The Princeton University Library has very significant manuscript and archival holdings pertaining to New Jersey, though state and local history has never been a collecting focus of the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. The Library briefly considered such a focus in 1896, when the College of New Jersey was renamed Princeton University as part of a conscious effort to become one of the nation’s leading research universities. The Princeton trustee and benefactor Moses Taylor Pyne (1855-1921), Class of 1877, envisioned an alcove or section for New Jerseyana in the proposed Pyne Library, the Collegiate Gothic library that is now East Pyne. Pyne’s interest is perhaps not surprising, since he was an amateur genealogist and manuscript collector. Pyne convinced his mother to provide financial support for the construction of Pyne Library, which served, along with the older facility at Chancellor Green (1876), as the campus library until the completion of Firestone Library (1948). At the planning stage, Moses Taylor Pyne was in discussion with the New Jersey Historical Society, founded in 1845, about the possibility of moving its collections of manuscripts, archives, maps, printed books, and other historical research materials from its woefully inadequate facilities in Newark to the new library in Princeton. William Nelson, the Society’s long-time Corresponding Secretary, organized a postcard poll of its members. But the relocation proposal was voted down handily because most of the membership was based in Newark and its environs.
Some Princetonians still had an interested in local history, especially Ernest Cushing Richardson (1860-1939), University Librarian, who from 1903 to 1924 served as Secretary of the Princeton Historical Association, which was responsible for several publications based on some of Princeton’s Revolutionary Era manuscript holdings. Publications included Fred Lewis Pattee’s edition of the poems of Philip Freneau, Class of 1771 (published 1900-1934); and John Rogers Williams’s edition of the journals of Philip Vickers Fithian, Class of 1772 (1902-1907). But by 1896, the University Library was already pursuing a broader international collecting focus, guided by faculty research interests and underwritten by generous alumni and collectors. It was surely no accident that the Library’s first Curator of Manuscripts, appointed in 1913, was the classicist and papyrologist, Henry Bartlett Van Hoesen (1885-1965).
Nonetheless, the Middle Atlantic roots of many Princeton faculty and students, combined with the generosity of devoted alumni, resulted in the acquisition of original archival materials relating to the Garden State, even though the Library never focused on state and local history like the New Jersey Historical Society, New Jersey State Library, New Jersey State Archives, Rutgers University Library’s Department of Special Collections and University Archives, or other institutions. Princeton families, faculty, and alumni have been chiefly responsible for the New Jersey-related holdings of the Manuscripts Division and Seeley G. Mudd Library (including University Archives and Public Policy Papers). A keyword search of “New Jersey” in the Princeton University Library’s Finding Aids website quickly turns up 8,307 hits, of which 668 are collections that include the words “New Jersey” in the title or brief description; 376 are in the Manuscripts Division, and 292 are at Mudd Library, in Public Policy Papers and University Archives.
The Manuscripts Division holds several substantial collections of miscellaneous New Jersey documents dating from the 17th to 19th centuries, including William Nelson’s own manuscript collection. Among the earliest documents is a Lenape deed of 1674 pertaining to Tinton Falls, near the Morris family manor, signed with the mark of three Taponemese chiefs. Papers of early landowners and their legal representatives include James Alexander (ca. 1661-1756), the New York lawyer whose many clients included John Peter Zenger in the landmark freedom-of-the-press case (1733-34), and the East Jersey Proprietors in connection with the East Jersey Land Riots and Elizabethtown Bill in Chancery (1745). Also held are selected papers of prominent Princetonians and their families, including early graduates, such as Richard Stockton “The Signer,” Class of 1748, and a future U.S. President, James Madison, Class of 1771; and three early Princeton University presidents (John Witherspoon, Ashbel Green, and Samuel Stanhope Smith).
Among the best holdings for the Revolutionary Era are the Louis-Alexandre Berthier Collection of maps (with accompanying journals), documenting the historic march of Rochambeau’s army from Rhode Island to Virginia in 1781, passing through New Jersey and showing the encampment at Princeton (August 31-September 1) and the Collège (that is, Nassau Hall), the gift of Harry C. Black, Class of 1909; and the letters written by Charles Thomson, Secretary of the Confederation Congress, to his wife Hannah, in Philadelphia, while the Congress was convened at Nassau Hall, June-October 1783. Selected papers are held of various New Jerseyans in public life (Elias Boudinot and William Churchill Houston, delegates to the Continental Congress; U.S. Vice President Aaron Burr, Jr.; N.J. governors William Paterson and Garret D. Wall. Particularly rich are the papers of U.S. Senator and N.J. Governor Samuel Southard (1787-1842), who served as a member of the N.J. Supreme Court, Attorney General, and Governor, as well as U.S. Senator from 1832 to 1842 and leader of the Whig Party. His papers are a rich source of New Jersey and American political history and are as much used as other holdings of the Manuscripts Division, including the papers of the American jurist and U.S. Secretary of State Edward Livingston, Class of 1781; diplomat Richard Rush, Class of 1797; papers of the political journalist Francis Preston Lee and other members of the Blair-Lee family of Virginia; and Delafield family of New York. The Manuscripts Division holds some papers of Civil War generals Philip Kearney and George B. McClellan, as well as those of many officers and soldiers. Among early Princeton faculty, represented are scientists Arnold Guyot and Joseph Henry. There are also papers of a few faculty of the Princeton Theological Seminary (Samuel Miller and Charles Hodges). Also worth mentioning are the papers of the archeologist Charles Conrad Abbott (1843-1919), a pioneer in the study of Native Americans in the Delaware Valley.