Richmond Enquirer, 9 September 1806

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Detail from page three of the Richmond Enquirer for September 9, 1806.

On Friday morning, September 9, 1806, the Richmond Enquirer reported the results of the trial of George Wythe Sweeney for two counts of murder.[1] A highly anticipated trial, the resulting verdict of 'not guilty' must have been disappointing, as evidenced by the last paragraph.

The law at the time stated, "Any negro or mulatto, bond or free, shall be a good witness in pleas of the commonwealth for or against negroes or mulattoes, bond or free, or in civil pleas where free negroes or mulattoes shall alone be parties."[2]

Article text, 9 September 1806

Page 3

The District Court met in this City on Monday the 1st Instant.—Present Judges Prentis and Tyler.

On Tuesday, came on the celebrated trial of George W. Sweney, on the charge of administering arsenic to his great Uncle the venerable George Wythe; P. N. Nicholas (attorney general, for the prosecution,) William Wirt and Edmund Randolph, Esqrs. council for the defendant. After an able and eloquent discussion, the jury retired, and in a few minutes, brought in the verdict of not guilty.

A similar indictment against him for the poisoning of Michael, a mulatto boy (who lived with Mr. Wythe) was quashed without a trial.

On a subsequent day, he was bro't up and convicted, on two of the indictments, which were found against him for the counterfeiting of his uncles' name to checks, drawn upon the Virginia Bank.

The pen yet lingers to add, that some of the strongest testimony exhibited before before called court and before the grand jury, was kept back from the pettit jury. The reason is, that it was gleaned from the evidence of negroes, which is not permitted by our laws to go against a white man.

See also


  1. The Enquirer (Richmond, VA), September 9, 1806, 3.
  2. Samuel Shepherd, ed., The Statutes at Large of Virginia, From October Session 1792, to December Session 1806, Inclusive, in Three Volumes, (New Series,) Being a Continuation of Hening, Vol. 2 (Richmond, Virginia: Samuel Shepherd, 1835), 300.