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Collection Overview

Witherspoon, John, 1723-1794
Princeton University. Library. Special Collections
John Witherspoon Collection
Manuscripts Division
Permanent URL:
1765-1903 (mostly 1767-1790)
4 boxes
Storage Note:
  • Firestone Library (scamss): Box 1-4


Consists of selected manuscripts, correspondence, and documents of John Witherspoon, who was sixth president of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) and a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Collection Description & Creator Information

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of selected manuscripts, correspondence, and documents of Witherspoon, as well as material about him. Among the manuscripts are a Latin address (1783) to the trustees at Princeton, a Latin oration (1794), and fragments of a sermon (undated). There are receipts (1779) for four Scottish prisoners-of-war, for whom Witherspoon made himself accountable; over twenty letters (1767-1768) by Witherspoon to Benjamin Rush, who was then a medical student in Edinburgh, Scotland; and letters to John Bayard, Henry Lee, James Madison, Jonathan Sergeant, George Washington, and others. One letter (1787) to St. George Tucker discusses Witherspoon's theory of education and the establishment of a grammar school. A signed circular letter (1784) to the Presbytery of New Brunswick seeks funding support in order to deal with consequences of the American Revolution on the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) campus. Also included are receipts and bills from the Treasurer's Office of the College of New Jersey, two deeds, and notes taken by Abel Johnson (Princeton Class of 1784) of Witherspoon's history lectures. There are also documents regarding a case filed by Witherspoon in a court in the City of New York, dated 4 June 1793, against Lewis Morris for money owed to Witherspoon.

Additional accessions include material of John Witherspoon as well as material of members of his family. Included are letters by Witherspoon--one to his son David, another addressed "To the Public" (1774), and a letter to Aaron Burr--and material related to the legal suit of Witherspoon vs. Lewis Morris. There are deeds for land signed by Witherspoon's second wife, Ann, to satisfy debts against his estate. Also among the additions are some correspondence of his daughter Marianne Witherspoon Woods and her children, John Witherspoon Woods, Francis W. Woods, James S. Woods, and Margaret J. Woods, a receipt of Witherspoon's son David, and correspondence of other members of his family.

Collection Creator Biography:

Witherspoon, John, 1723-1794

Born at Gifford, Scotland, in 1723, and a descendant of John Knox, John Witherspoon became the leader of the conservative group of the Church of Scotland. Persuaded by Benjamin Rush and Richard Stockton, both trustees of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), to come to America, he became the sixth president of the College of New Jersey (1768 to 1794) as well as a member of the Continental Congress (1776-1782) and the only active clergyman or college president to sign the Declaration of Independence. Witherspoon also helped organize Nassau Presbyterian Church in Princeton, New Jersey.

Collection History


Letters from Potter to Davis and Ewing are a gift og F.S. Acton. Letter to Van Dyke is a gift of Clement R. Hoopes. Notes on Witherspoon lectures are a gift of Thomas A. Gleason. Letters and Portrait of Witherspoon are a gift of Harold T. Shapiro. The remainder purchased in 1978-2010.


No appraisal information is available.

Access & Use

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research use.

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. For instances beyond Fair Use, 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:

John Witherspoon Collection; Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Permanent URL:
Firestone Library
One Washington Road
Princeton, NJ 08544, USA
(609) 258-3184
Storage Note:
  • Firestone Library (scamss): Box 1-4

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Existence and Location of Originals

One box of the collection consists entirely of photocopies of correspondence, documents, and other papers, the originals of which can be found in the collection, the Library of Congress, the Presbyterian Historical Society, and other locations.

Subject Terms:
Clergy -- New Jersey -- Princeton -- 18th century.
Genre Terms:
Correspondence -- New Jersey -- 18th century.
Deeds -- New Jersey -- Princeton -- 18th century.
Documents -- 18th century.
Family papers -- 18th century.
Receipts -- 18th century.
College of New Jersey (Princeton, N.J.)
Presbyterian church in the U.S.A.
Princeton University
Rush, Benjamin, 1746-1813
Princeton (N.J.) -- History -- 18th century -- Sources.