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I Am Murdered: George Wythe, Thomas Jefferson, and the Killing That Shocked a New Nation

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"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."

—Publishers Weekly

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 ...

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Overview

"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."

—Publishers Weekly

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.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
* 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.) (Publishers Weekly, October 13th, 2008)
Publishers Weekly

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.
Library Journal

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.
—Nancy Richey

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780470185513
  • Publisher: Turner Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 1/9/2009
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

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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Table of Contents

PART ONE.

Chapter One: "I Am Murdered…".

Chapter Two: The Funeral.

Chapter Three: Homicide: Early Investigation.

Chapter Four: Williamsburg: George Wythe and Thomas Jefferson.

Chapter Five: Jefferson and Wythe Remake Virginia.

Chapter Six: Richmond: Boomtown and the Decadent Night Life Of George Wythe Sweeney.

Chapter Seven: The Dying George Wythe Changes His Will.

Chapter Eight: Moving Day: A Second Life in Richmond and the Return of George Wythe.

PART TWO.

Chapter Nine: The Arrest.

Chapter Ten: The Investigation II.

Chapter Eleven: For The Defense: William Wirt.

Chapter Twelve: For the Defense: Edmund Randolph.

Chapter Thirteen: Mourning at the Executive Mansion.

PART THREE.

Chapter Fourteen: The Forensics Nightmare, Part One: Arsenic, the Poison of Choice.

Chapter Fifteen: The Forensics Nightmare, Part Two: The Autopsy.

Chapter Sixteen: Lydia Broadnax - the Eyewitness.

Chapter Seventeen: The Black and White Legal Code.

Chapter Eighteen: Washington: October, 1806.

Acknowledgments.

Notes.

Bibliography.

Index.

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 18, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Murder Proves Disappointing

    I must confess that I grew up in Virginia and never heard of this story until I heard Bruce Chadwick talk about it on C-Span2. Unfortunately, his gifts as a storyteller surpasses his skills as a writer. He spends way too much time discoursing on meaningless statistics that display good research skills, but interrupt the flow of what could have been a very good narrative. I found myself profoundly disappointed.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 30, 2009

    Murder

    A interesting book for anyone into the early history of our country. George Wythe is a forgotten hero of our revolutionary & beginning of our country. This book tells the story of his nephew getting away with murder.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 15, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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