Did Your Revolutionary Ancestor Know This Declaration Signer?

John Witherspoon signed the Declaration of Independence

John Witherspoon, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was born in Scotland, and came to America in 1768, to assume the presidency of Princeton University.

Witherspoon, who had graduated from the University of Edinburgh, and received an honorary doctorate from St. Andrews , was a leader of the evangelical party of the Church of Scotland and an ordained minister. When he came to America he brought his wife, five children and 300 books for the college library.

Upon the family’s arrival in Princeton, the students met him a mile outside town, and celebrated by putting a lighted candle in each window of Nassau Hall.

Witherspoon was a supporter of liberty, and when John Adams met him in 1774, he pronounced the Scotsman “as high a Son of Liberty, as any Man in America.”

During his service as a New Jersey representative to the Continental Congress, Witherspoon attempted to keep Princeton in session, and became a frequent traveler between Philadelphia and Princeton. He resigned from Congress in 1782, when victory in the war seemed certain. Unfortunately, the war cost him his son, James, who was killed at Germantown.

After the war, Witherspoon was a member of the ratifying convention, and was instrumental in New Jersey ratifying that document. In 1789, he opened the first General Assembly with a sermon.

How might you weave Witherspoon’s story into your own Revolutionary ancestor story?

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