This historical whodunit relates the tale of the 1806 murder of one of the early nation's most celebrated jurists and public figures. Virginia's George Wythe was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and of the Constitution. He was also teacher and friend to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Marshall and Henry Clay. Few were as beloved and admired; the advice of no other was so sought after. But one day in 1806, he and two of his servants were poisoned. Historian Chadwick (George Washington's War) takes readers through the circumstances of Wythe's murder and gradually reveals-no surprise to the attentive reader-the murder suspect. It's a good story, well told, of a sliver of life in Richmond, a small, elite-driven capital city in the young nation's most influential state. The walk-on figures include a good proportion of the early republic's leading men. If Chadwick pads the book with too much on, say, arsenic poisoning, as well as the contemporary practices of autopsies, it's all pertinent to the tale's outcome: the acquittal of the likely murderer. Illus. (Jan.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
I Am Murdered: George Wythe, Thomas Jefferson, and the Killing That Shocked a New Nationby Bruce Chadwick
George Wythe clung to the mahogany banister as he inched down the staircase of his comfortable Richmond, Virginia, home. Doubled over in agony, he stumbled to the kitchen in search of help. There he found his maid, Lydia Broadnax, and his young protegé, Michael Brown, who were also writhing in distress. Hours later, when help arrived, Wythe was quick to tell anyone
George Wythe clung to the mahogany banister as he inched down the staircase of his comfortable Richmond, Virginia, home. Doubled over in agony, he stumbled to the kitchen in search of help. There he found his maid, Lydia Broadnax, and his young protegé, Michael Brown, who were also writhing in distress. Hours later, when help arrived, Wythe was quick to tell anyone who would listen, "I am murdered." Over the next two weeks, as Wythe suffered a long and painful death, insults would be added to his mortal injury.
I Am Murdered tells the bizarre true story of Wythe's death and the subsequent trial of his grandnephew and namesake, George Wythe Sweeney, for the crime—unquestionably the most sensational and talked-about court case of the era. Hinging on hit-and-miss forensics, the unreliability of medical autopsies, the prevalence of poisoning, race relations, slavery, and the law, Sweeney's trial serves as a window into early nineteenth- century America. Its particular focus is on Richmond, part elegant state capital and part chaotic boomtown riddled with vice, opportunism, and crime.
As Wythe lay dying, his doctors insisted that he had not been poisoned, and Sweeney had the nerve to beg him for bail money. In I Am Murdered, this signer of the Declaration of Independence, mentor to Thomas Jefferson, and "Father of American Jurisprudence" finally gets the justice he deserved.
This tale of murder, mayhem, and a "trial of the century" in the new nation tells of the death of George Wythe (1726-1806), a leader of the patriot movement in Virginia and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson considered him "my earliest and best friend" and a mentor in the quest for independence and the rule of law. His death came in old age, but it was murder and a tragedy for the new nation, as portrayed in this thoroughly researched and documented book by historian Chadwick. Chadwick reveals the darker side of Colonial Richmond and its influence on Wythe's grandnephew, George Sweeney. It was Sweeney who would betray and murder Wythe, yet he was acquitted and released, highlighting the injustice of not allowing a former slave's eyewitness testimony to be accepted. Nascent forensics and criminal investigative techniques are described in detail, as is the prevalence of poison as a means of murder at that time. The reader will come to admire Wythe and his character and influence greatly and mourn the loss of a patriot as he is presented in this fresh portrait. A compelling read that will make an excellent addition for every public and academic library.
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Bruce Chadwick is a historian of the American Revolution and colonial era whose books include George Washington's War, The General and Mrs. Washington, and The First American Army. He has also appeared on the History Channel.
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