Today in Princeton History, 1783: Washington at Commencement

Click to enlarge the full page from the treasurer’s records, top. A detail image of the Washington entry is provided below. (Photos: Courtesy Princeton University Archives)

In PAW’s Sept. 18 issue, W. Barksdale Maynard ’88 wrote about the remarkable Commencement ceremony held at Princeton on Sept. 24, 1783. As Maynard writes, the audience was filled with distinguished leaders of the day, including George Washington, who was so impressed by the college that he donated 50 guineas (and later enrolled his adopted son).

Earlier this year, University Archivist Daniel J. Linke came across another reference to Washington’s gift — perhaps the first reference — while reviewing Volume 1 of the Office of the Treasurer Records with students from a Princeton history course (“Princeton and Slavery,” featured in PAW’s May 15, 2013, issue).

The gift was recorded on Oct. 3, a little more than a week after Commencement. The Continental Congress, which had been meeting at Nassau Hall since late June, would leave town a month later.

Princeton, then the College of New Jersey, showed its appreciation for Washington by commissioning a portrait of the general at the Battle of Princeton; the Charles Willson Peale painting still hangs in the Nassau Hall faculty room.


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