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The Curious Death of George Wythe

You might not know the name George Wythe, but he was one of the 56 delegates that signed the Declaration of Independence. He was the first American law professor, and the school of law at the College of William & Mary is named for him. Wythe is also notable for the mysterious way he died.

Many believe Wythe was murdered by his no-good, addicted-to-gambling grand-nephew George Wythe Sweeney (who stood to inherit). One morning in 1806, Wythe fell violently and inexplicably ill. So, too, did Lydia Broadnax and Michael Brown, both of whom had had breakfast at Wythe's home. Broadnax was his long-time cook (and his wife's slave before being manumitted by Wythe following his wife's death). Brown was a free mixed-race teen, who lived in the Wythe household. Wythe had been tutoring him in Greek.

Brown died first. Wythe was ill for many days, during which he insisted that he had been deliberately poisoned, before finally dying on June 8th. Broadnax recovered from her illness. Interestingly, the doctors weren't as sure as Wythe about poison diagnosis.

Read about the investigation and the trial, which may leave you with a bad taste, at Reason. -via Strange Company

(Image credit: Billy Hathorn)


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