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

By Belko, Steve | The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, January 1, 2009 | Go to article overview

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


Belko, Steve, The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography


I am Murdered: George Wythe, Thomas Jefferson, and the Killing that Shocked a New Nation * Bruce Chadwick * Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley and Sons, 2009 * viii, 280 pp. * $24.95

Reviewed by Steve Belko, associate professor of history at the University of West Florida. He is the editor of America's Hundred Years' War: U. S. Expansion to the Gulf Coast and the Fate of the Seminole, 1763-1858 (forthcoming).

The murder of the eminent Virginia statesman and jurist George Wythe and the sensational trial that followed have certainly received their due attention over the last half century. Bruce Chadwick now adds another chapter to the melodrama surrounding this event. This new rendition fits snuggly into popular history geared strictly for a general audience and for entertainment purposes only, as it is based heavily on secondary sources with a relative dearth of primary source citations. Scholars and students of this episode of Virginia history will definitely find previously published studies considerably more valuable. Indeed, the topic has been covered adequately in a number of scholarly works, such as the excellent treatment provided by Julian Boyd in The Murder of George Wythe (1955), or in the several Wythe biographies, namely William Clarkin's Serene Patriot: The Life of George Wythe (1970), Joyce Blackburn's George Wythe of Williamsburg (1975), and Imogene Brown's American Aristides: A Biography of George Wythe (1981), and in articles by William E. Hemphill and Calvin Jarrett. Chadwicks study, therefore, offers very little in the way of new scholarship or a new approach to the events and issues encompassing Wythe's death and the subsequent trial and acquittal of his grandnephew, who was suspected of killing his great uncle. The author's main contention that those close to Wythe - those most responsible for bringing the obvious perpetrator to justice - bungled the whole affair through an unexpected twist of medical ineptitude and legal technicalities has been covered satisfactorily in the studies cited above.

The biographical material in the chapters focuses on mundane matters not really pertinent to the murder and trial and is even distant from the main character, Wythe. Passages about the doctors, and about James Monroe, Henry Clay, George Washington, Edmund Randolph, and William Wirt, seem disconnected from the main storyline, leading the reader to ask often "What does this have to do with the larger story? …

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