George Wythe was an American law professor. In fact, he was the first American law professor. He was a well respected scholar, a judge, a Congress member, and the first Virginian delegate to sign the Declaration of Independence. As if these did not distinguish him enough, Wythe was also a strong opposer of slavery and a friend to several men who became American leaders, including Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, and Henry Clay.
George Wythe, signer of the Declaration of Independence
Public domain image.
George Wythe was born sometime in 1726 in Chesterville, Virginia. George’s maternal grandfather, George Keith, was a quaker missionary and opponent of slavery. he was the one who most likely instilled such a strong dislike of men owning other men. When Wythe was a boy, his mother did not just teach him the subjects he needed to learn for a proper education, but taught him to love learning. Because of this love of learning, George never stopped studying and grew up to be a greatly accomplished man who had quite an impact on the world.
When he was old enough, George studied law in his uncle’s law office, and passed the Virginia foo in 1746. Later that same year, George’s mother passed away. After the loss of his mother, Wythe moved to Spotsylvania County, Virginia to begin his own legal practice. It was not long before he took the daughter of his mentor, Zachary Lewis, to be his wife. Unfortunately, eight short months after their union, she passed away. In 1748, just after the death of his young wife, George decided to go home to Williamsburg. he then devoted his life to being a scholar and a mentor.
From there, George Wythe began a public career to support himself, serving in several public offices. Upon the death of his brother in 1755, George inherited the family’s plantation and was appointed to his brother’s former position on the Elizabeth City County court. Shortly after, Wythe married Elizabeth Taliaferro.
In May of 1775, George Wythe was sent as a delegate to the First Continental Congress. The following year, he was sent again to the Second Continental Congress. George was among the first to suggest a separation from England. Wythe was also one of the major influences over Thomas Jefferson in his decision to break free due to his history of being a mentor to Jefferson.
In 1776, George Wythe signed the Declaration of Independence. Wythe volunteered to fight, however it was decided that his talents were more needed in the political side of the war. When the war was over, George continued on as a teacher and politician. Wythe mentored many great Americans and offered his service in the public life until his last bit of strength was gone.
George Wythe gave his entire life to serving his country. He died on June 8, 1806. Having lived a fulfilled life, he died a satisfied man.