John Witherspoon's American Revolution: Enlightenment and Religion from the Creation of Britain to the Founding of the United States

By Gideon Mailer | Go to book overview

{ CHAPTER 9 }
“GREAT THINGS HATH GOD DONE
FOR HIS AMERICAN ZION”
Presbyterian Moral Philosophy and Educational
Conflict during the Nineteenth Century

On Monday, May 30, 1791, John Witherspoon married a twenty-four-year-old widow, Ann Dill, the wife of his former pupil, Dr. Armstrong Dill. Witherspoon was sixty-nine years old, and his courtship with a twenty-four-yearold woman might have raised eyebrows. But, when he returned to his college after his marriage ceremony, students pushed the cannon that lay near Nassau Hall and fired in honor of the college president’s recent nuptials. The hall was then lit up by six hundred candles, with students singing in Witherspoon’s honor, all before a gathering crowd. Just over two decades earlier, on the night of Witherspoon’s arrival to the College of New Jersey, every window in the main college building had been similarly illuminated. Between those two candlelit moments, the building had been surrounded by fire in the midst of Revolutionary battle.1

In May 1791, Witherspoon was appointed by the General Assembly of the American Presbyterian Church as a delegate to the General Association of Connecticut, which sought greater cooperation between Congregational and Presbyterian churches in regional pastoral activities. By this point, he was steadily going blind, a condition that had worsened since his trip back to Britain several years earlier. On November, 15, 1794, after a brief illness, he died at his home in Tusculum, just outside Princeton village. Writing from Nassau Hall around two weeks later, Joseph Warren Scott, who would graduate in 1796, described the sad news to John Henry Hobart, and he included a message from his friend Joseph Caldwell. Caldwell inquired whether Hobart

1. See “Marriages,” Scots Magazine, LIII (August 1791), 413. On local gossip regarding Witherspoon’s new marriage, see the account by Ashbel Green in Varnum Lansing Collins, President Witherspoon: A Biography, 2 vols. (Princeton, N.J., 1925), II, 169. On the college candle ceremony for Witherspoon on his arrival and after his later wedding, see ibid., I, 104, II, 170.

-365-

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