Papers of John Adams, volume 15

From Jean George Holtzhey

To John Jay

396 From George Wythe, 5 December 1783 Wythe, George Adams, John
From George Wythe
5 Dec. 1783.

Often had I almost resolved to write to you, to supply, in some measure, by an epistolary correspondence, the want of that conversation, which I had no other cause to regret than the interruption of it by the distance between us; and had more reasons than I can enumerate to covet. But uncertainty of communication, and a doubt whether the merit of any thing I could say would be an apology for diverting your attention from affairs incomparably more momentous hitherto kept me reluxtantly silent. Your letter, therefore, by mr Mazzei, delivered to me this day, by which I learn your wish to receive a line from me, and that too whereever you be, was received with joy.1 I accept the invitation with a pleasure one feels in renewing an acquaintance with an old friend whose company was entertaining and improving. O were our habitations so neighbouring, that

—θαμ᾿ ενθα δ᾿ εοντες εμιςγομεθ᾿ ⋅ ουδε κεν ημεας Αλλο διεκρινε ϕιλεοντε τε τερπομενω τε, Πριν γ᾿οτε ⋅ δη θανατοιο μελαν νεϕος αμϕεκαλυψεν!

Οδυου. Δ. 1802

A letter will meet with me in Williamsburg, where I have again settled, assisting, as professor of law and police in the university there,3 to form such characters as may be fit to succede those which have been ornamental and useful in the national councils of America. Adieu.

RC (Adams Papers); internal address: “G. Wythe to J. Adams.”; endorsed: “Mr. Wythe. 5 Dcer. / 1783.”


JA’s letter to George Wythe has not been found, but it may have been written on or about 23 June, the day on which JA wrote to Thomas Jefferson. That letter was also carried by Philip Mazzei and, like the one to Wythe, has not been found (Jefferson, Papers , 6:318). JA knew Wythe from his service in the Continental Congress, and there are numerous references to the Virginian for that period in JA, D&A. It was from Wythe’s manuscript copy that the printed version of JA’s Thoughts on Government, Philadelphia, 1776, was derived (vol. 4:65–68). But the Adams Papers Editorial Files do not record any extant correspondence prior to this letter of 5 Dec., and there is no indication that JA replied.


Living here we should frequently have met with each other, / nor could anything have separated us, loving and taking pleasure in each other, / until the black cloud of death shrouded us (Homer, Odyssey, Book IV, lines 178–180).


The College of William and Mary established the first chair of law in the United States in 1779 with the creation of the “Professorship of Law and Police.” Wythe held the position until 1790 ( DAB ).