George Wythe, signer of the Declaration of Independence, was born in 1726 in Elizabeth County, Virginia. He was a child of wealthy parents who gave him every opportunity to acquire a good education, and he became one of Virginia's most distinguished sons.
George's father died when the boy was quite young, and his mother made sure that he received good education and moral training. His mother was a "woman of superior abilities" who was "very proficient in the Latin language," and she was very helpful in his study of the classics. His mother passed away before George was twenty-one years old, leaving him without her guidance and instruction but with a large fortune. For the next ten years, George put "aside his study and sought only personal gratification."
George changed suddenly when he was about thirty years old and gave up his "thoughtless and gay" companions and "places of revelry." He resumed his studies "with all the ardor of one anxious to make up lost time." For the rest of his life, he mourned over the wasted days of his youth, and "he felt intensely the truth of the assertion that `time once lost, is lost forever.'"
After resuming his study, he started studying law. He was admitted to the bar in 1757 and became a popular attorney. He was an "able" and "strictly conscientious" advocate" and would "never knowingly engage in an unjust cause." The people of Virginia gave him their full confidence because he was "[s]trict in all his business relations" and "honorable to the last degree." He was appointed by the people to be the Chancellor of the State, then the highest judicial office.
George was a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses for several years before the Revolutionary War. He stood "shoulder to shoulder" with Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee, Peyton Randolph" and other distinguished leaders in the patriot cause of liberty.
Wythe was elected as a delegate to the General Congress in both 1775 and 1776 and thus was in attendance there when Richard Henry Lee "submitted his bold resolution for Independence." He was active in working towards independence, and he voted for and signed the Declaration of Independence. In the fall of 1776, he worked with Thomas Jefferson and Edmund Pendleton to codify the laws of Virginia to assure that they conformed to the new government.
In 1777 George became Speaker of the House of the House of Burgesses of Virginia as well as one of the three judges serving on the high court of Chancery. He became the sole judge when the new court of Chancery was organized and held that position for twenty years. He was also professor of law in the college of William and Mary. There he was the law instructor for two future Presidents and one Chief Justice of the United States. He resigned his office when he moved to Richmond.
George was a delegate in 1786 to the National Convention that framed the Federal Constitution and was later a member of the Virginia convention called for the purpose of adopting the Constitution. He served two terms as United States Senator after the Constitution was ratified.
Even though George was very busy, he still had time to open and teach at his own private school that was free to any person who chose to attend it. One of his students was his own Black boy. He taught the boy Latin and was preparing to give him a thorough education when both he and the boy died. George and the boy died suddenly after eating some food believed to be poisoned by a near relative. That person was tried and acquitted of the murder. The boy died a short time before George died on June 8, 1800, at age 81 years.
George freed all of his adult slaves during his lifetime and provided for the freedom of the younger ones at the time of his death. He provided in his will the means to support a man, woman and child that he freed.
Wythe was married twice but died without any descendants. His only child, by his first wife, died in infancy.
Facts and quotes are from Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, pp. 162-165.
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