As their second week of classes came to an end, first-year students at William & Mary Law School were treated to a guided tour of Colonial Williamsburg. The historic district is adjacent to the school and was once home to many of the nation’s founders, including Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, and John Tyler.
Tour leader Tom Patton, who can trace his family’s roots in the Tidewater region to the 19th century, told students about Williamsburg’s role in the history of the Commonwealth of Virginia and in the success of the American Revolution.
“The history of Williamsburg is the history of America,” said Patton. “This city was home to some of the most influential men in our nation’s history.”
Patton told students of the city’s connection to men and women both famous and infamous during the American Colonial period. He showed them separate fields where Martha Washington’s home once stood and where several of pirate captain Blackbeard’s men are believed to be buried in unmarked graves.
The ideals of colonial government were a constant theme of the tour, with students able to view Virginia’s original Capitol Building—the city served as the colony’s seat of power until 1779—and the Governor’s Palace, which was home to seven colonial governors, including future president Thomas Jefferson.
“The tour was very interesting,” said Jack Brock ’14. “The stories the guide told were full of the history of the area.”
The tour also featured the home of Jefferson’s mentor, George Wythe, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and one of the most distinguished lawyers in America. After Jefferson was elected governor in 1779, he urged the creation of a law school at William & Mary, the first in the nation’s history. Wythe was appointed Chair of Law at William & Mary, becoming America’s first law professor.
Today the Marshall-Wythe School of Law bears his name in recognition of his service to both William & Mary and early America.
Following the tour, Dean Davison M. Douglas spoke in the Wren Building, the nation’s oldest collegiate building. Douglas encouraged students to live up to the standard set by Wythe.
“I suspect some of you will serve in state and federal legislatures. Others will serve in local, state, and federal courts,” said Douglas. “I urge you to keep in mind George Wythe’s ideal of being a ‘citizen-lawyer.’”
The George Wythe Society of Citizen Lawyers, which sponsored the tour and the reception that followed, was established in 1921 to encourage William & Mary law students to live up to the ideals of community and civil service that Wythe practiced and promoted.
“The tour was a great way to learn a little history about Williamsburg and meet some new people,” said Kevin Schneider ’14. “It was a worthwhile event, topped off by a great reception in one of the oldest educational buildings in the country.”