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Founding Fathers and other Influencing Citizens.  How They Served Our Country—Dr. John Witherspoon

By David Streater, Ph.D.

Burke CountyDavid Streater Burke County foundation forward charters of freedom


This is an American history educational moment of those who made a difference during the Revolutionary War era and how they served our Country.

On February 5, 1723, John Witherspoon was born in Yester, Scotland.  Being a prodigy, John was reading at four and started college at 13.  He graduated with a master’s degree at 16 from the University of Edinburgh and his doctorate at 23 from the University of St. Andrews.

Witherspoon, being a charismatic minister, was persuaded by several Founding Fathers that he was needed as the president of the College of New Jersey, now Princeton University.  Even though John and his wife initially resisted, they sailed to America in 1768.  During his tenure, John wanted Princeton to be a premier university.  As a result, Witherspoon made changes, including scholarships for the poor, and community involvement, expanded the curriculum, and taught all students to be ideal and notable leaders.  For example, John personally mentored James Madison, who helped shaped the United States Constitution and became the fourth United States President.

Witherspoon loved America from the moment he arrived and educated students about democracy.  As a new member of Congress in June 1776, John voted for independence and was “the only clergyman to sign the Declaration of Independence.”

When the Revolutionary War reached the campus, Witherspoon suspended classes.  The British burned the University, including the library, destroying many of Whitherspoon’s scholarly works.  This tormented John, but not compared to the anguish from his son’s death at the Battle of Germantown.

Witherspoon forged ahead while rebuilding the University and participated in the convention that endorsed the United States Constitution.  In addition, John was active on many committees, including one that recognized New Jersey as the third state.

During the next several years, John’s wife died.  He later remarried and took on additional duties such as criminal justice reform, vital statistics, and the cause to abolish slavery.

During his life, Witherspoon saw success and strife.  He oversaw building a renowned university, educated judges including the Supreme Court, congressmen, a vice-president, and his student, the fourth president of the United States, James Madison.  Another milestone was Princeton hosting the Continental Congress, where the Peace Treaty of 1783 announced; “America as an Independent nation.”

Witherspoon, becoming blind, died at his New Jersey farm on November 15, 1794, at 71.  John Witherspoon is saluted as “The man who shaped the men who shaped America”!

Please visit your Charters of Freedom setting in most western North Carolina counties.  A Charters of Freedom setting consists of the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.  They are on permanent display analogous to the Charters of Freedom in the National Archives, Washington, DC.  Please visit our website ( to learn more about our existing settings.

All teachers are encouraged to contact Dr. Streater for information and complementary student education materials to enhance experiential field trips to a Charter of Freedom settings.  Everyone is welcome and urged to obtain a personalized engraved legacy paver for placement at their local Charters of Freedom setting.  Please contact Dr. Streater ( for engraved legacy paver information and complementary educational materials.


Dr. David Streater is the director of education for Foundation Forward.  He is a retired college instructor and administrator, and a retired probation and parole officer/administrator.  David is a criminologist who has an acute history interest, served in the Navy, and is a resident of Burke County, NC.

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Read more about our founding fathers HERE.