REV. JOHN WITHERSPOON
SIGNER, DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE
BORN FEBRUARY 5, 1722
DIED NOVEMBER 15, 1794
On this day, the 4th of July, it is good to remember that our independence from Great Britain was not assured. At the beginning of the war only about a third of the colonists favored separation from good Old King George III and we were up against the best-trained, most well-equiped army in all of Europe. But those patriots who favored it were fervent in their belief and steadfast in their resolve and eventually a majority of the colonists came along.
There were colonists like the Reverend John Witherspoon, a fairly recent immigrant from Scotland, who favored independence and, in fact, advocated it from the pulpit. Witherspoon was the only active minister to sit in the Continental Congress and to sign the Declaration of Independence. During the rousing debate about the Declaration, Witherspoon said in a floor speech in favor that the colonies were “not only ripe for the measure but in danger of rotting for the want of it.”
Witherspoon was at the time a minister but also the President of the College of New Jersey which later became Princeton University. During the Revolutionary War Witherspoon’s hatred of the British increased as the war dragged on. His son, James, was killed in the Battle of Germantown, Pennsylvania. In addition his beloved college was occupied by British. They took control of the main building, Nassau Hall, and burned the library. After the British evacuated Nassau Hall became a hospital to treat wounded soldiers.
Even after the conclusion of the War, Witherspoon remained active in politics. He participated in the New Jersey Convention that ratified the U.S. Constitution.
In 1791, at the ripe old age of 68, Witherspoon married again, this time to a 24-year old widow, who bore him two more children. He died in 1794 and his body was laid to rest in the President’s Lot in the Princeton Cemetery.