Contents and Arrangement

Series 6: John Witherspoon Records, 1772-1996

4 boxes
Restrictions may apply. See Access Note.

Collection Overview

Collection Description & Creator Information

Scope and Contents

John Witherspoon arrived in America from Scotland in 1768 having been persuaded by the trustees and then medical student Benjamin Rush to assume the presidency of the College of New Jersey. After declining initially, Witherspoon, a graduate of the University of Edinburgh, became one of the most popular and influential presidents in Princeton University's history. Witherspoon served not only Princeton, but also the nascent United States as a member of the Continental Congress. During Witherspoon's tenure the College weathered the turmoil caused by the American Revolution: Nassau Hall sustained heavy damage, enrollment declined, and finances were precarious. In the wake of this conflict, Witherspoon's preaching tours increased enrollment, particularly from the southern United States, and he broadened the curriculum by his emphasis on English grammar and composition. He also obtained needed instruments of instruction such as books for the library and apparatus for scientific study (such as the Rittenhouse Orrery). Witherspoon advocated a well-rounded clergy, emphasizing the liberal education of students, rather than just religious instruction. It was his aspiration to produce men who would not only make exceptional clerics, but also outstanding statesmen. Witherspoon instructed many students who became notable for their contributions to state and federal government, including James Madison, Aaron Burr, Jr., William Smith Livingston, Andrew Kirkpatrick, and Ashbel Green. Part of Witherspoon's popularity and influence with both students and politicians derived from his ability to discuss the merits of contesting views, while using reason to reach an ultimate conclusion.

This series is arranged topically and contains biographical, genealogical, and post- mortem documents, as well as information about Witherspoon's years at the College of New Jersey, including original letters. Information concerning Witherspoon possessions donated to the College and Tusculum, his home one mile north of the College, is also present, as are business papers, including an account of repairs completed at the College, trustee accounts, and receipts. This series contains several pamphlets and sermons referencing Witherspoon, as well as Varnum Lansing Collins's notes for his book, President Witherspoon: A Biography. There are a significant number of images in this series, including portraits, photographs of cameos and statues, and views of Tusculum and St. George's Church in Paisley, Scotland, the town where Witherspoon ministered prior to coming to Princeton.


No arrangement action taken or arrangement information not recorded at the time of processing.

Collection History


No information on appraisal is available.


These papers were processed with the generous support of former Princeton University President Harold T. Shapiro, Charles Brothman '51, and the John Foster Dulles and Janet Avery Dulles Fund.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Carol V. Burke and Stacey C. Peeples in 2002. Finding aid written by Carol V. Burke and Stacey C. Peeples in 2002.

Access & Use

Conditions Governing Access

Materials generated by the office of the president are closed for 30 years from the date of their creation. Some records relating to personnel or students are closed for longer periods of time.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. To cite or publish quotations that fall within Fair Use, as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission is required. The Trustees of Princeton University hold copyright to all materials generated by Princeton University employees in the course of their work. For instances beyond Fair Use, if copyright is held by Princeton University, researchers do not need to obtain permission, complete any forms, or receive a letter to move forward with use of materials from the Princeton University Archives.

For instances beyond Fair Use where the copyright is not held by the University, while permission from the Library is not required, it is the responsibility of the researcher to determine whether any permissions related to copyright, privacy, publicity, or any other rights are necessary for their intended use of the Library's materials, and to obtain all required permissions from any existing rights holders, if they have not already done so. Princeton University Library's Special Collections does not charge any permission or use fees for the publication of images of materials from our collections, nor does it require researchers to obtain its permission for said use. The department does request that its collections be properly cited and images credited. More detailed information can be found on the Copyright, Credit and Citations Guidelines page on our website. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us through the Ask Us! form.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

For preservation reasons, original analog and digital media may not be read or played back in the reading room. Users may visually inspect physical media but may not remove it from its enclosure. All analog audiovisual media must be digitized to preservation-quality standards prior to use. Audiovisual digitization requests are processed by an approved third-party vendor. Please note, the transfer time required can be as little as several weeks to as long as several months and there may be financial costs associated with the process. Requests should be directed through the Ask Us Form.

Credit this material:

Series 6: John Witherspoon Records; Office of the President Records : Jonathan Dickinson to Harold W. Dodds Subgroup, AC117, Princeton University Archives, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library
Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library
65 Olden Street
Princeton, NJ 08540, USA
(609) 258-6345
Storage Note:
  • Mudd Manuscript Library (mudd): Boxes 2-4; 3A