Princeton 275: The Charter of the College of New Jersey, 1746 and 1748

This post is part of a series about items currently on exhibition at Mudd Library as part of “Princeton 275.” In this series, we go in-depth about selected items on display to let you know more about the story behind them and why we chose to include them.

Transcript of the first page of the Charter of the College of New Jersey. Board of Trustees Records (AC120), Vol. 1.

In an exhibition looking backward to the founding of Princeton, we needed something that would represent its origins, but the selection of the charter is about more than merely showing you its beginnings. Historical records attest that Princeton was the first college on the continent to guarantee students religious freedom, opening doors for those otherwise excluded from higher education at the time:

Petitioners have also expressed their earnest Desire that those of every Religious Denomination may have free and Equal Liberty and Advantage in the Said College any different Sentiments in Religion notwithstanding.

Given America’s founding myths, today’s Princetonians may not fully appreciate the radicalism inherent in this. Although the institution’s stance on religious freedom was aligned with colonial New Jersey’s, many other British colonies and early U.S. states had established churches. Princeton’s was a controversial position and remained so for decades. In 1836, for example, a Maryland newspaper declared Princeton’s decision to award an honorary doctorate to a Catholic alum from the Class of 1796 as “a most gross outrage…on all proper feelings” on the basis of his religion.

To be sure, Princeton has undergone continual transformation over the past three centuries. Religious minorities have not always found the environment supportive or inclusive, and the majority of its students were initially Presbyterian in spite of ideals expressed for supporting diversity of opinion. The founding charter expressed hopes our community still strives to fully realize. Indeed, the charter also included a de facto ban on Catholics (“Popish recusants”) serving as Trustees, because there were oaths they could not swear, including their respect for the succession of the Crown. As we acknowledge this, we can also appreciate that significant progress has been made toward interreligious (and nonreligious) inclusivity at Princeton over the past three centuries.

Close observers will note, however, that the document we have on display isn’t familiar as “the” Charter. That one can be viewed online in our finding aid to the Board of Trustees Records (AC120). The one we would call the Charter—indeed, the one still in effect for Princeton University today—is also the second one issued, from 1748, and bears the official seal of provincial governor, Jonathan Belcher. Our handwritten transcript, taken instead from the first volume of the Board of Trustees minutes, was chosen for an intensely practical reason: It’s smaller and therefore fits in our exhibition case!

Today, it is believed that the oldest charter transcript isn’t held in the University Archives at all, and can be found instead in London, at the library for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. From this we know that the text is virtually identical to the page we have on display at Mudd Library right now, though subsequent pages reflect somewhat more substantive edits. For the purposes of the Princeton 275 exhibition, the key is the expressed hope for an educational institution that welcomed students from all religious backgrounds.

The story behind the 1746 and 1748 charters takes us into a complex colonial past, but can be summarized as essentially logistical. The differences between the documents do not concern the philosophical underpinnings of the institution. The most significant changes concerned the operations of the Board of Trustees, and the signature of a new governor. The reason for this concerned a dispute over who had the authority to grant permission for the new college to operate.

New Jersey had secured, upon petition to the crown, a distinct administration from New York in 1738. Its first governor was Lewis Morris, who died in 1746. Until a permanent replacement could be found, John Hamilton served as interim governor, and it is he who signed the college’s 1746 charter, issued in Elizabeth. Anglicans critical of the institution (which was, in effect, a Presbyterian one) protested that Hamilton did not have the proper authority to sign the charter. After Jonathan Belcher was appointed in 1747, he took special interest in the fledgling College of New Jersey, and signed a new charter in 1748 to give the enterprise clear legitimacy under the Crown. He also encouraged the College—then in Newark—to move to Princeton, because he felt a central location would help show that the school was meant to serve all of New Jersey. This was, at the time, an ambitious and expansive goal. As other materials on display as part of Princeton 275 show, however, Princeton’s influence quickly grew far beyond the borders of colonial New Jersey.


Board of Trustees Records (AC120)

Princeton Alumni Weekly

Wertenbaker, Thomas Jefferson. Princeton 1746-1896. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014.

