WITHERSPOON, John (1723-1794)

WITHERSPOON, JOHN, a Delegate from New Jersey; born in Gifford, Haddingtonshire, Scotland, February 5, 1723; completed preparatory studies; was graduated from Edinburgh University in 1739; studied theology at Edinburgh; was licensed in 1743 and ordained minister of the parish of Beith in 1745; was the author of various religious pamphlets; installed pastor at Paisley June 16, 1757; moderator of the synod of Glasgow and Ayr in 1758; became president of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) in 1768; member of the committee on correspondence from Somerset County July 28, 1775; member of the Provincial Congress of New Jersey from June 10 to June 22, 1776; Member of the Continental Congress from 1776-1782; a signer of the Declaration of Independence; member of the secret committee of the Congress on the conduct of the war and member of the board of war in 1778; member of the State council in 1780; drafted the instructions of June 1781 to the American peace commissioners; served in the State general assembly in 1783 and 1789; member of the State ratification convention in 1787; after the war returned to Princeton, where he continued his duties as president; died on his farm near Princeton, N.J., November 15, 1794; interment in the Princeton Cemetery, Princeton, N.J.

Library of Congress
Manuscript Collection
Washington, DC
Papers: 1758-1783, 200 items.
The papers of John Witherspoon include correspondence, sermons, and notes.

Papers: In the Read Family Papers, ca. 1568-1906, 2 linear feet.
Correspondents include John Witherspoon.

Papers: In the Charles Simms Papers, 1731-1822, approximately 1,100 items.
Correspondents include John Witherspoon.

Papers: In the Henry A. Willard II Collection, ca. 1743-1888, 0.8 linear foot.
Correspondents include John Witherspoon.


The Copley Press
J.S. Copley Library
La Jolla, CA
Papers: 1777, 1 page.
A letter from John Witherspoon to Captain Joseph Blewer written on February 3, 1777. In the letter, Witherspoon introduces John Kitters for appointment as regimental paymaster by the Council of Safety. Signed also by Robert Smith.


Massachusetts Historical Society
Boston, MA
Papers: In the William Livingston Family Papers, 1695-1788, 2 boxes, 11 narrow boxes, 4 volumes, and 2 oversize folders.
Correspondents include John Witherspoon.


New Jersey Historical Society Library
Newark, NJ
Papers: 1766-1784, 32 items.
The papers of John Witherspoon include correspondence between and Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, Benjamin Rush, Richard Stockton, and others, concerning his acceptance of the presidency of the College of New Jersey and his fundraising visit to Great Britain (1784); ms. biography of Witherspoon by Ashbel Green (1762-1848); and annotated copy of Thomas Crichton's Memoir of the Life and Writings of John Wither-spoon, D.D.

Papers: ca. 1766-1841, 34 items.
The papers of John Witherspoon include incoming letters, dating from 1766 to 1784, as well as two biographies of Witherspoon.


Presbyterian Historical Society
Philadelphia, PA
Papers: 1784, 2 pages.
A letter from Benjamin Franklin to Rev. Dr. John Witherspoon written on April 5, 1784. In the letter, Franklin Urges against soliciting in Europe for funds for the College of New Jersey; refers to a similar, failed campaign by Dartmouth the previous year.


Princeton University
Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections
Princeton, NJ
Papers: ca 1763, 1 volume.
A manuscript notebook of James Witherspoon’s containing sermon notes and outlines, notes about acquisition of books for his library, financial accounts of travel expenses to Glasgow and Edinburgh, personal memoranda kept by Witherspoon while he was a Presbyterian minister in Paisley, Scotland, and notes pertaining to his legal and financial difficulties in the years 1762-1764 resulting from accusations that he made against one John Snodgrass (possibly John Snodgrass,1744-1797) and friends for drunken profanity, sacrilegious celebration, and immoral conduct.

