Governor Jonathan Belcher: Founder of Princeton University

[EDITOR'S NOTE:  The following is from: Ashbel Green, President of Princeton College, Discourses in the College of New Jersey;...Including a Historical Sketch of the College... (Philadelphia and New York: E. Littell and R. Norris Henry, 1822), pp. 264-268, 272-275.]

The first entry, in the first volume of the minutes of the Trustees of the College of New-Jersey [Princeton University], is a copy of the Charter. The next entry is the subjoined extract; which will show that Governor Belcher was regarded as the founder of the college [i.e., Princeton University], and that the trustees entertained a very grateful sense of his services and liberality of that occasion.

"On Thursday Oct. 13th, 1748, convened at New-Brunswick--

James Hude, Andrew Johnston, Thomas Leonard, Esq’rs— Messrs. John Pierson, Ebenezer Pemberton, Joseph Lamb, William Tennent, Richard Treat, David Cowell, Aaron Burr, Timothy Jones, Thomas Arthur, Ministers of the Gospel, William P. Smith, Gent.; thirteen of those nominated in the charter to be trustees of the College; who having accepted the charter, were qualified and incorporated according to the directions thereof; and being a quorum of the corporation, proceeded, as the charter directs...

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Captain General and Governor in Chief of the province of New-Jersey, and territories thereon depending in America, and Vice-Admiral of the same;---

The humble address of the Trustees of the college of New-Jersey;


We have often adored that wise and gracious Providence, which has placed your Excellency in the chief seat of government in this province; and have taken our part with multitudes in congratulating New-Jersey upon that occasion.

Your long known and well approved friendship to religion and learning left us no room to doubt your doing all that lay in your power to promote so valuable a cause in these parts; and upon this head our most raised expectations have been abundantly answered. We do, therefore, cheerfully embrace this opportunity of paying our most sincere and grateful acknowledgments to your Excellency, for granting so ample and well contrived a Charter for erecting a seminary of learning in this province, which has been so much wanted and so long desired.

And as it has pleased your Excellency to intrust us with so important a charge, it shall be our study and care to approve ourselves worthy the great confidence you have placed in us, by doing our utmost to promote so noble a design.

And since we have your Excellency to direct and assist us in this important and difficult undertaking, we shall engage in it with the more freedom and cheerfulness; not doubting but by the smiles of Heaven, under your protection, it may prove a flourishing seminary of piety and good literature; and continue not only a perpetual monument of honor to your name, above the victories and triumphs of renowned conquerors, but a lasting foundation for the future prosperity of church and state.

That your Excellency may long live a blessing to this province, an ornament and support to our infant college;--that you may see your generous designs for the public good take their desired effect, and at last receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away,--is and shall be our constant prayer.

By order of the trustees,


New-Brunswick, Oct. 13th, 1748.


To which his Excellency was pleased to return the following answer.



I have this day received by one of your members, the Rev. Mr. Cowell, your kind and handsome address; for which I heartily return you thanks; and shall esteem my being placed at the head of this government, a still greater favour from God and the king, if it may at any time fall in my power, as it is in my inclination, to promote the kingdom of the great Redeemer, by taking the college of New-Jersey under my countenance and protection, as a seminary of true religion and good literature.



As Governor Belcher was the founder of the college, so it will appear by the following extracts that it was he who advised and urged the erection of the college edifice; when as yet the funds of the institution were so scanty that, but for his countenance and zeal, the enterprise would have been deemed impracticable. This edifice was, for many years, the largest single building in our country.


NEWARK, Sept. 27th, 1752.


"His Excellency Governor Belcher was pleased to deliver in a speech to the board of the trustees, together with certain proposals respecting the important interests of the college; which being read, the trustees unanimously voted his Excellency their hearty thanks, for his kind regard for the welfare of the infant seminary;--that his Excellency’s speech be drawn into the college book, and said proposals to be taken under immediate consideration."


His Excellency’s speech was in the following words:


GENTLEMEN of the trustees of the college of New-Jersey. ‘Tis with much satisfaction that I meet you this day (being the anniversary of our commencement) hoping we are come together, to act as with one heart and mind for the best establishment of our infant college, which I trust, by the favor of ALMIGHTY GOD, will become a singular blessing in this and the neighbouring provinces, to the present and future generations.

By the latest advices from England, I am sorry to find, that the difficulty we have been under of procuring a proper person to undertake a voyage to Great Britain, for soliciting our friends there to extend their good will and bounty towards us, has, at present, lost us a reasonable prospect of their assistance and benefactions; but which I still hope, may be obtained hereafter.

In the mean time, 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 these buildings. By the smiles of heaven upon this undertaking, the students have become so numerous as that "the bed is shorter than that a man can stretch himself upon it, and the covering narrower than that he can wrap himself in it." Besides, the way and method we are in, as to place and manner of instructing the youth, looks to me like lighting a candle, and putting it under a bushel. Although every thing must have its beginning, and these things commonly advance by slow paces; yet we find by the neighbouring provinces, that seminaries of this kind have always increased faster, and been more useful to the world, after the building of colleges than before. I therefore hope you will closely apply yourselves, so as to come to a conclusion in this material article.

I have minute several other things, which I think may be of good service to this society, and which shall be also read to you, in order to be got through at his time: And I wish we may patiently keep together till they are done.

It is almost needless to tell you, that (through the sparing mercy and forbearance of a gracious God) I have passed the stated period of human life; and I may say with that eastern prince of old "my days are extinct, and the graves are ready for me;" therefore before "I shall go hence and be here no more," if I may, by any way or means, be serviceable to this seminary of religion and learning, it will give me pleasure in life and comfort in death.


Newark, September 27th, 1752.