This Week in Princeton History for June 6-12

In this week’s installment of our recurring series, students consider adopting distinctive hats, the U.S. President makes a “pilgrimage” to Princeton’s campus, and more.

June 7, 1877—In order to visually distinguish themselves from townies (in Princeton slang, “snobs”), the Class of 1878 is contemplating starting to wear mortarboards as everyday wear.

Although we see a few different hat styles in this photo of the Class of 1878 (taken in 1878), we do not see mortarboards, which suggests the idea did not take root. Historical Photograph Collection: Class Photographs Series (AC181), Box 4.

Continue reading

This Week in Princeton History for May 30-June 5

In this week’s installment of our recurring series, students ask for rules to be enforced, the town is trying to address a major rat problem, and more.

May 30, 1878—“Troubled at the spirit of luxuriousness now gaining foothold in the College, and more especially by the barking of the spaniels kenneled in our dormitories,” the Princetonian urges the institution to enforce rules against students keeping horses, dogs, weapons, and explosives on campus.

If we judge from 19th-century photographs, dogs were virtually ubiquitous on campus, and the student plea to have rules against keeping them likely had no real effect. Unidentified group of Princeton students, 1894, some holding dogs. Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series (AC112), Box SP16, Image No. 3954.

June 1, 1860—A notice in today’s Princeton Press urges locals to donate to the controversial Charles Chiniquy’s St. Anne Colony in Illinois.

June 3, 1933—Princeton University announces the election of Harold W. Dodds as its 15th president.

June 5, 1941—The town of Princeton has set out on an extermination campaign to get control of the rat population. The rats are believed to be breeding at the corner of Nassau Street and Palmer Square. Estimates indicate that the population of rats will increase from the current 10,000 to 70,000 if the campaign is not successful.  (The human population of Princeton is 6,992.)

For the previous installment in this series, click here.

Fact check: We always strive for accuracy, but if you believe you see an error, please contact us.

This Week in Princeton History for May 23-29

In this week’s installment of our recurring series, chapel services are praised, a donor comes through, and more.

May 24, 1851—A letter to the editor of the Trenton State Gazette describes chapel services:

If any of our alumni, or other college acquaintances, who associate the service of daily prayers with the old ‘Prayer Hall,’ its whittled benches and dingy walls, would drop in at the same exercises as they are now conducted, they would wonder at the change. The beautiful chapel, the painted pews, the carpeted and cushioned platform, and the sweet organ, give a new aspect to the whole service. It is true that now and then a student forgets the proprieties so much as to enter in his study-gown, and that some begin to leave the pews before the prayer is quite ended, but the general deportment is far better than in old times.

Princeton’s “Old Chapel,” 1862. (It was at that time simply the Chapel, but was dubbed “Old Chapel” following the construction of Marquand Chapel in 1882.) Historical Photograph Collection, Grounds and Buildings Series (AC111), Box MP28, Image No. 653.

May 25, 1961—Workers assemble a bench on the central campus as a memorial to landscape architect Beatrix Farrand.

May 28, 1989—A former Rutgers University student reportedly cuts nearly 1,000 pages worth of material from a number of bound journals in Firestone Library with a razor blade.

May 29, 1869—The Business Committee of the Board of Trustees meets to open bids for the construction of Dickinson Hall and finds that the cost will be higher than they initially thought ($75,000 instead of $50,000). Just before they decide to make the building less elaborate, Chancellor Green announces that his brother, John C. Green, will provide the funding for the additional expense.

For the previous installment in this series, click here.

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This Week in Princeton History for May 16-22

In this week’s installment of our recurring series, the administration bans automobiles on campus, a student writes to a friend to say being admitted to Princeton has not improved him, and more.

May 18, 1925—In response to student complaints, starting today, private automobiles, motorcycles, and carriages will no longer be permitted on Princeton’s campus, except if needed for business purposes. Students have expressed concerns about the way these vehicles tear up the grass and make it too noisy to study.

Three students with a car on campus, ca. 1920s. Historical Photograph Collection (AC112), Box SP14, Item No. 3412.

