Sometimes, to see the present clearly, you have to take a look back at the past. As their third week of classes got underway, first-year law students (1Ls) at William and Mary Law School took a guided tour on Sept. 8 through Colonial Williamsburg and traced the events and people that shaped the founding of the American nation.
Tour guide John Sutton began by leading students past the property that once belonged to the nation’s first First Lady, Martha Washington. He recounted the highlights of figures from American history with direct ties to the Law School, such as Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, and of course, the first American professor of law, George Wythe.
Wythe, who signed the Declaration of Independence, represented Virginia in the Constitutional Convention, and taught Jefferson, Marshall, and others, had a lasting impact on both the Law School as well as the nation at large.
An early highlight of the tour was the stop at George Wythe’s home, located just off Palace Green in front of the Governor’s Palace in the heart of Colonial Williamsburg. Students heard a historical reenactor recount the major events of Wythe’s life and his effect on the politics of Virginia and the brand-new United States.
As Sutton led the students down Duke of Gloucester Street in the center of Colonial Williamsburg, he stopped several times to point out various attractions, such as the Courthouse, the Magazine, and the Governor’s Palace. Students heard fascinating stories such as the demise of the pirate Blackbeard’s crew, who are buried in Colonial Williamsburg, and Thomas Jefferson’s last case as an attorney, which he lost to Patrick Henry. Students even got the chance to pose for pictures in the stocks next to the Courthouse.
The tour ended at the Wren Building, the signature building of the College of William & Mary and the oldest academic building in continuous use in the United States. After a tour of the building, where classes of the College began meeting in 1700 and still do so today, students gathered in the Great Hall to hear from Dean Davison M. Douglas.
The dean’s words of encouragement and inspiration were particularly meaningful in the memorable historic setting of the Hall. He charged the J.D. and LL.M. students to take advantage of the many opportunities afforded to them at the Law School and dedicate themselves to making a tangible difference in society.
The night ended with a presentation from the George Wythe Society of Citizen Lawyers reminded students of their responsibility as citizen lawyers and a reception. Students reflected on the experiences of the beginning of the semester and of the tour itself amongst themselves and faculty.
Thomas Jefferson founded William & Mary Law School in 1779 to train leaders for the new nation. Now in its third century, America's oldest law school continues its historic mission of educating citizen lawyers who are prepared both to lead and to serve.