William Burnet [graduate of Princeton College, class of 1749] was the son of Ichabod Burnet, a distinguished physician of Elizabethtown, New Jersey. After graduating, he studied medicine with Dr. Staats, of New York, but the trouble with the mother country coming on, he relinguished a lucrative practice, and entered actively into the political movements of the day. Dr. Burnet was Chairman of the "Committee of Public Safety" at Newark, which met daily. In 1775, he was superintendent of a military hospital, established on his own responsibility, in Newark. In the winter of 1776, he was elected a member of the Continental Congress, but early in the session, Congress divided the thirteen states into three military districts, and Dr. Burnet was appointed Physician and Surgeon General of the Eastern District; he accordingly resigned his seat in Congress, and entered upon his office, the arduous duties of which he continued to discharge till the close of the war in 1783. At one time, Dr. Burnet was stationed at West Point, and on a certain occasion, he was dining with a party of gentlemen at the house of Gen. [Benedict] Arnold (this is on authority of his son, the Hon. Judge Jacob Burnet, of Ohio), when the officer of the day entered and reported that a spy had been taken below who called himself John Anderson. It was remarked by the persons who were at the table that this intelligence, interesting to the general as it must have been, produced no visible change in his countenance or behavior--that he continued in his seat for some minutes, conversing as before--after which he arose, saying to his guests, that business required him to be absent for a short time, and desiring them to remain and enjoy themselves till his return. The next intelligence they had of him was, that he was in his barge, moving rapidly to a British ship of war, the Vulture, which was lying at anchor a short distance below the Point.
At the close of the war, Dr. Burnet returned to his family and devoted himself to agricultural pursuits. Soon after he was appointed presiding Judge of the Court of Common Pleas by the legislature of New Jersey, and was also elected President of the State Medical Society. Being a fine classical scholar, on taking the chair, he read an elaborate essay in Latin on the proper use of the lancet in pleuritic cases. Dr. Burnet died died October 7, 1791.
[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. 5-6.
William Burnet 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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