Who founded Princeton University and when?
The founding of Princeton University is nearly as complex as the courses
that have been and continue to be taught within its hallowed lecture halls.
The College of New Jersey (as Princeton University was known until 1896)
was a child of the Great Awakening, an institution born in opposition
to the religious tenets that had ruled the colonial era.
The principles on which Princeton University was founded may be traced
to the Log College in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, founded by William Tennent
in 1726. Tennent was a Presbyterian minister who, along with fellow evangelists
Theodorus Jacobus Frelinghuysen, Jonathan Edwards, Samuel Davies, and
George Whitefield of England, preached and taught an approach to religion
and life that was the very essence of the Great Awakening period. The
seven founders of the College of New Jersey were all Presbyterians, with
Ebenezer Pemberton, a minister and a graduate of Harvard, the only one
of the seven who did not graduate from Yale. The remaining six included
Jonathan Dickinson, Aaron Burr Sr., and John Pierson, who were ministers;
William Smith, a lawyer; Peter Van Brugh Livingston, a merchant; and
William Peartree Smith.
The aforementioned seven approached Governor Lewis Morris in late 1745
or early 1746 seeking a charter for a college that would, in time, become
Princeton University. Governor Morris, an Anglican and a Loyalist, refused
the charter because of the applicants' anti-Anglican views and beliefs.
Soon afterwards, Governor Morris died and John Hamilton became Acting
Governor of New Jersey. Hamilton was also an Anglican but more liberal-minded
than his predecessor. Furthermore, the proposed college had won the support
of several members of the Governor's Council. Accordingly, the petitioners
resubmitted their request for a charter, and Governor Hamilton granted
their wish on October 22, 1746, the date that Princeton University celebrates
as its founding.
Once the charter was secured, the seven petitioners became trustees of
the College of New Jersey and named five others, including Samuel Blair,
Samuel Finley, Gilbert Tennent, William Tennent, Jr., all graduates of
the Log College, and Richard Treat, a supporter of the Log College, to
the new board. The trustees elected Jonathan Dickinson the first president
of the College on April 27, 1747, and classes began in May at Dickinson's
parsonage in Elizabethtown. Upon Dickinson's death in October 1747, the
College moved to Newark, where its second president, Aaron Burr, Sr. resided.
The College was only in its infancy when the charter and its validity
began to be questioned by many influential Anglicans who contended that
Governor Hamilton, an "acting governor," did not have the authority
to grant such a charter. Governor Jonathan Belcher, a graduate of Harvard
and a supporter of the ideals of the Great Awakening, issued a second
charter on September 14, 1748. Governor Belcher's charter upheld the fundamental
characteristics of the first. His, however, enlarged the Board of Trustees
from 12 to 23 and included the governor of New Jersey as
an ex-officio trustee.
It was Aaron Burr, Sr. who turned the founding ideals of the College
into a reality during his tenure as its president (1748-1757). President
Burr presided over initial decisions on such matters as entrance requirements
and the course of study, as well as overseeing the move of the College
from Newark to Princeton in 1756. Four wealthy landowners in Princeton
helped to secure the move. Together, John Stockton, Thomas Leonard, John
Hornor, and Nathaniel FitzRandolph gave 211.5 acres of land as well as
monetary contributions. Nassau Hall was built on 4.5 acres of land donated
by FitzRandolph. Nassau Hall, when completed in 1756, was the largest
stone building in the colonies and was admired by all who entered its
doors, including the seventy students and two tutors who, with President
Burr, comprised the small beginnings of a great institution.
Historical Subject Files Collection, 1746-2005
Leitch, Alexander. A Princeton Companion. (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1978). Also available online.
Tad Bennicoff (2003)
Tuesday, 24-Apr-2012 14:06:32 EDT