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Page 5

John Witherspoon


   After his return to this country, in 1784, finding nothing to obstruct his entering on that retirement which was now becoming dear to him, he withdrew, in a great measure', except on some important occasions, from the exercise of those public functions that were not immediately connected with the duties of his office, as president of the college, or his character as a minister of the gospel.
   Although Dr. Witherspoon was peculiarly fitted for political life, he appeared with still more advantage as a minister of the gospel, and particularly as a minister in the pulpit. "He was, in many respects," says Dr. Rogers, "one of the best models on which a young preacher could form himself. It was a singular felicity to the whole college, but especially to those who had the profession of the ministry in contemplation, to have such an example constantly in view. Religion, by the manner in which it was treated by him, always commanded the respect of those who heard him, even when it was not able to engage their hearts. An admirable textuary; a profound theologian, perspicuous and simple in his manner; an universal scholar, acquainted with human nature; a grave, dignified, solemn speaker; -he brought all the advantages derived from these sources, to the illustration and enforcement of divine truth."
   The social qualities of Dr. Witherspoon rendered him one of the most companionable of men. He possessed a rich fund of anecdote, both amusing and instructive. His moments of relaxation were as entertaining as his serious ones were fraught with improvement. The following anecdote presents a specimen of his pleasantry. On the surrender of the British army to General Gates, at Saratoga, that officer dispatched one of his aids to convey the news to congress. The interesting character of the intelligence would have prompted most men to have made as expeditions a journey as possible; but the aid proceeded so leisurely, that the intelligence reached Philadelphia three days before his arrival. It was usual for Congress, on such occasions, to bestow some mark of their esteem upon the person who was the bearer of intelligence so grateful; and it was proposed, in this case, to best upon the messenger an elegant sword. During the conversation on this subject in the hall, Dr. Witherspoon rose, and begged leave to amend the motion, by substituting for an elegant sword, a pair of golden spurs.
   Another interesting trait in his character, was his attention to young persons. He never suffered an opportunity to escape him of imparting the most useful advice to them, according to their circumstances, when they happened to be in his company. And this was always done with so much kindness and suavity, that they could neither be inattentive to it or easily forget it.
   In domestic life, he was an affectionate husband, a tender parent, a kind master, and a sincere friend. He was twice married. The first time in Scotland, at an early age, to a lady by the name of Montgomery. She was a woman distinguished for her piety and benevolence. At the time of his emigration to America, he had three sons and two daughters. James, his eldest son, was killed in the battle of Germantown. John was bred a physician, and David applied himself to the study of the law. Both were respectable men. Of the daughters, one was married to the Rev. Samuel S. Smith, the successor of Dr. Witherspoon in the presidency of' the college. The other became connected with Dr. Ramsay, the celebrated historian. The second marriage of Dr. Witherspoon occurred when he was seventy years old; the lady whom he married was only twenty-three.

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Last modified December 31, 2003