Dear Mr. Mudd,
Can you tell me who Princeton’s first international student was? Were there international students in the first graduating class?
As with all questions about “firsts,” this one is too complicated to answer simply with someone’s name. We are aware that our records aren’t comprehensive, so we can only provide what we have found to be our earliest records, with the understanding that we may later discover earlier records. Even knowing what our earliest records tell us, however, doesn’t make the answer straightforward.
We must begin by defining what we mean by an “international student.” The College of New Jersey graduated its first class of students in 1748, decades before the United States declared its independence. We cannot consider anyone who was a subject of the British Empire to be an “international student,” whether or not they were from the current geographic boundaries of the United States, when New Jersey was a British colony. From this first class in 1748, two students may have crossed the Atlantic to attend the College of New Jersey (which was in Newark until its move to Princeton in 1756, and renamed Princeton University in 1896), but no national borders: Benjamin Chestnut and Hugh Henry. Chestnut was born in England. We don’t know when he came to New Jersey. Henry may have been born in Ireland.