Cowell, David

Cowell, David (1704-1760), a Presbyterian minister of Trenton, N.J., was a hard-working trustee of the college in its early years and served briefly as acting president in 1757-1758. ``Few invested with the same trust,'' said President Davies, ``discharged it with so much zeal, diligence and alacrity.'' Cowell graduated from Harvard in 1732 and three years later was voted his M.A. in absentia, ``he being far distant preaching the Gospel at New Jersey.''

Unable to support himself by the contributions of his parishioners, ``he gave some part of his time,'' Davies said, ``to the study and practice of physic [medicine], in which he made no inconsiderable figure.''

Cowell was named a trustee of the College in the charter of 1748, and it was he who was commissioned by the Board of Trustees to carry its thanks to Governor Belcher for ``granting so ample and well-contrived a charter.'' He promoted a lottery for the College and, since New Jersey refused to sanction it, persuaded a Harvard classmate who lived in Stamford to manage the drawing in Connecticut, where lotteries were permitted. He conducted the negotiations that led to Samuel Davies's acceptance of the Board's invitation to become fourth president of the College. Sibley's Harvard Graduates quotes from one of Cowell's letters to Davies, observing that Cowell ``was describing the college at Princeton in terms unlike those since employed by other Harvard men'':

``The College ought to be esteemed of as much importance to the interests of religion and liberty as any other institution of the kind in America. God, at first, in a most remarkable manner owned and blessed it. It was the Lord's doing. He erected it; for our beginning was nothing. He carried it on till it was marvelous in our eyes.''


From Alexander Leitch, A Princeton Companion, copyright Princeton University Press (1978).

Go to Search A Princeton Companion