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George Wythe

George Wythe (1726-1806) was Thomas Jefferson's legal mentor. Wythe was educated by his mother, passing the bar in York County, Virginia, in 1748. He rose in prominence and was elected a member of the House of Burgesses and to the office of attorney general.

William Small introduced Jefferson to Wythe when Jefferson was a student at the College of William and Mary. Small, Wythe, Governor Fauquier, and Jefferson shared many dinners at the Governor's Palace, where Jefferson received an "unofficial" political and cultural education. Jefferson would study law under Wythe from 1762 until 1767.

In 1775, Wythe joined Jefferson, Richard Henry Lee, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, and Carter Braxton at the Continental Congress. Wythe became one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. After returning to Virginia, Wythe played a role in creating the state's new constitution and served with Jefferson on the committee that revised Virginia's laws. Wythe also sat on the committee to design Virginia's seal.

In 1779, Wythe assumed a professorship of law and policy at the College of William and Mary and remained there until 1789. He served as a judge on the High Court of Chancery and was elected as a Virginia delegate to the Constitutional Convention, but resigned due to his wife's illness. He died in 1806, allegedly poisoned by his grandnephew, George Sweeney.

Jefferson wrote a brief sketch of Wythe near the end of his own lifetime.1

Further Sources

  • 1. "Notes for the Biography of George Wythe," L&B, 1:166-70. Transcription available at Founders Online.

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