Richard Stockton [graduate of Princeton College, class of 1748]. No name stands higher among the lawyers and statesmen of America, than that of Richard Stockton. He was the son of John Stockton, and was born in Princeton, New Jersey, October 1, 1730. After graduating, he studied law with David Ogden, of Newark, and soon became prominent in his profession.
In 1766 he visited Europe, where he was received with flattering marks of friendship and respect by many eminent noblemen, gentlemen, and men of letters. During this visit, his life was in imminent peril on two occasions: once he was attacked at night in the city of Edinburgh by a desperate robber, and after a severe contest, in which he successfully defended himself with a small sword, now in possession of the family, he repelled the attack without receiving any material injury.
The second escape was of a different character. He had engaged his passage in a packet for the purpose of crossing the Irish Channel, but his baggage being accidentally detained, did not arrive before the vessel had sailed. Although greatly disappointed, it proved the cause of his preservation, for the vessel in which he intended to embark was wrecked in a violent storm, and every soul on board perished.
In 1774, Mr. Stockton was appointed Judge of the Supreme Court of New Jersey, and in 1776 was offered the Chief Justiceship, which he declined. The same year he was elected to the Continental Congress, and was one of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence. While a member of Congress, during a visit to the house of a friend in Monmouth County, New Jersey, he was captured by a party of royalists and thrown into prison in New York City. His confinement and the barbarity of his treatment seriously and permanently affected his health. He obtained his release through the interference of Congress.
Mr. Stockton had an unrivaled reputation at the bar, and it is said that he always refused to engage in any cause which he knew to be unjust. From 1757 till his death he was a Trustee of the College, and for many years a member and trustee of the Presbyterian Church in Princeton. An estimate of the high tone of his Christian character can be formed by reading the following extract from his last will: "As my children will have frequent occasion of perusing this instrument, and may probably be peculiarly impressed with the last words of their father, I think proper here, not only to subscribe to the entire belief of the great leading doctrines of the Christian religion, such as the being of a God, the universal defection and depravity of human nature, the divinity of the Person, and completeness of the redemption purchased by the blessed Savior, the necessity of the divine Spirit, of divine faith accompanied with an habitual virtuous life, and the universality of divine Providence; but also in the bowels of a father's affection to charge and exhort them to remember that 'the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.'"
Mr. Stockton was a man of great coolness and courage. His bodily powers, both in relation to strength and agility, were of a very superior grade, and he was highly accomplished in all the manly exercises peculiar to the period in which he lived; his skill as a horseman and swordsman was peculiarly great. In person he was tall and commanding, approaching nearly to six feet in height.
What a noble example to lead the van and stimulate the energies of all future graduates! Mr. Stockton died in Princeton, February 28, 1781.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: The above is an excerpt (slightly edited) from: Samuel Davies Alexander, Princeton College During the Eighteenth Century (New York: Anson D. F. Randolph & Company, 1872), pp. 2-4.
Richard Stockton graduated from Princeton during the governorship of Princeton founder Governor Jonathan Belcher (1682-1757) (governor of New Jersey, 1746-1757), who under the charter of 1748 was ex officio president of the Princeton Board of Trustees.]
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