July 2011 & July 2014
Lisa and I make a road trip on the Mountaineer Expressway and beyond. This is one of eleven columns from that trip.
We pull into Wytheville, Virginia, late afternoon. George Wythe (pronounced “with”) was highly respected and revered. In fact, one contemporary called Wythe, “the only honest lawyer I ever knew.” Heck, he signed the Declaration of Independence, freed his own slaves and continued to support them until they were able to make it on their own.
A great and noble man who pissed off his sister’s grandson, greedy George Wythe Sweeney. When Sweeny learned that Wythe included his former slaves in his will, it was too much for him, the avaricious bastard, so he poisoned him: young George poisoned old George.
Sweeney was a drinker, gambler, forger, and probably, as we say in Pittsburgh, a first rate jagoff. As Wythe lay dying, he accused his grand nephew of murdering him and changed his will, taking young George out of it completely. Wythe’s black housekeeper had evidence that Sweeney had poisoned Wythe, as well as herself and her son, but the law of the land at the time prohibited a black person from testifying against a white person in a criminal case. A trial still took place; Sweeney was found not guilty. Wythe the elder died soon thereafter of arsenic poisoning.
Almost nothing is known about the fate of George Wythe Sweeney other than that he was later convicted of horse stealing in Tennessee.
Wytheville is named in honor of George Wythe.
How do we know we are in Wytheville? Not too hard to tell.