Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Williamsburg: Part 3

George Wythe House

The George Wythe House on the Palace Green. The steeple of Bruton Church is just to the left of the house.
On the Palace Green, situated between the Robert Carter House and Bruton Parish Church, is the George Wythe House. The house was built in the mid-1750's by Wythe's father-in-law, Richard Taliaferro, for Wythe and his second wife, Elizabeth.

George Wythe House with Robert Carter House to the right. The Governor's Palace is located just to the right of the picture.

The house is two-story brick with two rooms on either side of a central stair hall. Chimneys between each pair of rooms provided fireplaces in all eight rooms.
George Wythe, born 1726, was a Virginia lawyer who served in a variety of political positions, but his primary influence was that of law professor. Students of his included Thomas Jefferson, Chief Justice John Marshall, and St. George Tucker.

In 1775, Wythe was elected to the Second Continental Congress which approved the Declaration of Indepence, written by Wythe's student Jefferson. By the time the document had been engrossed and was ready to sign on August 2, 1776, Wythe had returned to Williamsburg and did not sign until later. Delegates signed the Declaration geographically, beginning with New Hampshire and progressing to Georgia. In respect of Wythe's influence, when their turn came to sign, the Virginia delegates present left space for Wythe's signature, and then followed with Richard Henry lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, and Carter Braxton.

In 1779, Wythe became the first professor of law in the US when he accepted an appointment to the reorganized College of William and Mary. After the capital of Virginia was moved to Richmond, Wythe taught classes in the old Capitol building.

An opponent of slavery, Wythe freed several slaves, some of whom remained in his service. Having no children, Wythe made a grandnephew, George Wythe Sweeney, his heir, but left generous bequests in his will to former slaves Michael Brown and Lydia Broadnax.

When Wythe and Michael Brown were both poisoned, a grand jury indicted Sweeney for murder in an attempt to inherit the entire estate and cover up forged checks that he had written against Wythe's accounts. The forgeries were discovered in time for Wythe to change his will before he died, but Sweeney was never convicted of the murder. Lydia Broadnax, the cook, may have witnessed the poisoning, but an African American was not allowed to testify in court against a white person. All other evidence was circumstantial and not strong enough to support a conviction.

The kitchen where the poisoning of Wythe's food allegedly took place is the little white building to the left of the main house.

Rear of the house.
Formal garden
I don't remember exactly, but I'm pretty sure one of these little buildings was the Necessary (upper class Virginians didn't have "outhouses")

Dove Cote, where squab (young doves) would be raised to eat


Stairs to stable loft

Dining Room

Dining Room looking into downstairs guest room

Dining Room windows

Downstairs guest room looking into dining room

Downstairs guest room

Office closet

Downstairs stair hall

Opening the front door makes it a little less dark and depressing
Downstairs guest room
Downstairs guest room

This room was in the middle of being spruced up when I was there

Upstairs hall

Master bedroom

Master bedroom sitting area

Master closet

Guest room

Guest room

One of the outbuildings behind the Wythe House housed a display on weaving, dyeing, and spinning

Looking from behind the Robert Carter House across Prince George Street past some of the Wythe outbuildings into the Wythe back yard.

Return to Part Two Governor's Palace, Palace Green, Robert Carter House
Continue to Part Four Tucker & Randolph Houses
Continue to Part Five Capitol, Secretary's Office, Gaol, Public Hospital

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