This Week in Princeton History for November 28-December 4

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, residents flee Nassau Hall, Theodore Roosevelt goes to a football game, and more.

November 29, 1776—John Witherspoon calls all the students of the College of New Jersey (Princeton) together in the Prayer Hall in Nassau Hall to dismiss them to safety. Taking what they can carry with them and leaving the rest to become spoils of war for the rapidly approaching British soldiers, the students say good-bye to one another and take flight from campus.

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Nassau Hall, 1760. Nassau Hall Iconography Collection (AC177), Box 1.

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This Week in Princeton History for May 23-29

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a firecracker explodes in Nassau Hall, an athlete pitches the first no-hitter ever recorded in baseball history, and more.

May 24, 1916—Princeton professor Alfred Noyes gives a public reading of his poetry, including his best-known “The Highwayman,” at a benefit event for the local Red Cross chapter.

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Alfred Noyes at Princeton University, February 15, 1915. Faculty and Professional Staff Files (AC107), Box 381.

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This Week in Princeton History for April 18-24

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the campus mourns Abraham Lincoln, Fidel Castro pays a visit, and more.

April 19, 1865—Someone etches “We Mourn Our Loss” into a window on the third floor of Nassau Hall in reference to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. (More on campus reaction to Lincoln’s death here.)

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Ribbon found in the college scrapbook of Edward Wilder Haines, Class of 1866. Scrapbook Collection (AC026), Box 16.

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This Week in Princeton History for March 7-13

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, Nassau Hall is almost totally destroyed, undergraduates rescue stranded train passengers, and more.

March 9, 1770—The Providence Gazette reports that James Caldwell (Class of 1759) is on his way back to Princeton from Charleston, South Carolina with ₤700 he has raised for the College of New Jersey.

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The Board of Trustees acknowledged Caldwell’s efforts at their next meeting on September 26, 1770. By then he had reportedly raised over ₤1,000. Minutes of the Board of Trustees of the College of New Jersey/Princeton University, Vol. 1, Board of Trustees Records (AC102).

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Who Founded Princeton University?

Q. Dear Mr. Mudd,

Who founded Princeton University? 

A. The founding of Princeton University is nearly as complex as the courses that have been and continue to be taught within its hallowed lecture halls. The College of New Jersey (as Princeton University was known until 1896) was a child of the Great Awakening, an institution born in opposition to the religious tenets that had ruled the colonial era.

The principles on which Princeton University was founded may be traced to the Log College in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, founded by William Tennent in 1726. Tennent was a Presbyterian minister who, along with fellow evangelists Theodorus Jacobus Frelinghuysen, Jonathan Edwards, Samuel Davies, and George Whitefield of England, preached and taught an approach to religion and life that was the very essence of the Great Awakening period. The seven founders of the College of New Jersey were all Presbyterians. Ebenezer Pemberton, a minister and a graduate of Harvard, was the only one of the seven who did not graduate from Yale. The remaining six were Jonathan Dickinson, Aaron Burr Sr., and John Pierson, who were ministers; William Smith, a lawyer; Peter Van Brugh Livingston, a merchant; and William Peartree Smith.

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Original location of Pennsylvania’s Log College (photo taken in 1914). Historical Photograph Collection, Grounds and Buildings Series (AC111), Box MP62, Image No. 2402.

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This Week in Princeton History for August 3-9

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a graduate secures her spot on the Supreme Court, multiple fights break out in Nassau Hall at the same time, and more.

August 4, 1979—The University retires its IBM 370-158 and IBM 360-91 in favor of a new IBM 3033, a much faster processor with 4 MB of memory and a price tag of $3.45 million (approximately $11.35 million in 2015 currency). It is predicted to save operating costs in the long term.

August 6, 2009—The U.S. Senate confirms the appointment of Princeton alum Sonia Sotomayor ’76, making her the first Hispanic to serve on the Supreme Court.

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Sonia Sotomayor ’76’s Nassau Herald (senior yearbook) photo.

August 7, 1805—What the faculty refer to as a “considerable disturbance” occurs in Nassau Hall. A later investigation will find, among other things, that a sophomore “had insulted one of his fellow students, without any provocation, by giving him some drink which he afterward told him contained some nastiness,” and “this was the beginning of the noise.” In a seemingly unrelated incident, another fight breaks out simultaneously when a sophomore begins kicking a large jug down the hallways.

August 8, 1843—The start of the first term is changed from November to August and opens with about 50 students.

For last week’s installment in this series, click here.

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This Week in Princeton History for June 22-28

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a math professor receives worldwide acclaim, the school colors appear for the first time, and more.

June 23, 1994—Professor Andrew Wiles draws international attention with his announcement that he has found a proof for Fermat’s Last Theorem, a problem whose solution has eluded mathematicians for 350 years.

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Andrew Wiles. Photo from Princeton Weekly Bulletin.

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A Brief History of the Architecture of Nassau Hall

Nassau Hall first opened its doors on November 28, 1756. The College of New Jersey (Princeton) at that time consisted of its president, Aaron Burr, 70 students, and three tutors. Robert Smith, the carpenter-architect who would later construct Carpenter’s Hall in Philadelphia, designed Nassau Hall with the assistance of Dr. William Shippen of Philadelphia and William Worth, a local stonemason. Construction began on July 29, 1754 on part of the 4.5 acres donated by Nathaniel and Rebeckah FitzRandolph. Smith designed the building to withstand the variable climate of New Jersey in the Georgian-Colonial style popular at the time, choosing locally quarried sandstone as building material for the 26-inch thick walls. The building has three floors and a basement, measuring 176 feet by 54 feet, with a two-story central prayer hall in the rear of the structure, measuring 32 by 40 feet. Originally, there were five entrances to the building, three in the front and two in the rear. The rooftop cupola provided an elegant final touch to a modestly constructed building. When finished in 1756, Nassau Hall was the largest stone structure in North America.

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First known image of Nassau Hall, New American Magazine, 1760. Nassau Hall Iconography Collection (AC177), Box 1.

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Can Nathaniel FitzRandolph’s Descendants Attend Princeton University for Free?

Q. Dear Mr. Mudd,

I read that Nathaniel FitzRandolph’s descendants get free tuition at Princeton University. Is this true?

A. According to legend, an agreement between Nathaniel FitzRandolph and the College of New Jersey (as Princeton was then known) was made in 1753. In exchange for donating the land on which Nassau Hall now resides, the College agreed to pay tuition for all of his descendants to attend the institution. We have bad news for today’s FitzRandolphs, though: No such provision was incorporated into the deed of gift.

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Inscription on the FitzRandolph Gateway. Princeton Alumni Weekly Photograph Collection (AC126), Box 21.

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This Week in Princeton History for April 6-12

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, Prohibition ends, the Board of Trustees urges parents not to send students money, and more.

April 6, 1771—The Rittenhouse Orrery, the most noted scientific instrument of its time, arrives in Nassau Hall, where it will prove to be a tourist attraction for travelers from across the world.

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Gillett G. Griffin, pen and ink drawing of the Rittenhouse Orrery arriving at Nassau Hall, University Library Records (AC123), Box 302.

April 9, 1802—United States President Thomas Jefferson donates one hundred dollars toward the rebuilding of Nassau Hall after a devastating fire.
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