The Great Awakening is said to have
begun in New Jersey about 1720 with revival meetings in the Raritan
Valley led by a Dutch Reformed pastor, Theodorus Jacobus Frelinghuysen,
who emphasized the religion of the heart over doctrine and liturgy.
It was carried on throughout the Middle Colonies under the leadership
of zealous evangelical graduates of the Log College, founded in
Pennsylvania about 1726 by Presbyterian William Tennent. In New
England the movement was led by the stirring preaching of Congregationalist
Jonathan Edwards at Northampton, Massachusetts. These and other
revivalistic activities were stimulated in the years 1739 to 1741
by the tours of the English evangelist, George Whitefield. The
activities spread with the preaching of Presbyterian Samuel Davies
in Virginia and with later efforts of Baptists and Methodists
in other parts of the South.*   In New England, where the
movement was shorter-lived than elsewhere, the emotional, and
sometimes fanatical, excesses of some of the followers of the
revivalists left a bitter division in the churches between the
``New Lights'' and the ``Old Lights.'' In the Middle Colonies
a similar division between the ``New Sides'' and the ``Old Sides''
caused a split in the Presbyterian Church from 1741 to 1758 known
as the Great Schism.
ORIGIN OF THE COLLEGE
The four originators of the College
were members of the moderate wing of the New Sides. Three of them
were graduates of Yale: Jonathan Dickinson, pastor at Elizabethtown;
Aaron Burr, pastor at Newark; John Pierson, pastor at Woodbridge.
The fourth, Ebenezer Pemberton, pastor of the Presbyterian Church
in New York, was a graduate of Harvard. They believed in revivalism
and welcomed George Whitefield to their pulpits, but they disapproved
of the more contentious and intrusive methods of the New Sides
graduates of William Tennent's Log College. Nevertheless, being
ex-Congregationalists, they defended the rights of the Tennent
men in their disputes with the Old Sides group that dominated
the Synod of Philadelphia. After this synod expelled the Presbytery
of New Brunswick in 1741 for defying a regulation that Log College
graduates should not be ordained without an examination by a committee
of the synod, Dickinson, Burr, and the others tried in vain to
effect a conciliation. They then withdrew from the Synod of Philadelphia
and joined with the Presbytery of New Brunswick to form the new
Synod of New York in 1745.
Disappointed by Yale and Harvard's
opposition to the Great Awakening and not satisfied with the limited
course of instruction given at the Log College, they devised a
plan for the establishment of a new college. The four ministers
persuaded three leading lay Presbyterians in New York to join
them. These three, also graduates of Yale were: William Smith,
lawyer; Peter Van Brugh Livingston, merchant; and William Peartree
Smith, a young man of independent means who was a generous supporter
of the church and ``an ardent patriot.'' Since there was at that
time no college in existence between New Haven in Connecticut
and Williamsburg in Virginia -- a long distance to cover by horseback
or stagecoach -- the need for an institution of higher education
in the Middle Colonies, they felt, was urgent.
Late in 1745 or early in 1746 these
seven men applied for a charter to Governor Lewis Morris, an Anglican,
who refused their petition because, he said, his instructions
inhibited him from granting such a charter to a group of dissenters.
Following Morris's death, they applied anew to Acting Governor
John Hamilton. Although also an Anglican, Hamilton was more liberal
in his views than Morris and with the consent of his Council,
on which there were a number of friends of the proposed College,
he granted a charter on October 22, 1746. The Anglican clergy
later complained that it was done ``so suddenly and privately''
that they ``had no opportunity to enter a caveat against it.''
A century and a half later the Anglican
Acting Governor received this tribute from a latter-day Presbyterian,
John DeWitt 1861, in a history of the College that he wrote for
the Sesquicentennial Celebration:
``The name of John Hamilton should
be given a conspicuous place in any list of the founders of Princeton
University. He granted the first charter; he granted it against
the precedent made by the governor whom he succeeded in the executive
chair; and he granted it with alacrity. . . . What is more remarkable,
at a time when Episcopalian governors were ill-disposed to grant
to Presbyterians ecclesiastical or educational franchises, he~
-- an Episcopalian -- gave this charter to a board of trust composed
wholly of members of the Presbyterian Church.''