May 19, 1951—In observance of Armed Forces Day, local shops include military exhibits in their window displays.

May 20, 1877—James McCosh permits students to experiment with a “camp prayer-meeting,” holding the usual prayer service outdoors instead of indoors.

May 21, 1782—Ashbel Green writes to a friend, “I can assure you that I am not one inch taller, nor, that I know of, one whit the better for my admittance to Nassau Hall.”

For the previous installment in this series, click here.

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This Week in Princeton History for May 9-15

In this week’s installment of our recurring series, Lyndon B. Johnson asks Princeton intellectuals to “cool it,” students mourn the death of a classmate, and more.

May 9, 1807—The New York Weekly Inspector identifies the recent rebellion at Princeton as part of larger trends in American society:

The conduct of students on this occasion, although extremely reprehensible, is perfectly consistent with the tenets of our quack politicians, our sticklers for human perfectibility. The same mental epidemic which has crazed Europe, and is extending its baleful ravages throughout the civilized world, has contaminated these young rights-of-boy politicians.

May 11, 1966—After receiving an honorary Doctor of Laws at a special ceremony at Princeton University’s new Woodrow Wilson School building, Lyndon B. Johnson asks an audience of over 3,000 for support of his policies in Vietnam while antiwar protesters carry placards outside. “The responsible intellectual,” Johnson says, should “‘cool it’, to bring what my generation called ‘not heat but light’ to public affairs.”

May 13, 1977—The Daily Princetonian reports that the mathematics department has admitted a 15-year-old Ph.D. student, Eric R. Jablow *83.

May 15, 1870—The sudden death of George Wilson Pillow, Class of 1871, has “cast a deep gloom over the college.”

George Wilson Pillow, Class of 1871. Historical Photograph Collection, Alumni Photographs Series (AC058), Box SP02.

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This Week in Princeton History for May 2-8

In this week’s installment of our recurring series, Bob Hope jokes with students, a Pennsylvania newspaper questions James McCosh’s decision-making, and more.

May 2, 1836—The Mammoth Exhibition of the Zoological Institute in New York (an early traveling circus) is in town. Those who pay the 25-cent admission fee are promised a view of exotic animals, including live tigers.

May 3, 1984—The Whig-Cliosophic Society presents Bob Hope with the James Madison Award. Hope responds, “I love it when a relic gives something to a relic.”

Bob Hope with students at Princeton University, May 3, 1984. Office of Communications Records (AC168), Box 142.

May 4, 1881—The St. Albans Daily Messenger criticizes James McCosh for not allowing the Glee Club to perform a concert in Trenton for the benefit of the Grand Army Post. McCosh reasoned that the saloons and “houses of ill fame” in Trenton made the environment inappropriate for the students, but the Messenger disagrees. “If these Princeton students are what they ought to be there could be no harm in their fulfilling their engagement in Trenton if the saloons and houses of ill fame were as thick in that city as in Luther’s imagination devils might have been in the city of Worms.”

May 7, 1845—Philadelphia resident Sears C. Walker receives a letter from professor Stephen Alexander in Princeton, who writes that he has seen the tail of a comet.

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This Week in Princeton History for April 25-May 1

In this week’s installment of our recurring series, students prepare to go to war, a graduate sets off for the West, and more.

April 25, 1931—In London’s Saturday Review, French author Andre Maurois writes of his experience teaching French literature at Princeton as a visiting lecturer for a semester:

Most [American students] are not at all enthusiastic over the material progress of our time. They want something more; they want moral progress. … I ended by no longer considering them foreigners, quite different from French students. I never felt that they and I belonged to two different civilizations. They are relations, and good ones, younger than ourselves; but youth is not a defect.

April 26, 1861—The New York World reports that Princeton students have formed a volunteer corps, the “Old Nassau Cadets,” in case they are needed to fight against what is known in the north as “The Rebellion” and will later be known as the Civil War.

April 27, 1747—The Board of Trustees announces to the public that they have appointed Jonathan Dickinson president of the new College of New Jersey and it will open for students during the fourth week in May in Elizabethtown.

