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Jonathan Edwards succeeded his son-in- law, Aaron Burr, Sr., to become the third president of the College of New Jersey in September 1757. Edwards studied theology at Yale College, preached in the Presbyterian Church, and is remembered for his belief that only the truly converted should receive Communion, rather than all baptized persons. However, his proposal along these lines led to his dismissal from the Northampton, Massachusetts Presbyterian church in 1750, after which he passed his days serving as a missionary and writing with a passion. Edwards accepted the office of president with some reluctance but continued to preach actively from the College's pulpit. He died in March 1758 after being inoculated for smallpox, just six months into his tenure. His three sons and eight daughters survived him.
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Having declined the presidency of the College of New Jersey in 1758, Samuel Davies accepted it in 1759 with a reluctance akin to that of his predecessor, Jonathan Edwards. Davies, who thought that his successor, Samuel Finley, was the right man for the job, was urged to take the position, even though some of the College's trustees shared his high opinion of Finley. Born in 1724 in Summit Ridge, Delaware and educated both at home and in the Rev. Samuel Blair's seminary, Davies received his license to preach in 1746 in Newcastle, Delaware. Ordained the following year as an evangelist to Virginia, he went on to serve as the first moderator of the Presbytery of Hanover, encompassing all the Presbyterian ministers in Virginia and North Carolina. At the request of the trustees, Davies traveled to Great Britain with Gilbert Tennent in 1753 to raise funds for the College. Among other uses, the donations collected abroad served to fund the construction of Nassau Hall and the president's house. As president and professor at the College of New Jersey, he was renowned for his emphasis on public service.