William and Mary Law School

First-Year Students Tour CW, Learn about Historic Roots of Law School and Town

For the third year in a row, new students from William & Mary toured Colonial Williamsburg to learn about the history of their new town and school. And this year, the weather held.

Approximately 150 incoming students were treated to a beautiful summer evening for the tour, in pleasant contrast to the pouring rain that greeted new students in 2006. The September 6 tour was designed to teach law students about the history and values of the law school's founders.

"The goal is simple," said Dean Taylor Reveley of the Law School's citizen lawyer ideal, "to be useful, to do some good."

Colonial Tours tour guides and historical re-enactors made the town and early days of the Law School come to life for the students.

At the George Wythe house, Tom Hay, site supervisor of the capital, courthouse, and jail, was dressed in full colonial attire and told the students about Wythe and his impact on American legal education.

Wythe designed the seal of the Chancery Court (no longer in use), depicting a Roman story of a son who is appointed to the judgeship of his father who had been executed for taking bribes.

"[Wythe] wanted all justices to remember the limits on their power," Hay told the students.

Hay recounted the case of Samuel Howe, an indentured servant suing for his freedom. Wythe represented the employer, while Thomas Jefferson represented the servant. According to Hay, it is the first recorded time Jefferson used the phrase that "all men are created equal," a statement he'd reprise in the Declaration of Independence.

Jefferson had received his tutelage in the law from Wythe. When Jefferson later became governor of Virginia, it was at his urging that his former teacher and mentor was appointed as the College of William and Mary's first professor of law. It was the first such professorship in the new nation. John Marshall, who went on to have a seminal influence on American history as Chief Justice, was among Wythe's first students at the College

"[Wythe's] a person who deserves to be better remembered in our nation's history," Hay said. "Learning about Wythe will make you better students and better attorneys."

Following the tour of Colonial Williamsburg, the students visited the College's Wren Building, the oldest academic building in continuous use in America, where Reveley told the class about the importance of becoming citizen lawyers.

Reveley referred to the quote by Wythe that is inscribed at the base of the statues of Wythe and Marshall that sit outside the Law School to sum up his hopes for the incoming class.

"'Here we will form such characters as may be useful in the national councils of our country'," Reveley said.

3L Josh Whitley told students about the George Wythe Society, which sponsors educational programs and activities to promote awareness of William & Mary's unique history as the first to teach law in a university setting and its ties to colonial-era Williamsburg, and encouraged them to join if interested.

The tour ended with food and drink for all of the participants at the Wren building. Students stayed long after the tour ended to eat, drink, and mingle with one another.

For the law students on the tour, it was an entertaining and enlightening experience. "The tour is very informative and a good introduction to the town," 1L Ryan Marion said. "Even though I was an undergraduate here, I learned some things."

"It was enlightening for me," 1L Chris Rey agreed. "It connected me to the city and its history."