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Page 6

John Witherspoon


   In his person, Dr. Witherspoon was remarkably dignified. He was six feet in height, and of fine proportion. He was distinguished for a fervent piety, and for great punctuality and exactness in his devotional exercises. "Besides his daily devotions of the closet, and the family, it was his stated practice to observe the last day of every year, with his family, as a day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer: and it was also his practice to set apart days for secret fasting and prayer, as occasion suggested."
   "Bodily infirmities began at length to come upon him. For more than two years before his death, he was afflicted with the loss of sight, which contributed to hasten the progress of his other disorders. These he bore with a patience, and even with a cheerfulness, rarely to be met with in the most eminent for wisdom and piety. Nor would his active mind, and his desire of usefulness to the end, permit him, even in this situation, to desist from the exercise of his ministry, and his duties in the college, as far as his strength and health would admit. He was frequently led into the pulpit, both at home and abroad, during, his blindness; and always acquitted himself with his usual accuracy, and frequently with more than his usual solemnity and animation."
   At length, however, he sank under the accumulated pressure of his infirmities; and on the 15th day of November, 1794, in the seventy-third year of his age he retired to his final rest. The following epitaph is inscribed on the marble which covers his remains:

Beneath this marble lie interred
the mortal remains of
a venerable and beloved President of the College of
He was born in the parish of Yester, in Scotland,
on the 5th of February, 1722, O. S.
And was liberally educated in the University of Edinburgh;
invested with holy orders in the year 1743,
he faithfully performed the duties of
his pastoral charge,
during five and twenty years,
first at Beith, and then at Paisley.
Elected president of Nassau Hall,
he asumed the duties of that office on the 13th of August, 1768,
with the elevated expectations of the public.
Excelling in every mental gift,
he was a man of pre-eminent piety and virture
and deeply versed in the various branches
of literature and the liberal arts.
A grave and solemn preacher,
his sermons abounded in the most excellent doctrines and precepts,
and in lucid expositins of the Holy Scriptures.
Affable, pleasant, and courteous in familiar conversation,
he was eminently distinguished
in concerns and deliberations of the church,
and endowed with the greatest prudence
in the management and instruction of youth.
He exalted
the reputation of the college amongst foreigners,
and greatly promoted the advancement
of its literary character and taste.
He was, for a long time, conspicuous
Among the most brilliant luminaries of learning and of the Church.
At length,
universally venerated, beloved, and lamented,
he departed this life on the fifteenth of November, MDCCXCIV.
aged LXXIII years.

Source: Rev. Charles A. Goodrich Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence. New York: William Reed & Co., 1856. Pages 211 - 221. (Some minor spelling changes may have been made.)

See also:

  • The biography of Elizabeth Montgomery Witherspoon, John Witherspoon's wife


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