Biography and History

William Churchill Houston was born in South Carolina in 1746. He came to New Jersey for the purpose of attending the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University). He graduated from the College in 1768 and became master of the College's grammar school. In 1771, the College's trustees appointed Houston to the newly created post of Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy. He remained on the faculty until 1783. He also served as deputy secretary to the Continental Congress in 1775 and 1776.

Houston joined the Somerset County militia when British forces arrived in Princeton. The militia elected him captain of the Second Regiment of Foot in February of 1776, but Houston resigned from the position shortly afterward, feeling it was more important to attend to his duties on campus while President John Witherspoon was attending the Continental Congress. While helping to maintain the College during the war, he also represented Somerset County in the New Jersey General Assembly. Houston resigned from the General Assembly in May of 1779 when he was elected to serve as a representative of New Jersey to the Continental Congress. He served regularly until 1781, when he first became ill with tuberculosis, and then intermittently until 1785. Houston involved himself mostly in fiscal issues, commenting extensively on taxation. While serving in Congress, Houston used his spare time to study law with Richard Stockton. He was admitted to the New Jersey bar in 1781 and was appointed clerk of the Supreme Court of New Jersey shortly thereafter.

In April of 1782, Superintendent of Finance of the United States Robert Morris appointed Houston receiver of Continental taxes in New Jersey. State receivers were responsible for coordinating tax collection in the state and facilitating payment to Congress. It was also around this time that Houston settled in Trenton and began to build his private law practice, litigating cases in Burlington, Hunterdon, and Monmouth counties. As Houston began to expand his legal practice and scale back his Congressional duties, his tuberculosis worsened. The New Jersey legislature elected Houston to serve as one of its delegates at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. However, he had a very limited role due to his illness and was not able to sign the United States Constitution. Houston died on August 12, 1788.

Source: From the finding aid for C0315

  • William Churchill Houston Papers. 1731-1807 (inclusive), 1782-1793 (bulk).

    Call Number: C0315

    William Churchill Houston was a professor at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), a lawyer, and a statesman. He was a New Jersey delegate to the Continental Convention and the Continental Congress. The collection documents his legal career and his tenure as receiver for Continental taxes in New Jersey.