Bullet-Point Bio: John Witherspoon 

• John Witherspoon was born on February 5, 1722 in Gifford Scotland.  He was the oldest child of Reverend James Witherspoon and Anne Walker.

• He attended the Haddington Grammar School, and in 1739 he received his Master of Arts from the University of Edinburgh.

• Witherspoon was very much against the Roman Catholic Jacobite rising that occurred in 1745-1746.  Because of that, when the Battle of Falkirk happened and the Jacobites won the battle, he was briefly imprisoned at Doune Castle.

• His time of imprisonment at Doune Castle had a long-term effect on his health.

• In 1745, He became a Presbyterian minister in Beith, Ayrshire until 1758.

• During his time of being a minister, he married Elizabeth Montgomery.  They had a total of 10 children.

• Then, from 1758-1768, he became a minister of the Laigh kirk, Paisley.

• Through all his time in ministry, Witherspoon wrote three works on theology.

• In 1764 he was awarded an honorary doctorate degree in divinity by the University of St. Andrews.

• In 1766, Witherspoon was invited by Benjamin Rush and Richard Stockton to become President and head professor of the small Presbyterian College of New Jersey but Witherspoon declined the offer.  Two years later, Rush and Stockton invited him again and this time he accepted the position.

• In 1768, Witherspoon and his family moved from Scotland to New Jersey.  He became the 6th president of the College, which later became known as Princeton University.

• When Witherspoon arrived at the college, he found it in poor condition – both financially and in education.  He was very active in bettering the college, and as a result was extremely well-liked by everyone because of all his efforts for the school.

• While Witherspoon was extremely interested and active in the ministry, he turned the college from training mainly clergymen to actively preparing new leaders for the country.

• Several students from his college who later went on to play prominent roles were James Madison, Aaron Burr, Philip Freneau and William Bradford.

• Witherspoon came to support the American War for Independence by joining the Committee of Correspondence after he realized the British were growing in their interference with local colonial affairs, which he considered were the rights of the American authorities.

• In 1776, he preached a sermon title “The Dominion of Providence over the Passions of Men” which became very popular during that time.  He was also elected to the Continental Congress that year.

• Witherspoon served in Congress from 1776 to 1782 and was one of the most influential and active members, as he was involved in over 100 committees during his time in Congress.

• He was one of the New Jersey signers of the Declaration of Independence.  He later signed the Articles of Confederation as well.

• Witherspoon was forced to close and evacuate the College of New Jersey in 1776 as the British approached the college.  The college was damaged during the war and Witherspoon went on to repair it with his own finances.

• In 1792 Witherspoon suffered eye injuries and became blind.  He died two years later and was buried in Presidents Row in Princeton Cemetery.




Signers of the Declaration of Independence

Photo credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3APeale%2C_Charles_Willson%2C_John_Witherspoon_(1723-1794)%2C_President_(1768-94).jpg

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