April 29, 1874—Josiah McClain, Class of 1871, sets off for the western frontier (Utah and Nevada Territories), where he will work as a missionary.

Josiah McClain, Class of 1871, ca. 1871. Historical Photograph Collection: Alumni Photographs Series (AC058), Box MP29.

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“He Decided to Conquer the Place that Had Conquered Him”: Peter Putnam ’42 *50’s Princeton, Part II

In Part I of this two-part series, I told the story of how Peter Putnam ’42 *50 lost his sight in a suicide attempt and fought for the right to return to Princeton University and finish his degree. In this second installment, I detail the life Putnam lived as a student, an employee, and an alum of Princeton University after his return.

Peter Putnam ’42 re-entered Princeton University over the initial objections of the administration, bringing along with him a new companion, Minnie, the first of many guide dogs. (Undergraduates quickly dubbed Minnie “the first co-ed in Princeton history.”) Though Putnam would be known as part of the Class of 1942 in perpetuity, he was a junior when he came back in his original graduation year.

Whether he set out to prove his detractors wrong or it simply happened, Putnam defied their low expectations at every turn. Putnam participated in campus life, with some limitations. He did not, for example, eat with his peers at Commons, his academic record notes tersely, “because of physical disability.” Based on his later writings about not being granted entry to many places in Princeton because of his need for a service dog, it’s possible he wasn’t permitted in the dining hall because Minnie was not allowed to go along. However, he threw himself into opportunities that were available, earning local celebrity for reasons far beyond his constant canine companion. As the Princeton Alumni Weekly put it in 1957, “he decided to conquer the place that had conquered him.”

Triangle Club elected Putnam its president in 1942. He supervised the last of Triangle’s productions during World War II, a show that might not have been possible without him. “Time and Again,” unlike most other Triangle Shows before it, had no Christmas tour, and was only performed locally. Triangle membership that year included students on accelerated programs who had little time for extracurriculars. Putnam ended up writing most of the script himself, playing the role of a World War I veteran in the first scene, and handling the administrative tasks for the show like managing the budget and securing permissions from various stakeholders to stage the production.

Illustrations from the Nassau Sovereign, November 12, 1942, including a reference to “Boss Putnam.”

The song “Here I Sit with the Physically Unfit” from “Time and Again,” written by William K. Zinsser ’44, may give us insight into how ableism would have pervaded Putnam’s experiences at Princeton, even in spaces that seemed otherwise welcoming. In the lyrics, a woman seeking a man to love at a time when most were away at war complains about her options. After the woman notes “I’m left to be protected/By the rejected/But I’m feeling tepid/T’ward the decrepit,” she goes on to list a variety of disabilities that she finds unappealing, including blindness.

I’m left behind

With the lame and the halt and the blind back here

Ev’ryone who isn’t knock-kneed is flying a Lockheed

Ev’ryone without myopia is in Ethiopia

But I must be sweet

To the guys who have got flat feet back here. Continue reading

This Week in Princeton History for April 18-24

In this week’s installment of our recurring series, war bonds are on sale, faculty prohibit students from participating in a 12-hour walking match, and more.

April 20, 1942—Students can buy war bonds in Clio Hall today.

War bonds brochure, ca. 1942. Office of the Vice President and Secretary Records (AC190), Box 35, Folder 7.

April 21, 1979—A report on NBC Evening News considers the changing mores at Princeton University, where some students complain of intense pressure to have sex. Bill Kirby, introduced as “a sex therapist who is also Princeton’s Methodist chaplain,” says the cultural rules have changed from a prohibition on sex to a prescription for sex—the culture demands that students must be “a sexual gourmet, a sexual Ph.D.”

April 22, 1884—Natural history professor George Macloskie is elected chairman of the Prohibition Convention in Trenton and also delegate-at-large of the National Prohibition Convention.

April 23, 1879—Locals join in the pedestrianism fad by staging a 12-hour walking match, but faculty prohibit students from participating.

For the previous installment in this series, click here.

Fact check: We always strive for accuracy, but if you believe you see an error, please contact us.