RELIGION AND THE FOUNDING OF PRINCETON

Of all the religious revivals in American history, the Great Awakening of the early 1700s was among the most intense and influential. Evangelical, emotional, and marked by fiery preaching and dedication to piety, the Great Awakening had split the Presbyterian Church into two camps by the 1740s.

On the one hand were the conservative "Old Lights," who frowned on the emotional excesses of the Great Awakening. On the other were the New Lights, filled with zeal of the born-again. The College of New Jersey was born because of this split in the Presbyterian Church, a period called the Great Schism.

William Tennant's short-lived "Log College," INTRO,25
[33-44]
in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, was a hotbed of New Light advocacy, and a number of its graduates later played roles in the new College of New Jersey.

Led by the renowned ministers Jonathan Dickinson and Aaron Burr, Sr. , a group of prominent New Light moderates decided to establish a college that would be more sympathetic to the precepts of the Great Awakening than Harvard or Yale and that would train the ministers needed by the growing New Light congregations.

Eventually, they persuaded the acting governor of New Jersey, John Hamilton, to issue a charter for this institution. The charter was granted on 22 October 1746, and despite challenges from prominent Anglican politicians, who frowned on this new Presbyterian enterprise, the new college opened in Dickinson's parsonage in Elizabethtown [intro33]
the following May with Dickinson as its first president.

Although not a seminary and officially non-sectarian, the early College of New Jersey was a deeply moral and religious institution. Four of the seven founders of the College were Presbyterian ministers, as were five of the eight men on the committee that commissioned Nassau Hall. Students were subjected to stern Presbyterian oratory at chapel several times daily and mandatory morning services, a subject of special undergraduate loathing, sometimes started as early as five.

In its first decade, the College led a peripatetic existence. Dickinson died after less than a year in office. He was succeeded by Burr, who moved the college to his parsonage in Newark. Later, classes were also held in rooms over the town jail.

To the pious New Lights, this unsavory location was hardly an appropriate setting for the academic training of the impressionable young. The cosmopolitan allures of this burgeoning port city offered untold temptations. Armed with a stronger charter, [12-29]
[12-30]
[12-31]
granted by Governor Jonathan Belcher, [33-91]
the first great benefactor of the College, the Trustees began to looking for a permanent home more suitable to the purpose of the College.

At a meeting of the College Trustees in September 1752, Governor Belcher himself called for the construction of a dwelling house for students and another for the president of the College. "The Way and the Method we are in as to the Place and Manner of instructing the Youth," he said, "looks to me like lighting a candle and putting it under a Bushel." He argued that other institutions flourished only after building permanent structures, and that the College should do the same.

It was the most momentous meeting of the Trustees in the College's history. Not only did they resolve to erect two permanent buildings to house the institution, but they also settled on a site: Princeton. With the decision to construct Nassau Hall, the stories of the College of New Jersey and of Princeton become one.


Go to Chapter 1