John Witherspoon (1723-1794)
Minister, Educator, Philosopher, Theologian, Statesman and
Signer of the Declaration of Independence
Most of the Witherspoons in America migrated here from Scotland in the middle part of the 18th century. The most famous of these immigrants was John Witherspoon. John Witherspoon was born near Edinburgh , Scotland in 1723. He was educated and trained as a minister. John Knox, the Reformer, was his maternal great grandfather. He was serving as a minister in the Presbyterian Church when he was approached to come to America and be the President of the College of New Jersey. In 1768 he took the helm of the College of New Jersey, gave it direction, energy and stature. This college later became Princeton University, and its original growth, development and stature are largely due to the leadership that President Witherspoon gave to this college in its infancy. Today at Princeton University there are buildings, streets and schools named after John Witherspoon, and his statue stands prominently on the campus. Several books of his essays and sermons have been published, and he has been the subject of several biographies.
John Witherspoon was an ardent and impassioned advocate of freedom, justice and independence. He was the only member of the Clergy and the only College President to sign the Declaration of Independence. He was also a member of the Continental Congress from 1776-79 and 1780-1782. He was also a delegate to the convention that ratified the Constitution of the United States. He had a steady and guiding hand in the development and creation of the two most important political and social documents in the history of the United States. Many have said that while George Washington is thought of as the Father of the United States of America, John Witherspoon is its Grandfather.
A recent page in the National Review (9/15/97) starts with these headlines above the image of John Witherspoon:
225 years ago, this man was a
teacher to a U.S. President and Vice President,
3 Supreme Court Justices, 21 Senators, 29 Congressmen, and 56 state legislators.
The National Review goes on to say: "The Reverend John Witherspoon has been described by historians as 'the man who shaped the men who shaped America '. . . as the president of the college of New Jersey (now Princeton University) he lead a generation of young men, including the father of our Constitution, James Madison, into a life of public service. . . Witherspoon's faith informed much of America's social and political thought, ethics and public policy."
According to the best information
we have from the Witherspoon family history, the family of Gary and Nellie
Witherspoon are the descendants of John Witherspoon. Gary's grandfather
was named John Witherspoon, and his father's brother was also named John
Stanley Witherspoon. With slight modification, the name has remained
in our family with our youngest son named Johnny Witherspoon and Dwight's
oldest son named Jonathan Witherspoon.