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Rare Books

Rare Book Division
Firestone Library
One Washington Road
Princeton, NJ 08540
Curator of Rare Books

John Witherspoon Library
Location designator: WIT

About 950 volumes, virtually all of which came from his own library. The greater portion of the collection was purchased as a unit from Samuel Stanhope Smith in 1812. Many volumes have his autograph.  For a listing of these books, see the entry for John Witherspoon in "Legacy Libraries: Libraries of Early America" section of, in particular the catalog of his library.
     "...Witherspoon was one of the first residents of Princeton to assemble a sizable private library, but most of his books, along with his papers, were destroyed or scattered when the British occupied Princeton late in 1776. "Old Witherspoon has not excap'd their fury," wrote a friend to Thomas Jefferson on January 2, 1777. "They have burnt his Library. It grieves him much that he has lost his controversial Tracts. He would lay aside the cloth to take revenge of them. I believe he would send them to the Devil if he could." If he was not a 'book collector' in the modern sense, Witherspoon certainly seems to have evinced toward his books the proper attitude of a collector. He assembled a second library, which was inherited by his son-in-law, Samuel Stanhope Smith, from whom it was purchased by the College when Smith resigned as President in 1812. It is this second library, with a few strays from other sources, that forms the Witherspoon Collection in the Eighteenth-Century Room, sentimentally the premier collection of the University Library..." -- Alexander D. Wainwright, "Some Private Libraries in the Town of Princeton," published in Vol. 21, Winter, 1967, no. 2 of the The Green Pyne Leaf (a publication of the Staff Association, Princeton University Library), p. 26. (Note: the table of contents numerates this issue as Vol. 21, Winter 1966 / 1967, no. 2.)
     For particulars about the pamphlets in the collection see: Stewart M. Robinson, "Notes on the Witherspoon Pamphlets" in the Princeton University Library Chronicle XXVII, 1 (Autumn, 1965) pp. 53-59 full text]. This article gives details about 660 pamphlets dating from 1706 (A summary of acts of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland from 1638-1706) until 1792. These pamphlets reflect controversial questions of the day (often religious and/or political). Some were written by Witherspoon himself. There is a set of folders in the Collections File containing chronologically arranged photocopies of the title pages of these pamphlets. These titlepages are now available as PDF files here.