The Princeton Cemetery
of the Nassau Presbyterian Church
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THE PRINCETON CEMETERY
is owned by the Nassau (formerly First) Presbyterian Church located opposite Palmer Square in the center of town. The Square was
named after Edgar Palmer (#34), a benefactor of both the University and the community. The Cemetery was established in 1757, and the oldest surviving monument is that of Aaron
Burr, Sr., located in the Presidents' Plot. The cosmopolitan character of the Cemetery continues, and interment has never been restricted to Church members and their families.
The Cemetery has been called the "Westminster Abbey of the United States" by John F. Hageman in his 1878 history of the town because so many prominent citizens are buried here, and it has been designated by the Delaware River Planning Commission as a historical site "well worth preservation." The development of the Cemetery is deeply rooted in the Church, the University, and the larger community which had been settled as Stony Brook in 1681, renamed Princeton in 1724, and incorporated by the state in 1813.
Except for some private plots on several pre-Revolutionary family farms, the oldest burial ground in Princeton is at the Quaker Meeting House. Some early settlers -- including the Clarke, Olden, Hornor, and Worth families -- used only the Quaker Cemetery from about 1724, and the Stocktons were buried there for over a hundred years. Unfortunately, many historical names and dates have been lost because it was the custom of the Quakers not to place identifying grave markers until about 1800. Nevertheless, Richard Stockton, Sr., a signer of the Declaration of Independence and member of the Continental Congress, is known to have been buried in the Quaker Cemetery in 1781. However, the graves of both his son (#44) and grandson (#45) are to be found here in the Princeton Cemetery.
The oldest part of the Princeton Cemetery, formerly known as the Old Graveyard (see map), lies at the intersection of Wiggins and Witherspoon streets and includes the Presidents' Plot of the University. Here one can see some of the earliest European family names in the area: Bayard, Berrien, Leonard, Mershon, Skillman, Stockton, and Terhune. This original one-acre parcel of land had been acquired by the College of New Jersey, now Princeton University, in 1757 from Judge Thomas Leonard, a member of the Provincial Council, a year after the College with its seventy students had been moved from Newark to Princeton upon completion of Nassau Hall, still the University's main building.
The predecessor of the Nassau Presbyterian Church was established in 1762 and completed in 1764 with a grant of land as well as substantial financial assistance from the College. The Church property included an old burial ground that was later returned to the College in exchange for the Cemetery that had been established by the College in 1757. The remains of thirty-two members of the FitzRandolph family who had been buried in unmarked Quaker graves on the returned property just west of the Church were finally exhumed in 1909 and placed in separate vaults beneath the eastern archway of Holder Hall being built on the site. A memorial plaque placed in that archway can be seen today.
The Wiggins Farm, conveyed by the aforementioned Judge Thomas Leonard to Dr. Thomas Wiggins (#54) in 1783 was adjacent to the original Cemetery. However, in 1801 Dr. Wiggins bequeathed his farm to the Church, and the house thereon became the manse. The Church eventually sold the farm in 1848 while retaining three acres for Cemetery expansion, at which time Wiggins Street (see map) was opened. Later gifts of over four acres from Paul Tulane (#48) in 1878 and eight acres from Moses Taylor Pyne (#37) in 1919 led to the present-day size of almost nineteen acres. Today the Cemetery is hemmed in with but little possibility of expansion at this site.
A visitor's time and energy will be well rewarded by use of the Cemetery map to locate the graves of some of the people associated with the long history of the Church, the University, and the town. The graves of all but four of the deceased presidents of the College and University can be found in the Presidents' Plot (missing are those of Jonathan Dickinson, Samuel Finley, Francis Landey Patton, and Woodrow Wilson). The monument for Finley in the Presidents' Plot is only a cenotaph because he was buried elsewhere. Early in the twentieth century the Cemetery was enclosed by a low brick wall along Witherspoon Street and an old, dilapidated wooden fence around the rest of the perimeter. The ornamental wrought iron fence seen today was installed in 1916, a gift from George Allison Armour whose home at 83 Stockton Street has been the University president's official residence, now known as Lowry House, since 1968.
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