signed the Declaration of Independence. He was a speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, a Chancellor (Judge of the High Court) of the State of Virginia, and an abolitionist that freed many slaves. It was said that everyone who came into contact with him was very impressed.

Early life

George Wythe was born in Elizabeth County (Hampton) Virginia to Thomas and Margaret Wythe, a wealthy agricultural family. When George was three-years old his father died. He was tutored by his mother until her death when George was a teenager. He became well versed in the Latin and Greek languages, and made commendable achievements in several of the sciences.[3] His parent's inheritance was now the property of his eldest brother, who took little interest in George. George went to William & Mary College but dropped out when he could no longer afford schooling. He would study law at the office of a Stephen Dewey. Wythe was admitted to the Virginian Bar at the age of twenty. In 1746, he was appointed clerk to the Committee which formed the rules of conduct and elections in the House of Burgesses. He would be appointed Attorney General by the Royal Governor. In 1755, Wythe was elected to represent Williamsburg at the House of Burgesses. His brother died that same year and he inherited the family farm. Also in 1755, he married Elizabeth Taliaferro of considerable wealth.

In 1761, his most valuable contribution to the new nation was his involvement in education.[2] He was elected the first Professor of Law to the Board of Visitors at the College of William and Mary for nearly twenty-years. His students included Thomas Jefferson, Henry Clay, James Monroe, John Marshall, and several dozen other distinguished public servants.

American Revolution

George Wythe loathed the Stamp Act. Wythe continued to exert all his influence in favor of the independence of the colonies.[3] In 1775, he was elected to the Virginia provincial congress and was appointed a delegate of the Continental Congress. Wythe was outspoken and openly supported Richard Henry Lee's plan for independence. He would vote for and sign the Declaration. In 1777, Wythe was elected speaker of the House of Delegates and judge of Chancellory for Virginia.

George Wythe devotion to public service, the American Revolution cost him his great wealth. Cost-cutting and careful management Wythe was able to payoff his debts and preserve his financial independence by combining what was left of his estate with his salary as chancellor.

Constitutional Convention

At the Constitutional Convention, Wythe was one of the members representing the state of Virginia. The other members of the Virginia delegation to the Convention were John Blair, James Madison, George Mason, James McClurg, Edmund Randolph, and George Washington.

Later life and death

Later in his life, George Wythe became an abolitionist. In the court case Hudgins v. Wright, Wythe attempted to "abolish slavery by judicial interpretation"[4] despite the other members of the court. He ruled that "freedom is the birthright of every human being" based on the Virginia Constitution's Bill of Rights,[5] though, his ruling would be overturned in subsequent rulings.[6]

His views on slavery contributed directly to his untimely death, as Wythe freed all his slaves[7] and provided them a means of support until they were able to support themselves. His grandnephew, George Wythe Sweeney, the chief beneficiary of his will schemed to enlarge his own share by poisoning the freed slaves. Subsequently, Wythe apparently drank some coffee that had been laced with arsenic and suffered for two agonizing weeks before passing.[8] The two former slaves, Michael Brown and Lydia Broadnax, survived. Wythe died in Richmond, Virginia, and Sweeney was tried for his crime and he was acquitted.[3] George Wythe had willed all his books to President Jefferson. His grave is in the yard of St. John's Episcopal Church in Richmond.


  • "Resolutions of Remonstrance" a strong protest of the Stamp Act sanctioned by the Virginia legislature.


Wythe had a profound impact on the state of Virginia during his life. For this reason, numerous places are named in his honor.

  • Wythe County, Virginia
  • Wytheville, Virginia
  • The Marshall-Wythe School of Law at the College of William and Mary
  • George Wythe College
  • George Wythe High Schools
  • George Wythe Elementary


External links