Princeton in Mercer County, New Jersey — The American Northeast (Mid-Atlantic)
1723 - 1794
“One of the most useful qualifications of a good minister is that he have a lively sense of religion upon his own heart.”
Born in Gifford, Scotland, in 1723, Witherspoon was educated at the University of Edinburgh, completing his divinity studies in 1743. The son of a clergyman, he became pastor of the Presbyterian congregation in Beith and in 1757 was installed at the Laigh Kirk in Paisley. His early writings and reputation as one of the leading scholars within the Popular movement of the church preceded him to the Colonies.
His sermons and lectures were both solemn and direct, drawing both on theological principals and on a deep understanding of human nature. He spoke plainly yet profoundly, with eloquence and grace. His popularity as a preacher inspired more than a few of his many students to follow in the ministry.
“He is as high a Son of Liberty as any Man in America.”
John Adams 1774
Witherspoon embraced America from his arrival in Philadelphia and his warm reception in Princeton. As relations with Great Britain strained, he tolerated the growing student unrest at the College and was patient with demonstrations favoring independence even before he became an advocate
With eight other men he formed the Somerset County Committee of Correspondence in 1774 and he was elected to the New Jersey Provincial Congress. In June 1776, he was chosen as one of New Jersey’s delegates to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. He became one of the most forceful proponents of the Declaration of Independence, the only minister and the only college president among the fifty-six signers. He signed the Articles of Confederation and was selected in 1787 to attend the New Jersey ratifying convention for the Constitution.
“To preside over that College, methinks is a province worthy of an Angel!”
Benjamin Rush 1767
After the death of Samuel Finley in 1766, the Trustees of the College of New Jersey sought a new president who could not only lead academically and theologically, but who could also reconcile philosophical divisions in the church. Witherspoon was elected by the Trustees and prevailed upon in formal correspondence in 1767 to “obey the Call” from America. While he deliberated, Benjamin Rush, then a medical student at the University of Edinburgh, and attorney Richard Stockton, then in London on business, paid him personal visits. This was primarily to appeal to his wife, Elizabeth, who eventually consented. They sailed from Greenock on the brig
Once installed as president, Witherspoon proceeded to put the College on a secure financial footing and undertook academic reforms. He introduced the method of teaching by lecture and taught history, moral philosophy, composition and criticism. His students included James Madison and Aaron Burr, twelve cabinet officers, twenty-eight senators, forty-nine congressmen, three justices of the Supreme Court and twelve state governors. He presided over the College until his death, with the increasing assistance after 1779 of his son-in-law, Samuel Stanhope Smith. He died at Tusculum in 1794.
[ Dedication Plaque : ]
Marker series. This marker is included in the Signers of the Declaration of Independence marker series.
Location. 40° 20.936′ N, 74° 39.453′ Touch for map. Marker is on the grounds of Princeton University, in firestone plaza, north of Nassau Hall. Marker is in this post office area: Princeton NJ 08542, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Joseph Henry House (about 400 feet away, measured in a direct line); Princeton University (about 500 feet away); Princeton Speech (about 500 feet away); Nassau Hall (about 500 feet away); Bainbridge House (about 500 feet away); Washington’s Route from Princeton to Morristown (about 500 feet away); 250th Anniversary of Princeton University (about 600 feet away); Reunion Hall (about 700 feet away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Princeton.
Also see . . . Biography of John Witherspoon. (Submitted on July 21, 2011, by Bill Coughlin of North Arlington, New Jersey.)
Categories. • Education • War, US Revolutionary •
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. This page originally submitted on July 21, 2011, by Bill Coughlin of North Arlington, New Jersey. This page has been viewed 624 times since then and 13 times this year. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. submitted on July 21, 2011, by Bill Coughlin of North Arlington, New Jersey.