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John Witherspoon - One of America's Founding Fathers

Posted on Tuesday, December 10, 2019

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Birth: February 5, 1723
Death: November 15, 1794 (age 72)
Colony: New Jersey
Occupation: Minister, Politician
Significance: Signed The Declaration of Independence (at the age of 53 ), President of Princeton University

Portrait of John Witherspoon hanging in the Second Bank of the United States Portrait Gallery

John Witherspoon was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Born in Gifford, Scotland in 1723, Witherspoon was one of only eight immigrants to sign The Declaration of Independence. Witherspoon was educated in Scotland and graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1739.  Witherspoon was a devout Protestant and became a minister in the Church of Scotland. In 1768, Witherspoon accepted the job to become President of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), and he and his family emigrated to New Jersey.  

While only in the American Colonies for a few years at the time, Witherspoon became swept up in the conflict between Great Britain and the American Colonies. Witherspoon was offended by Britain's increasing interference in local matters, especially when it came to favoring the Church of England over Protestant Religions. Witherspoon joined the Committees of Correspondence and Safety in 1776 and then later that year was appointed to Second Continental Congress.  Witherspoon voted for Independence, and he signed The Declaration of Independence. After signing The Declaration of Independence on August 2, 1776, Witherspoon continued to serve in the Second Continental Congress (he helped to draft the Articles of Confederation), and then served in the Congress of the Confederation until 1784.

Upon leaving the Continental Congress, Witherspoon returned to Princeton and was responsible for overseeing the reconstruction of the campus as it had been damaged during the Revolutionary War.  Witherspoon also served on the New Jersey Legislative council before he died in 1794.

John Witherspoon in Philadelphia

Witherspoon arrived in Philadelphia as a Delegate to the Second Continental Congress. Witherspoon would remain a member of the Continental Congress until 1784, spending most of that time in Philadelphia. While serving as a member of the Second Continental Congress, Witherspoon worked at Independence Hall, and he would eventually sign The Declaration of Independence. A plaque commemorating Witherspoon for signing The Declaration of Independence can be found on Signers' Walk on the 600 block of Chestnut Street (between 5th and 6th Streets). Witherspoon spent most of his 25 plus years in America living in the greater Philadelphia area since his home near Princeton University was only about 35 miles outside of Philadelphia.


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