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His Excellency Governor Belcher, having been pleased to make a generous donation of his library of books, with other valuable ornaments, to the college of New-Jersey, the trustees voted, that an address of thanks be made to his Excellency, and presented by president Burr, William T. Smith, Samuel Woodruff and John Brainerd, and that said address to be in the following words.

To his Excellency Jonathan Belcher, Esq. captain-general, and governor in chief of the province of Nova-Caeserea, or New-Jersey, chancellor, and vice admiral in the same.





‘Tis with hearts warmed with the liveliest sentiments of gratitude, we take this occasion, to recognize that indulgent providence, which at first stationed your Excellency at the helm of this government; and still preserves a life so valuable in the eyes of every lover of learning and virtue.

By the skill and prudence of the measures pursued in your administration (through the smiles of heaven) harmony, good order, and tranquility, are restored to a province, which, before your accession, was unhappily distracted with animosities, tumults and general disorders.

But what we are principally to commemorate, sir, is that glorious ardour you have always discovered, for the promotion of true piety, and sound literature, among the inhabitants of New-Jersey. We are sensible how much, under God, the seminary of learning lately erected in this province, and committed to our charge, owes its influence and present flourishing state, to your Excellency’s patronage and influence.

We heartily congratulate your Excellency, on the signal success with which Heaven has crowned your generous efforts, for the advancement of the interests of this noble institution: an institution calculated to disperse the mists of ignorance and error,--to cultivate the minds of the rising generation, with the principles of knowledge and virtue,--to promote the real glory and intrinsic happiness of society.

The extensive recommendations your Excellency was pleased to make in Great Britain, of the College of New-Jersey, and your countenance and encouragement offered our late mission, to solicit the benevolence of the friends of learning abroad, demand, at this time, our most thankful acknowledgments. We rejoice with you, Sir, on the favourable event of that necessary and laudable undertaking, An event which hath so amply enabled us to erect a convenient edifice, for the reception of the students, and hath laid the foundation for a fund, for the support of the necessary instructors.

The zeal your Excellency still unremittingly exerts, in favour of this seminary, language would fail us sufficiently to applaud. The late extraordinary influence of your generosity, in endowing our public library, with your own excellent collection of volumes, a set of globes, and other valuable ornaments, can never be mentioned by us without the most grateful emotions. With the highest pleasure we reflect, that one of the principal apartments of the building, will be adorned with the arms and effigies of its great patron and benefactor. Donations so seasonable and necessary, must add reputation to the society; enable us more effectually to promote the grand ends of its institution, and animate us with a redoubled vigour, in the faithful discharge of our trust.

These, with a variety of instances of your Excellency’s singular concern for the future prosperity of church and state, will engage generations yet unborn to rise up and call you blessed.

The disinterested motives which actuate every part of your Excellency’s conduct, must be apparent to all, who are acquainted with your amiable character, and the conscious pleasure you find, in being instrumental of advancing the glory of the Deity, and the felicity of mankind, is far superior to the transient satisfaction resulting from vain eulogiums and exterior greatness.

Though we are conscious, that the worthy and benevolent deeds, which have distinguished your Excellency’s life, are abundantly sufficient to embalm your memory after death; yet suffer, sir, an attempt, suggested by the same dictates of gratitude, to transmit your name with adventitious honour to distant posterity. 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 beneficient acts, for the advancement of Christianity, and the emolument of the arts and sciences, to the latest ages.

Newark, September 24th, 1755.


NEWARK, September 29th, 1756.


The gentlemen who were appointed at our last meeting to deliver the address of thanks to his Excellency, for the generous donation of his library to the college, reported that his Excellency returned for answer as follows--


I give you my hearty thanks for this respectful and affectionate address; but ashamed and sorry I am, that I can make so slender a challenge to the merit of it.

When I first had the honour of his majesty’s appointing me a Governor in his plantations (now nineteen years ago) I determined, as far as it would consist with his majesty’s honour and interest, and with the welfare of the people, to look upon moderation, as a wise temperament for the easy and happy administration of goverment: and this I believe has greatly contributed to the present peace and tranquility of his province, after the many tumults and riots it had been groaning under, for a long time before my arrival. Soon after which, it seemed to me, that a seminary for religion and learning should be promoted in this province; for the better enlightening the minds, and polishing the manners, of this and the neighbouring colonies: And to this end, that there should be a society under a good institution, for obtaining the desired success. 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; which I hope and believe is the advancing the kingdom and interest of the blessed Jesus, and the general good of mankind. And I desire, in the first place, to give praise and thanks to Almighty God, and under him to the many generous benefactors who have contributed to the encouragement and establishment of the college of New-Jersey; which affair I have been pursuing, free from all sinister views and aims, as a thing I believe to be acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour. And when, in God’s best time, I must go the way whence I shall not return, I shall lay down my head in the grave, with the greater peace and comfort, in that God has spared me to live to see the present flourishing state of this college; for whose future welfare and prosperity, I shall pray in some of my latest moments.

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 great personage, Prodesse quam conspici. But I must not leave this head without asking the favour 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 honour 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, and who, under God, was the great deliverer of the British nation, from...Slavery; And who, for the better establishment of the true religion and English liberty, brought forward an act in the British parliament, for securing the crown of Great Britain to the present royal family, whereby we now become happy under the best of Kings, in the full enjoyment of English liberty and prosperity. And God Almighty grant we may never want [lack] a Sovereign from his loins to sway the British sceptre in righteousness.



Whereas his Excellency Governor Belcher has signified to us, his declining to have the edifice we have lately erected at Princeton, for the use and service of New-Jersey College, to be called after his name, and has desired, for good reasons, that it should be called after the name of the illustrious house of NASSAU--It is therefore voted, and is hereby ordered, that the said edifice be, in all time to come, called and known by the name of NASSAU-HALL."

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