SCOTCH-IRISH EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS (2)

William Tennent died May 6, 1746. Log College graduates had already joined forces with the men from New York and northern New Jersey in the formation at Elizabethtown, in September, 1745, of the Synod of New Jersey. This union of forces resulted in the application for a charter for the College of New Jersey. Although there is nothing in the nature of legal succession to the Log College there is a strong tradition of institutional filiation. The two institutions are directly connected through devotion to the same ideals and attachment to the same standards. Both belonged to what was called the New Side; both were in sympathy with the spiritual revival, led by Whitefield. Practical expression of this community of purpose was given by the action of the trustees in associating with themselves some distinguished graduates of the Log College. The trustees named in the original charter were William Smith, Peter Van Brugh Livingston and William Peartree Smith, gentlemen, and Jonathan Dickinson, John Pierson, Ebenezer Pemberton and Aaron Burr, ministers. These seven or any four of them were granted power to select five more trustees and they chose Gilbert Tennent, William Tennent, Samuel Blair, Richard Treat and Samuel Finley, all ministers. Of those five two were sons of the founder of the Log College and all were graduates, except Treat who lived at Abington near the Log College.

What in the beginning differentiated the College of New Jersey from other early schools was not its plant nor its equipment but its high purpose and broad policy. Its founders sought to establish an institution of higher learning not as a denominational agency but as an educational foundation from which all the learned professions would benefit. The original charter provided that no person should be debarred "on account of any speculative principles of religion," and this policy was maintained from the first.

The original charter was not recorded and has disappeared, although its substance is known from the published announcements of the trustees. Its legality was open to suspicion, and the arrival of Governor Belcher in the Province afforded a happy opportunity of procuring a new charter. Jonathan Belcher, son of a member of the Royal Council in Massachusetts, was born in 1681, and was graduated at Harvard in 1699. His father then sent him to Europe to complete his education and he remained abroad six years, during which time he became known to the Princess Sophia and her son, afterward King George II, an acquaintance which eventually led to public honors. After his return to Boston he lived there as a wealthy and public spirited merchant. He was appointed a member of the Council and in 1722 the Massachusetts Legislature sent him to England as agent of the Province. In 1730 the King appointed him Governor of Massachusetts and New Hampshire. He held this position for eleven years making enemies who resorted even to forgery to discredit his administration. On being superseded he went to England and vindicated his character and conduct so effectually that he was restored to royal favor and promised the first vacant Governorship in America. The vacancy occurring in New Jersey, he was sent to that Province, arriving in 1747 and remaining the rest of his life. As "Captain General and Governor in Chief of the Province of New Jersey, and territories thereon depending in America, and Vice Admiral of the same," he lived in a style and practised a hospitality befitting the dignity of his titles. He promptly interested himself in the affairs of the nascent College of New Jersey and actively exerted his influence to make it worthy of its title. Not long after his arrival he sent the following letter to his cousin William Belcher in England:

Sr.—This is a fine Climate and Countrey of Great plenty tho' but of Little profit to a Governour. The inhabitants are generally rustick and without Education. I am therefore attempting the building up of a College in the province for Instructing the youth in the Principles of Religion in good Literature and Manners and I have a Reasonable View of bringing it to bear.

I am Sr

Your Friend and Very humble servant

J. BELCHER.

BURLINGTON, N. J.
Sept. 17, 1747.

Governor Belcher granted a new charter, which passed the seal of the Province on September 14, 1748. The preamble sets forth that "the said Petitioners have also expressed their earnest Desire that those of every religious Denomination may have free and equal Liberty and Advantages of Education in the said College, any different Sentiments in Religion notwithstanding." Under this charter the lay trustees were made equal in number to those who were clergymen and its undenominational character was firmly established.

At the time of the granting of the second charter the Rev. Aaron Burr was the Acting President of the College which after President Dickinson's death had been removed to Newark. The formal election of Mr. Burr to the presidency did not take place until November 9, 1748, at a meeting of the trustees in Newark. On the same day the first commencement was celebrated with much ceremony, although the graduating class numbered only six. A set of laws for the government of the college, probably prepared by President Burr, was adopted by the trustees at this time. The high standard of education already set up is attested by the following provisions: "None may be expected to be admitted into College but such as being examined by the President and Tutors shall be found able to render Virgil and Tully's Orations into English; and to turn English into true and grammatical Latin; and to be so well acquainted with Greek as to render any part of the four Evangelists in that language into Latin or English; and to give the grammatical connection of the words."

During the ten years of President Burr's administration the infant college surmounted the difficulties that confronted the struggling little school in which it had its beginning, and became established in its permanent home. Its early years undoubtedly owed much to the hearty support of Governor Belcher. Named in the charter as the first member of the Board of Trustees, he was an active member, attending the meetings of the board and interesting himself in the success of the enterprise. At the meeting in Newark, September 27, 1752, he made an address in which he said that for the present there was no prospect of aid from friends in Great Britain, but urged: "In the meantime I think it our duty, to exert ourselves, in all reasonable ways and measures we can, for the aid and assistance of our friends nearer home; that we may have wherewith to build a house for the accommodation of the students, and another for the President and his family. And it seems therefore necessary that, without further delay, we agree upon the place where to set those buildings."