Papers: 1768, 1 volume.
A diary and account book, kept by John Witherspoon, while at Princeton, dated 1768. Text written throughout a printed almanac titled "Edinburgh Almanack for the year M, dcc, lxviii,"

Papers: In the Princeton University Land Records, ca. 1752-1976, 0.83 linear foot.
Persons represented include John Witherspoon.

Papers: In the Hugh Simm Collection, ca. 1748-1810, 1.4 linear foot.
Correspondents include John Witherspoon.


Rosenbach Museum and Library
Philadephia, PA
Papers: 1787, 2 pages.
A letter from John Witherspoon to William Blount and Benjamin Hawkins written on February 19, 1787. In the letter, Witherspoon, who had been asked to select a teacher for the new academy at Hillsborough, N.C., refers his choice to the North Carolina Congressional delegates for assistance in arranging an advance on his salary to pay the expenses of his trip.

Papers: 1790, 1 item.
A letter from John Witherspoon to Charles Lee written on July 1, 1790. In the letter, Witherspoon, President of Princeton, in financial straits himself, seeks repayment of loans he has made for Lee's brother's board and tuition.

Papers: In the Signers of the Declaration of Independence Autograph Collection, 1756-1818, 56 items.
Other authors include John Witherspoon.


University of Pennsylvania
Annenberg Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Philadelphia, PA
Papers: 1779, 1 item.
A letter from John Witherspoon to William Woodford written on November 8, 1779. In the letter, Witherspoon writes to General Woodford that Woodford's son has arrived safely in Philadelphia and that he is being taken care of. Includes an engraving of Witherspoon from "Illman & Pilbrow Sc."

Papers: In the Benjamin Rush Papers, 1767 and 1783, 0.02 cubic foot.
The collections includes a letter and transcription from Benjamin Rush to John Witherspoon regarding his presidency of the College of New Jersey.


University of Virginia
Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library
Charlottesville, VA
Papers: In the Albert H. Small Declaration of Independence Collection, 1776, 2 items.
The papers include a letter from and an engraving of John Witherspoon.

  • Bartley, David D. "John Witherspoon and the Right of Resistance," Ph. D. diss., Ball State University, 1989.
  • Butterfield, Lyman Henry. John Witherspoon Comes to America; A Documentary Account Based Largely on New Materials. Princeton: Princeton University Library, 1953.
  • Collins, Varnum Lansing. President Witherspoon, A Biography. 2 vols. Princeton: Princeton University, 1925.
  • Willson, John. John Witherspoon and the Presbyterian Constitution. Editorial director, Joseph S. McNamara. Hillsdale, Mich.: Hillsdale College Press, 1994.
  • Witherspoon, John. Address to the Inhabitants of Jamaica: And Other West-India Islands, in Behalf of the College of New-Jersey. Philadelphia: Printed by William and Thomas Bradford, 1772.
  • ___. An Annotated Edition of Lectures on Moral Philosophy. Edited by Jack Scott. Newark: University of Delaware Press; London: Associated University Presses, 1982.
  • ___. Christian Magnanimity: A Sermon, Preached at Princeton, September, 1775, the Sabbath Preceeding [sic] the Annual Commencement, and Again with additions, September 23, 1787: To Which is Added an Address to the Senior Class, Who Were to Receive the Degree of Bachelor of Arts. Princeton: Printed by James Tod, 1787.
  • ___. Ecclesiastical Characteristics, or, The Arcana of Church Policy: Being an Humble Attempt to Open the Mystery of Moderation: Wherein is Shewn [sic] a Plain and Easy Way of Attaining to the Character of a Moderate Man, as at Present in Repute in the Church of Scotland. 1754. Reprint, Philadelphia: W. and T. Bradford, 1767.
  • ___. A Series of Letters on Courtship and Marriage. To Which are Added, Witherspoon's Letters on Marriage. -- Mrs. Piozzi's Letter to a Gentleman Newly Married. -- Swift's Letter to a Newly Married Lady, etc. Springfield: Printed by F. Stebbins for C. Davis, Bookseller, New-York, [179-?].