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.
When the College of New Jersey was founded in 1748, it held its first classes in Elizabeth, New Jersey, then quickly and temporarily moved to Newark. Though plans were in place to permanently move to New Brunswick, the residents of the town could not manage to raise the necessary funding. Nathaniel FitzRandolph, a Quaker, was responsible for raising the money and securing the land required by the trustees to relocate the College in Princeton in 1756. The citizens of Princeton raised £1,700 (well in excess of the £1,000 required) and provided ten acres of cleared land for the campus and 200 acres of woodland for fuel. FitzRandolph donated £20 and 4.5 acres of land and raised £500 by personally visiting residents to ask for donations. Nassau Hall sits on the land FitzRandolph donated.
FitzRandolph died in 1780 and was buried in the family burial ground, on the present site of Holder Hall. Remains from 32 family graves were uncovered during the excavation for the building in 1909. University President Woodrow Wilson directed the remains to be re-interred under the eastern arch of Holder Hall. A memorial tablet there bears the inscription, “Near this spot lie the remains of Nathaniel FitzRandolph, the generous giver of the land upon which the original buildings of this university were erected. In agro jacet nostro immo suo (In our ground he sleeps, nay, rather in his own).”
In 1905, the FitzRandolph Gateway, which functions as the main entrance to campus, was erected through a bequest from a descendant of Nathaniel FitzRandolph, Augustus van Wickle, a graduate of Brown University. For most of its existence, the gates have remained closed during the academic year, but were permanently opened to all upon the graduation of the Class of 1970. The FitzRandolph Observatory, built in 1934 to replace the Halstead Observatory, also honors the memory of Nathaniel FitzRandolph.
We also have a miniature version of the FitzRandolph Gateway here at Mudd, shown below. These gates are always open, too, but that’s mostly because the latch doesn’t work.
University Land Records (AC028)
This post was originally an FAQ on our old website written by Kristine Marconi McGee. It has been revised and expanded here as part of the launch of our new website.