Samuel Stanhope Smith

H-SC President, 1775-1779

Samuel Stanhope Smith After graduation as valedictorian of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University) class of 1769, Samuel Stanhope Smith studied theology and philosophy, and taught Latin and Greek, under his father at the latter's "log college" and back at Princeton under President John Witherspoon, until 1773, when he came to Southside Virginia as a missionary. In summer 1774 he began pressing the cause of an academy/college for these parts, and within six months his enthusiasm had matured into reality when on 2-3 February 1775 the Presbytery of Hanover, charmed by the bright 24-year-old preacher, approved his plans, elected twelve of his new local friends - many of them Episcopalian - Trustees, accepted a gift of 100 acres for the campus, and elected him Rector (later President). Presbytery's meeting was held in the office of Trustee Nathaniel Venable's plantation, Slate Hill, 2.5 miles south of the campus; that office, called The Birthplace, now stands next to Atkinson Hall. In summer 1775 Smith went to Philadelphia to buy books, science equipment, and clothes (he was noted for his stylish, unclerical attire), and to Princeton to hire his faculty; he also married Dr. Witherspoon's daughter (to the grievous disappointment of another girl) and took his suggestion for the College's name. The College opened as advertised on 10 November 1775; but in 1779 Smith, who in 1777 had bought a plantation nearby, heeded pleas to return to Princeton as coadjutor to Witherspoon, whom he succeeded in 1783, serving until his forced resignation in 1812. Smith received honorary doctorates from Yale and Harvard, was a pillar of the august American Philosophical Society, and wrote influential works in philosophy and theology; his recent biographer says that "he brought to the presidency [of Princeton] an unusual range of talent, perhaps the broadest range of any president before or after him."