April 10, 2002: From the Editor

Our cover feature in this issue tells the story of some of the many alumni working to revitalize Newark. Princeton’s connection to the city goes way, way back — 255 years, to be exact. In October 1747, Jonathan Dickinson, who had been running the college from his Elizabethtown parsonage since May of the same year, died. Aaron Burr, Sr., the Presbyterian parson of nearby Newark, agreed to carry on Dickinson’s work, and moved the handful of students to his parsonage in the city. According to the indispensable Princeton Companion, Burr was inaugurated as the college’s second president in his Newark church at Commencement on November 9, 1748, at which he delivered a 45-minute Latin address to Princeton’s first six graduates.

Burr was an energetic and brilliant man. Ezra Stiles, a president of Yale, called him “a small man as to body, but of great and well improved mind . . . pious and agreeable, facetious and sociable; the eminent Christian and every way the worthy man.” Burr taught the students himself, with the help of one and then two tutors, first in the parsonage and then in courtrooms above the county jail. While nurturing the school, he also found time to woo — during a three-day visit to her home in Stockbridge, Massachusetts — and marry — in 1752 in Newark — one of the daughters of revivalist preacher Jonathan Edwards.

For seven years Burr continued as both pastor and president. He drew up entrance requirements, the first course of study, and the first regulations for students. In 1755, he was finally relieved of his ministerial duties so that he could concentrate on the college — most significantly, the construction of Nassau Hall.

In November 1756, Burr, two tutors, and 70 students moved into the new building in Princeton, ending the college’s nine-year residence in Newark — and removing the students from the “various temptations attending a promiscuous converse with the world,” which Burr found in the city, according to Raymond Rhinehart *69’s Princeton: The Campus Guide (Princeton Architectural Press, 1999). Less than a year later, Burr died. His son, one year old when his father died, graduated with distinction from Princeton in 1772 at age 16, became vice president of the U.S. in 1801, and killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel in 1804.

Burr, Sr., is memorialized on campus in Aaron Burr Hall, designed in 1891 by Richard Morris Hunt. The solid brick building is a fitting tribute to the frugal Presbyterian, who once wrote, “We do everything in the plainest and cheapest manner, having no superfluous Ornaments,” but who nonetheless brought Princeton to life.


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