John Augustus Mapes, Class of 1920 (died 1970), In Praise of Old Nassau. A Portrait of William (the Silent), Prince of Orange; Count of Nassau, no date. Watercolor. Graphic Arts GA 2006.02632. Painted expressly for George H. Sibley, Class of 1920.
No, Princeton colors do not come from William I, Prince of Orange (1533-1584), also called William the Silent. Born to the House of Nassau, a princely German family, William I became Prince of Orange in 1544 and went on to liberate The Netherlands from Spanish rule. (To read more, see http://www.hollandhistory.net/famous_dutch_people/book-william-the-silent/online-book.html.
It was William III, Prince of Orange (1650-1702) who endowed the College of William and Mary in 1693 and is recognized at Princeton University with Nassau Hall. The building was going to be named Belcher Hall but Governor Jonathan Belcher declined the honor, suggesting that it be named in memory of “the Glorious King William the Third who was a Branch of the Illustrious House of Nassau.”
For more myths and facts about Princeton, see Princeton Myths, Debunked by Wes Tooke, 1999
Princeton College Bulletin 1895: http://books.google.com/books?id=mxXiAAAAMAAJ&pg=RA2-PA89&lpg=RA2-PA89&dq=william+the+silent+nassau+orange+princeton&source=bl&ots=ROiyfvhx0N&sig=RjCFrp2KC8teoWqbZ62Wr7lAyU&hl=en&ei=Vgv4S8G0CIT78AaUk-3QCg&sa=X&oi=bookresult&ct=result&resnum=7&ved=0CDcQ6AEwBg#v=onepage&q=william%20the%20silent%20nassau%20orange%20princeton&f=false
Myth: The orange in the school’s colors comes from Nassau Hall, dedicated to Prince William of Orange, of the House of Nassau. The black came from a crew race before the turn of the century. The team was about to be disqualified because they weren’t wearing numbers, so they dipped their fingers in mud and painted black numerals on the backs of their orange jerseys.
Fact: The orange did come from Prince William, via Nassau Hall. As for the black, the Princeton crews at the Saratoga Regatta in 1874 did wear orange and black — and that regatta is generally considered the beginning of orange and black as Princeton’s “official” colors. But black had been used since 1868, when the Class of 1869 wanted to print its class number on orange badges to wear in a baseball game with Yale — and black was the only available ink.