In 1751 the trustees had voted in favor of New Brunswick upon the strength of expectations that were not realized. The trustees now turned to Princeton and in response to Governor Belcher's appeal it was voted, "That the College be fixed at Princeton upon Condition that the Inhabitants of sd. Place secure to the Trustees that two Hundred Acres of Woodland, and that ten Acres of clear'd land; which Mr. Sergeant view'd; and also one thousand Pounds proc. Money." The allusion is to Jonathan Sergeant, the treasurer of the board, to whom the land had been shown that the Princeton people proposed to give to the college. The conditions were complied with to the satisfaction of the board, and the business of collecting funds was taken in hand. At a meeting of the board in Burlington, May 23, 1753, a committee was appointed "to draw up an address in the name of the trustees, to his Excellency Governor Belcher, humbly to desire that he would use his influence in Europe, recommending the affair of the College by the gentlemen appointed to take a voyage there to solicit benefactions for it." The two gentlemen referred to were the Rev. Gilbert Tennent of Philadelphia and the Rev. Samuel Davies, then in Hanover County, Va. They went on their mission with strong credentials and recommendations from Governor Belcher and were able to collect sufficient funds to enable the trustees to proceed with the erection of the main building. Ground was broken on July 29, 1754. Before the building was occupied Governor Belcher presented the college with his library, comprising 474 volumes, many of them highly valuable. His dead of gift, after a catalogue of the books, goes on to say that they are given "together with my own picture at full length, in a gilt frame, now standing in my blue chamber; also one pair of globes, and ten pictures in black frames, over the mantelpiece in my library room, being the heads of the Kings and Queens of England; and also my large carved gilded coat of arms." The trustees voted an address of thanks, concluding with this proposal:

"As the college of New Jersey views you in the light of its founder, patron and benefactor, and the impartial world will esteem it a respect deservedly due to the name of Belcher; permit us to dignify the edifice now erecting at Princeton, with that endeared appellation, and when your Excellency is translated to a house not made with hands eternal in the heavens, let BELCHER HALL proclaim your beneficent acts, for the advancement of Christianity, and the emolument of the arts and sciences, to the latest ages."

To this address Governor Belcher made a reply in which he said that it had seemed to him "that a seminary for religion and learning should be promoted in this Province; for the better enlightening of the minds and polishing the manners, of this and the neighboring colonies." Hence "this important affair, I have been, during my administration, honestly and heartily prosecuting, in all such laudable, ways and measures as I have judged most likely to effect what we all aim at." In conclusion he said:

"I take a particular grateful notice, of the respect and honour you are desirous of doing me and my family, in calling the edifice lately erected in Princeton by the name of Belcher Hall; but you will be so good as to excuse me, while I absolutely decline such an honour, for I have always been very fond of the motto of a late grand personage, Prodesse quam conspici. But I must not leave this without asking the favor of your naming the present building Nassau Hall; and this I hope you will take as a further instance of my real regard to the future welfare and interest of the college, as it will express the honor we retain, in this remote part of the globe, to the immortal memory of the glorious King William the third, who was a branch of the illustrious house of Nassau."

In accordance with this recommendation the trustees, at their meeting in Newark, September 29, 1756, voted "that the said edifice be in all time to come, called and known by the name of NASSAU HALL." Thus it was that the College of New Jersey received the name by which it was best known. In fact its corporate title was rarely used.

The building was ready for occupancy in the fall of 1756 and in that year the students, then about seventy in number, moved from Newark into their new quarters. Governor Belcher did not live to witness the prosperity of Nassau Hall as he died at Elizabeth, August 31, 1757, aged seventy-six. His body was taken to Cambridge, Mass., for burial. He was a fine example of the educated Puritan gentleman, combining dignity of manners, refinement of taste and stately hospitality with sincere piety. He was Governor of Massachusetts when Whitefield visited that Province in 1740, and he showed the eloquent preacher marked respect. He not only attended Whitefield's meetings in Boston but followed him as far as Worcester, and urged him to continue his faithful instructions sparing neither ministers nor rulers. Belcher's picture in the faculty room of Princeton University is a half length, showing a gentleman in all the elegance of attire of his period, full bottomed wig, lace ruffles and a red vest. The handsome face is rather long, with firmly moulded, strong features, expressive of energy and resolution. The present picture is not the one he gave to the college but is a copy of a portrait. It is now one among a number of portraits of Princeton worthies and does not indicate the distinction given to him in the hall as arranged in 1761, the year in which the royal portrait arrived. The hall then had a gallery at one end, and at the other end was a stage for use in the public exhibitions of the students. On one side was the full length portrait of George II, and on the other side was a like portrait of Governor Belcher, with his family arms above it, carved and gilded. These fittings and adornments were ravaged by the alternate occupancy of the contending armies during the Revolutionary War, the library presented by Governor Belcher being also a sufferer. What survived was consumed in a fire, on March 6, 1802, which destroyed all of Nassau Hall except the bare walls.

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The Scotch-Irish in America cover

There ain’t nothing like the real thing — get the softcover second edition to read The Scotch-Irish in America at your leisure and help support this free Irish library. The author, Henry Jones Ford had this to say about the book:

“This book tells the story of the Ulster Plantation and of the influences that formed the character of the people. The causes are traced that led to the great migration from Ulster and the Scotch-Irish settlements in America are described. The recital of their experiences involves an account of frontier manners and customs, and of collisions with the Indian tribes. The influence of the Scotch-Irish settlements upon American institutions is traced, particularly in organizing and propagating the Presbyterian Church, in spreading popular education, and in promoting the movement for American national independence. In conclusion, there is an appreciation of the Ulster contribution to American nationality.”


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