Elizabeth Montgomery Witherspoon (1721-1789)

Colonial New England

Elizabeth Montgomery Witherspoon (1721-1789)

Rev. John Witherspoon, D.D.,* who became President of Princeton College and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was married to Elizabeth Montgomery in Scotland, shortly after completing his education in Edinburgh University, in 1743. His biographers say of her: "She was a Scotch woman of little education, but whose piety, benevolence, and graciousness made her beloved by all who knew her. Dr. Witherspoon (sometimes spelled Wotherspoon) was the son of a minister descended from John Knox, the great Covenanter, and as a young man, had established a wide reputation for learning and other sterling qualities. He was offered the presidency of Princeton in 1766 but declined became of financial embarrassments and the opposition of his wife who did not wish to leave her family and friends and journey into a strange land. In 1768 Richard Stockton, then traveling in Scotland, visited Dr. Witherspoon and, acting for the trustees, again urged his acceptance. His arguments prevailed and Dr. Witherspoon and his family arrived in Princeton, in August 1768.

The Witherspoons had ten children, five of whom died before they left Scotland; three sons and two daughters accompanied their parents to America. James, the eldest, a young man of great promise graduated from Princeton in 1770, and joined the American army as an aide to General Nash, with the rank of major. He was killed at the battle of Germantown, Oct. 4, 1777. John, the second son, graduated from Princeton in 1774, practiced medicine in South Carolina, and was lost at sea in 1795. David, the youngest son, graduated the same year as his brother, married the widow of General Nash, and practiced law in New Berne, N. C.

Anna, the eldest daughter, married Rev. Samuel Smith, D.D., who succeeded Dr. Witherspoon as President of Princeton. Frances, the youngest daughter, married Dr. David Ramsey, the historian of South Carolina.

Elizabeth Montgomery Witherspoon died in 1789. Eighteen months later, Dr. Witherspoon married the young widow of Dr. Dill of Philadelphia, aged twenty-three. Their daughter married Rev. James S. Woods of Pennsylvania.

Source: Wives of the Signers: The Women Behind the Declaration of Independence, by Harry Clinton Green and Mary Wolcott Green, A.B. (Aledo, TX: Wallbuilder Press, 1997). Orignaly Published in 1912 as volume 3 of The Pioneer Mothers of America: A Record of the More Notable Women of the Early Days of the Country, and Particularly of the Colonial and Revolutionary Periods (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons). Pages 139-141. (Some minor spelling changes may have been made.)

*[From pg. 151] Brigadier-General W. W. Wotherspoon, President of the Government's War College, and one of the greatest military authorities in the country, and who is a direct descendant of the "signer," spells his name "Wotherspoon," but the sturdy old President of Princeton College, who signed the Declaration, wrote it with an "i."

Edited by John Vinci - ColonialHall.com


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