Author: Wythe W. Holt


George Wythe (1726 or 1727–1806)

George Wythe was a member of the House of Burgesses (1754–1755, 1758, 1761–1766) and the Conventions of 1776, 1787, 1788, a member of the Second Continental Congress during the American Revolution (1775–1783), Speaker of the House of Delegates (1777–1778), and judge of the High Court of Chancery (1778–1806). His signature is first among Virginians on the Declaration of Independence. Born in Elizabeth City County, Wythe was educated by his mother and read the law under the guidance of an uncle, eventually building a lucrative practice in Williamsburg, where he mentored a young Thomas Jefferson. He supported independence during the Revolution and served on a General Assembly committee with Jefferson and others charged with revising Virginia’s laws. In 1778, the assembly elected Wythe to serve on the newly created High Court of Chancery, where he stayed the rest of his life, even after receiving offers of seats on higher courts. He twice used his position to rule that slavery was unconstitutional, including in Pleasants v. Pleasants (1799), but was twice overruled by the Court of Appeals. He later freed his own slaves. From 1780 to 1789 he taught law at the College of William and Mary, becoming the first law professor at any American university; John Marshall was one of his students. He served briefly in the U.S. Constitutional Convention and then appealed for its ratification in Virginia. Wythe died in Richmond in 1806, likely poisoned by his great-nephew, George Wythe Sweeney Jr.


A. Caperton Braxton (1862–1914)

A. Caperton Braxton was a lawyer, president of the Virginia State Bar Association, and a member of the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1901–1902, representing Staunton and Augusta County. Braxton supported the convention’s aggressive and largely successful efforts at rolling back the reforms of Reconstruction (1865–1877) and eliminating the African American franchise in Virginia, as well as the votes of poor and uneducated whites. As the chair of the convention’s Committee on Corporations, he drafted Article XII of the Constitution of 1902, creating the State Corporation Commission, a progressive reform designed to regulate corporations in the public interest. A conservative Democrat, Braxton was named as a possible U.S. vice presidential candidate in 1904, but never ran for public office in Virginia. He died of Bright’s disease in Staunton in 1914.