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History Overview

George Wythe, for whom our school is named, was born on Back River Plantation, in Elizabeth City County, Virginia in 1726. He was the second of three children of Thomas and Margaret Wythe. Because of his father's death when George was only three years old, funds for the family to live on were very limited. Therefore, George received most of his education from his mother, who instilled in him a deep love for God, a respect for his fellow man, and an understanding of the classics.

Although he had very little formal education, with only a brief attendance at the College of William and Mary, his determination, to learn led him to his admittance to the Bar at the age of twenty. In December 1747, Wythe married Ann Lewis, the sister of his law associate; but his wife lived for only a year after the wedding. Ann’s death triggered, for Wythe, an eight-year period of indulging in the “amusements and dissipations of society.”

With the death of his brother Thomas in1755, George inherited the family’s estate at Back River, Virginia. In the same year he married Elizabeth Taliaferro and started on his road to success. Representing the College of William and Mary in the House of Burgesses in 1758, his career in law really began. He remained a member of the House of Burgesses for the next sixteen years, with the exception of a one-year term as the mayor of Williamsburg.

During the next thirty years, Wythe served his native state and country well. He was a member of the Continental Congress, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, a designer of the Virginia seal, a member of the Constitutional Convention of Virginia, and the first professor of law in an American college at the College of William and Mary. He became one of the three judges of the new Virginia high court of chancery and was later to chosen the sole chancellor of Virginia for thirteen years. When the Virginia judicial system was rearranged in 1801, Wythe became the chancellor of the Richmond district, a post he held until his death.

Wythe’s death was a tragic one. He was poisoned by George Wythe Sweeney, his sister’s grandson, who wanted to inherit the family estate. Wythe lived long enough to disinherit his grandnephew; but Sweeney was acquitted of his murder due to lack of evidence. On Tuesday, June 10, 1806, just two days after his death. George Wythe, “the glory of his time,” was buried at St. John's Episcopal Church in Richmond Virginia.