However, the college thus founded
was not, as has sometimes been said, established under the auspices
of the Synod of New York. The seven persons who, in the words
of their leader Jonathan Dickinson, ``first concocted the plan
and foundation of the College'' were leading members of that body,
but they acted independently as (the charter said) ``well disposed
& publick spirited Persons.'' The new institution, therefore,
was not to be a synodical seminary of the kind that had been planned
earlier by the Synod of Philadelphia, but a college of liberal
arts and sciences. ``Though our great Intention was to erect a
seminary for educating Ministers of the Gospel,'' one of the founders+
later wrote in a letter to another clergyman, ``yet we hope it
will be useful in other learned professions -- Ornaments of the
State as Well as the Church. Therefore we propose to make the
plan of Education as extensive as our Circumstances will admit.''
The College, furthermore, was not to be solely for Presbyterians:
``The most effectual Care is taken in our Charter to secure the
Rights of Conscience,'' the Trustee wrote in this same letter.
``Persons of all persuasions are to have free access to the Honours
& Privileges of the College, while they behave themselves with
Sobriety and Virtue.''   Five months or more after they obtained
the charter, the seven original trustees chose for the remaining
places they were empowered to fill five ardent New Siders: Samuel
Blair, Samuel Finley, Gilbert Tennent, William Tennent, Jr., and
Richard Treat, all graduates of the Log College except Treat,
who was one of its close adherents. On April 27, 1747, the trustees
announced the election of Jonathan Dickinson as president, and
the College opened in his Elizabethtown parsonage during the last
week of May. On President Dickinson's death the following October,
the College moved to the Newark parsonage of Aaron Burr, who was
elected the second president.
THE FOUNDING PERFECTED
When the first charter was attacked
-- the Anglicans contended that Hamilton was superannuated when
he granted it and threatened to test its validity in court --
the next governor, Jonathan Belcher, a graduate of Harvard and
a Congregationalist, issued a second one on September 14, 1748.
It left intact the essential features of the first charter, but
developed further the founders' concern for ``State as well as
Church'' by making the governor of New Jersey ex-officio a trustee
and including among those appointed to an enlarged board of twenty-three
trustees, four members of the Provincial Council and other prominent
laymen, two of whom were members of the Society of Friends, two
of the Episcopal Church, and one of the Dutch Reformed Church.
Belcher's efforts on behalf of the
College tended to eclipse the work of the earlier founders. Although
he himself referred to the College as his ``adopted daughter,''
the trustees, in proposing to name the first college building
in Princeton for him, said they viewed him as the College's ``founder,
patron, and benefactor.'' An Account of the College, published
by the trustees in 1764, even begins with the granting of the
charter by Governor Belcher and the opening of the College in
Newark under ``Mr. President Burr, the first who officiated in
Later historians -- President Maclean,
Professors Collins and Wertenbaker -- have, with ample documentation,
restored the earlier phases of Princeton's founding, President
Maclean giving us this balanced view of Belcher's role:
``The Governor was not, properly
speaking, the founder of the College, in the sense of being its
originator, for the College was in existence, and in active operation,
before his arrival. He was not, therefore, to use a phrase of
Lord Coke's, its Fundator Incipiens, although, in view of what
he did towards the building up of the institution, he may be regarded
as its Fundator Perficiens.
an honorary degree from Princeton in 1749, Davies in 1753, Whitefield
in 1754. Two of William Tennent's sons became Trustees of the College;
Edwards, its third president; Davies, its fourth.
when given to the University in 1905, lacked the last page(s).
Internal evidence suggests that it was written between 1748 and
1750, probably by Ebenezer Pemberton.