GEORGE WYTHE OF WILLIAMSBURG by Joyce Blackburn

GEORGE WYTHE OF WILLIAMSBURG

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

In the late 1960's, during bulldozing for a hydroplaning test track at the Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, the fieldstone foundations of a 17th century frame house were uncovered. They marked the location of George Wythe's first home. Visiting the site in 1971, Joyce Blackburn reflected that ""so little had been recorded about George Wythe whose exuberant mind and spirit helped shape the beginnings of America's unique experiment in the government of a free people."" Wythe, a Quaker, scholar, lawyer, and judge, was also a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Blackburn's monograph on this somewhat forgotten Founding Father effectively evokes the social and cultural ambience of aristocratic, colonial Williamsburg. This was the era of the gentleman scholar; a time when young men studied Greek and Latin and taught themselves the law by reading Blackstone's Commentaries. Although himself a jurist, Wythe's greatest claim to fame comes from his role as the lifelong teacher and friend of Thomas Jefferson. He lived from 1726 to 1806, and witnessed the separation from England, and the early struggles as a young republic. Blackburn's narrative brings in many colonial figures including the Randolphs, Patrick Henry, and Benjamin Franklin. A sympathetic, genteel account of the life of a sympathetic, genteel man--who nonetheless died of arsenic poisoning, at the hands of his fortune-hunting young nephew.

Pub Date: Nov. 15th, 1975
Publisher: Harper & Row