This Week in Princeton History for September 16-22

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a longstanding but dangerous tradition comes to an end, a sophomore writes to his mother about attending Aaron Burr’s funeral, and more.

September 19, 1990—Students nab the Nassau Hall clapper for the last time.

It’s unclear exactly when the tradition of stealing the clapper began, but documentation indicates it was sometime in the 1860s. More than merely a nuisance to staff who had to keep replacing the clapper, scaling the bell tower was a dangerous feat that occasionally resulted in injuries when students fell from the tower and then off the roof onto the ground. In 1991, administrators decided to remove the clapper indefinitely. Today, Nassau Hall’s bell rings only on special occasions, such as Commencement, after which the clapper is again removed. The students pictured above were members of the Class of 1952 who stole the clapper in 1948. Historical Photograph Collection (AC112), Box MP199, Image No. 5278.

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This Week in Princeton History for November 12-18

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the first formal exercises open in Nassau Hall, an alum announces a donation in honor of a former roommate, and more.

November 13, 1762—The first formal exercises to be held there open in the completed Nassau Hall.

William Tennent’s rendering of the campus of the College of New Jersey, which then included Nassau Hall and the president’s house, 1764. Prior to the opening of Nassau Hall, classes were held in the president’s home, first in Elizabeth, and then in Newark, but the president’s home in Princeton (now Maclean House) was built at the same time as Nassau Hall. Nassau Hall Iconography Collection (AC177), Box 2, Folder 5.

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This Week in Princeton History for September 17-23

In this week’s installment of our returning series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, the campus remembers Aaron Burr, Nassau Hall celebrates its bicentennial, and more.

September 17, 1836—At Aaron Burr’s funeral in the College of New Jersey’s Chapel, College president James Carnahan is careful to avoid inflaming controversy. Burr’s connection to Princeton and his “honorable parentage” are both noted, but his public career is “delicately touched, with only such allusions to his duel with [Alexander] Hamilton as might be of service to the assembly without wounding the feelings of any.” After the closing prayers, the funeral procession buries Burr at the foot of his father’s grave in the cemetery on what will later be named Hamilton Avenue.

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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.


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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