Guide to the Papers of John Witherspoon Minister and President of the College of New Jersey 1766-ca. 1841 MG 58


Descriptive Summary
Biographical Note
Scope and Content Note
Access Points
Related Material
Administrative Information

Container List

Letters and Biographies

Guide to the Papers of John WitherspoonMinister and President of the College of New Jersey
Minister and President of the College of New Jersey
1766-ca. 1841MG 58
MG 58

The New Jersey Historical Society52 Park Place
Newark, New Jersey 07102
Contact: NJHS Library
(973) 596-8500 x249
© 2004 All rights reserved.
The New Jersey Historical Society, Publisher
Inventory prepared by Stephen Yautz as part of the “Farm to City” project funded by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.Finding aid encoded by Danielle Kovacs. February 2004. Production of the EAD 2002 version of this finding aid was made possible by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Finding aid written in English.

Descriptive Summary

Creator: John Witherspoon
Title: John Witherspoon Papers
Dates: 1766-ca. 1841
Abstract: Contains the papers of John Witherspoon covering the years 1766 to circa 1841, including letters and two biographies of
Quantity: 0.17 linear feet (34 items in 6 folders)
Collection Number: MG 58

Biographical Note

John Witherspoon was born on February 5, 1723, in Gifford, Haddingtonshire, Scotland. Trained in Great Britain as a Presbyterian
minister, he was offered the presidency of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) in 1768.

Upon his arrival at the College of New Jersey, Witherspoon implemented radical changes in the curriculum. Since most of his
years of learning were spent in Scotland, he came to embrace the principles of the Scottish Enlightenment, which focused more
on scientific inquiry, or “common sense” approach, in the study of theology, rather than espousing the concept of divine grace,
or revelation, in theological teaching that was advocated at the College of New Jersey under the leadership of Jonathan Edwards.
Rather than dismissing the ideals that Edwards taught to the students, Witherspoon reconciled the concept of divine revelation
with the ideals of the Scottish Enlightenment.

However, Witherspoon did not confine his activities to the College of New Jersey; he became one of the most outspoken supporters
of the revolutionary cause, even before the colonies and the British fired the first shots of war in 1775. His radical outlook
influenced the college’s students there, including James Madison and Aaron Burr. In 1776, Witherspoon was sent by the State
of New Jersey as a delegate to the Continental Congress. Later that year, he signed the Declaration of Independence as one
of the delegates representing New Jersey. His political activities were not confined to the national level; he was elected
as member of the New Jersey State Legislature for a term of one year in 1783.

Witherspoon remained a fixture at the College of New Jersey, retaining the presidency until his death in 1794, despite his
affliction with blindness in the last two years of his life. John Witherspoon is buried at Princeton Cemetery in Princeton,
New Jersey.

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Scope and Content Note

This collection contains the papers of John Witherspoon spanning the years 1766 to circa 1841, including letters and two
biographies of Witherspoon.

The papers contain Witherspoon’s incoming letters, dating from 1766 to 1784. Correspondents are as follows: Benjamin Bury
Collins, John Erskine, Anna Hogg, Charles Nisbet, John Rodgers, Benjamin Rush, William P. Smith, Richard Stockton, and Archibald
Wallace. Also included are copies of letters from Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, Thomas Randall, and John Wallace. The letters
from 1766 to 1768 mostly pertain to Witherspoon’s appointment as President of the College of New Jersey; the letters from
later dates deal mostly with College of New Jersey business. Benjamin Franklin, in his letter to Witherspoon in 1784, could
not offer financial assistance to the College of New Jersey, stating that “I cannot give you any expectation in… obtaining
benefactions for your College,” reasoning that he could not “hurt the credit of responsibility we wish to maintain in Europe
by representing the United States as too poor to provide for the education of their own children.”

Additionally, Witherspoon’s outgoing letters are part of the papers, covering the years 1767 to 1784. Correspondents are Charles
Nisbet, Richard Stockton, and Archibald Wallace.

Incoming letters belonging to Richard Stockton are also included, dating from 1767 to 1768. The subject matter of these letters
pertains to Witherspoon’s appointment as President of the College of New Jersey.

The collection contains, too, a manuscript volume by Ashbel Green entitled The Life of John Witherspoon. The volume, composed around the year 1840 or 1841, includes a biography of Witherspoon and a review of Witherspoon’s writings.
Finally, the October 1829 issue of the Edinburgh Christian Instructor, contains a biography of Witherspoon apparently written by Thomas Crichton.

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This collection is arranged alphabetically by type of document and chronologically therein.

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Access Restrictions

There are no access restrictions on this collection.

Photocopying of materials is limited and no materials may be photocopied without permission from library staff.

Use Restrictions

Researchers wishing to publish, reproduce, or reprint materials from this collection must obtain permission.

The New Jersey Historical Society complies with the copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code), which
governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions and protects unpublished materials as well as published materials.

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Access Points

The entries below represent persons, organizations, topics, forms, and occupations documented in this collection.
Subject Names:
Crichton, Thomas.
Erskine, John, fl. 1766-1784.
Franklin, Benjamin, 1706-1790.
Green, Ashbel, 1762-1848.
Hogg, Anna, fl. 1766-1784.
Jay, John, 1745-1829.
Nisbet, Charles, 1736-1804.
Randall, Thomas, 1711-1780.
Rodgers, John, 1727-1811.
Rush, Benjamin, 1746-1813.
Smith, William P., fl. 1766-1784.
Stockton, Richard, 1730-1781.
Wallace, Archibald, fl. 1766-1784.
Wallace, John, fl. 1766-1784.
Witherspoon, John, 1723-1794.
Subject Organizations:
Princeton University
Subject Topics:
Postsecondary education–New Jersey.
Presbyterian Church–Clergy.
Subject Places:
New Jersey–History–Revolution, 1775-1783.
Princeton (N.J.)–History.
Document Types:
Letters (correspondence)
Subject Occupations
Clergy–New Jersey.
Educators–New Jersey.

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Related Material

For material in print on the College of New Jersey (Princeton University) and John Witherspoon, see:

Noll, Mark A. Princeton and the Republic, 1768-1822: The Search for a Christian Enlightenment in the Era of Samuel Stanhope Smith. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1989.

For related collections on John Witherspoon at other institutions, see:

Collection Number 274, John Witherspoon Papers, Manuscripts and Archives Division, Princeton University Library.

Collection Number 117, Office of the President Records, University Archives, Princeton University Library.

For related collections at the New Jersey Historical Society, see:

Manuscript Group 34, Aaron Burr Papers

Manuscript Group 46, New Jersey Legislature Minutes

Manuscript Group 365, Princeton, New Jersey Papers

Manuscript Group 959, John Nelson Abeel Papers

Manuscript Group 964, James Sproat Green Manuscript

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Administrative Information

Custodial History

The source of this collection is unknown.

Preferred Citation

This collection should be cited as: Manuscript Group 58, John Witherspoon Papers, The New Jersey Historical Society.

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Container List

Letters and Biographies

Box Folder Title Date
1 1 Incoming Letters: Richard Stockton (2) 1767-1768
1 2 Incoming Letters: John Witherspoon (14) 1766-1768
1 3 Incoming Letters: John Witherspoon (12) 1784
1 4 Outgoing Letters: John Witherspoon (5) 1767-1784
1 5 Manuscript: The Life of John Witherspoon by Ashbel Green [ca. 1840-1841]
1 6 Periodical: The Edinburgh Christian Instructor, containing the “Memoir of the Life and Writings of John Witherspoon, D.D.” 1829 Oct

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