William Munford

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William Munford
Virginia Council of State
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State Senator, Virginia
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Representative for Mecklenburg County, Virginia House of Delegates
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1797-1798, 1800-1802
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Personal details
Born August 15, 1775
  Richland, Mecklenburg County, Virginia
Died June 21, 1825
  Richmond, Virginia
Resting place
Alma mater College of William & Mary
Profession Law reporter
Spouse(s) Sarah Radford
Known for Poems, and Compositions in Prose on Several Occasions (1798)
Signature [[File:{{{signature}}}|left|200px]]

William Munford (1775 – 1825), legislator and court reporter, was born in Mecklenburg County, Virginia to Colonel Robert and Anne Munford.[1] He began his education at the grammar school of the College of William & Mary, eventually entering the college itself.[2] After Munford's father’s death, George Wythe provided for William's continued education.[3] Without Wythe's aid, Munford likely would not have been able to continue his studies at the College.[4] Under Wythe's teaching, Munford developed his life-long appreciation for both the classics and the law.[5] Munford considered Wythe his "great resource," and that "such a man as he casts light upon all around him."[6] Munford completed his legal education under St. George Tucker, who succeeded Wythe as Professor of Law and Police after Wythe resigned in 1790.[7]

Judge Beverly Tucker related the following anecdote to Benjamin Blake Minor, for his introduction to the second edition of Wythe's Reports, in 1852: "Mr. W[ythe]. visited nobody but his relation, Mrs. Taliaferro, who lived four miles from Williamsburg; and being a great walker always went on foot, sometimes taking young Munford with him. One evening, as they set out together, M. said on leaving the door, 'a fine evening, sir.' To which, as they entered Mrs. T.'s house, the old man replied, 'yes, a very fine evening.'"

After completing his legal studies, Munford entered politics, representing Mecklenburg County in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1797-1798.[8] In 1800, he was elected to the state Senate and served until 1806.[9] In 1806, joined the council of state, a body which advised the governor and comprised members elected by the legislature. Munford left the council in 1811 to accept the position of Clerk of the House of Delegates which he held until his death.[10] In addition to his political activities, Munford compiled reports of the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.[11] His efforts began at first in collaboration with William W. Hening covering the years 1806-1810 (11-14 Va.), and later as a solitary enterprise from 1810-1821 (15-20 Va.).[12]

Munford remained close to Wythe throughout his life, and at Wythe's funeral in June, 1806, he said of his mentor and "second father":

Plain in his manners, strictly temperate in his life, and regardless of all profits except such as were made with honor and a good conscience, he furnished an example in the vigour of his youth (as I have been told by some, whom I am happy to see present) of a truly honest and upright lawyer, a character supposed by many (though I hope erroneously) to be very uncommon. No consideration could ever induce him to swerve from the straight line of integrity, to violate justice, or the laws of his country. With the spirit of a philosopher he lived a lawyer, and was indeed the brightest ornament of the bar.[13]

Munford is best known for his contributions to the classics, rather than the law.[14] In 1798 he published a compilation of poems, Poems and Compositions in Prose on Several Occasions, and he translated classical writings and tragedies.[15] Throughout his life, he worked on crafting a definitive translation of Homer's Iliad because he believed that existing English translations did not capture the magnificence of the original.[16] In 1846, twenty-one years after Munford's death, his translation was published, and was considered a significant achievement in American scholarship.[17]

Colonel George Wythe Munford (1803 – 1882), William Munford's oldest son, was named for his father's mentor. George Wythe Munford wrote The Two Parsons, published in 1884, which retells some anecdotes of Wythe's life, probably passed down from his father.

Munford's personal copy of a bound volume containing seven of Wythe's opinions published in pamphlet form is at the Bernard E. Witkin State Law Library, part of the California State Library. The volume is titled Chancery Decisions on the spine, and contains a manuscript note on the flyleaf: "The gift of his friend & patron George Wythe to Wm. Munford."[18]

See also


  1. Theodore S. Cox, "Munford, William" in Dictionary of American Biography, ed. Dumas Malone (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1962), 7, pt.1:326.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Lyon G. Tyler, "Glimpses of Old College Life," William and Mary College Quarterly Historical Magazine 8, no. 3 (Jan. 1900): 153-154.
  7. Ibid., 156.
  8. Cox, "Munford, William," 326.
  9. F. Thornton Miller, "Munford, William," American National Biography Online, accessed February 5, 2015.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid.
  13. "Oration, Pronounced at the Funeral of George Wythe," The Enquirer (Richmond, VA), June 17, 1806, 3.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Ibid., 326-27.
  16. Ibid., 327.
  17. Ibid.
  18. Munford's copy contains pamphlets for Wythe's published decisions in Aylett v. Aylett, Field v. Harrison, Yates v. Salle, Wilkins v. Taylor, Fowler v. Saunders and Goodall v. Bullock (in the same pamphlet), and the essay, Case upon the Statute for Distribution.