Princeton, New Jersey
Princeton Cemetery is one of America’s most famous burial grounds, the resting place of presidents and high governmental officials, generals, scientists, the rich and famous, and a good number of America’s most prominent early religious leaders and theologians. Among the more famous are Aaron Burr Sr., father of the third Vice President, and John Witherspoon, a clergyman and signer of the Declaration of Independence. But its most distinguished clergyman is undoubtedly Jonathan Edwards, one of America’s greatest, if controversial, theologians and a prominent figure in the early American evangelist movement. John F. Hageman once referred to Princeton Cemetery as the Westminster Abbey of the United States. Nassau Presbyterian Church is the caretaker of the cemetery.
The city of Princeton, New Jersey was founded in the late 17th century and has a venerable history as one of America’s early religious centers. Initially a Quaker community, Princeton became famous a century later as home to the Presbyterian Church’s primary college and theological seminary (the future Princeton University). The University became closely associated with the Nassau Presbyterian Church and its cemetery, which would itself become famous for the prominent theologians buried there. It has since become a place for visitors to come and pay their respects to many of America’s great early religious leaders, men who established many of the country’s religious traditions as well as its most famous theological school.
Aaron Burr, Sr. was a prominent clergyman of the early American Presbyterian Church. He was one of a number of educators who left Yale University to go on to found Princeton College in New Jersey. He was closely associated with Jonathan Edwards, as he married Edwards’ daughter Esther. He also had close ties to many early American politicians, and was the father of Aaron Burr, the future Vice President. Burr became President of Princeton University at the age of thirty-two, and worked diligently to establish Princeton as America’s most important seminary. He remained President of the University until his death in 1757. He is buried in Princeton Cemetery’s President’s Lot.
John Witherspoon was sometimes called the chaplain of the American Revolution. Born in Scotland, he emigrated to America to join the faculty of Princeton University. He became active in anti-British activities, and was distinguished as the only clergyman to sign the Declaration of Independence. He had close ties to Aaron Burr, son of Aaron Burr, Sr., and James Madison, future president. His work both as a clergyman and as a supporter of the revolution won the praise of George Washington. John Witherspoon was influential in the drafting and passage of the United States Constitution. He died in 1794.
The cemetery highlight from a religious standpoint is undoubtedly the grave of Jonathan Edwards. By his early twenties Edwards was already a distinguished theologian and philosopher. During the 1730’s he began to grow disillusioned with Puritanical religious practices, and with what he felt was a general moral slide in the community at large. He became a prominent leader of the religious revivals of the period and one of the major figures of the Great Awakening. His sermon ‘Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God’ in 1741 is considered one of the greatest orations ever delivered in the United States, and it was a milestone of the American Christian Evangelistic movement. Jonathan Edwards ultimately broke with his church, and along with Aaron Burr, Sr. and others went on to found Princeton University. He died in 1758 after a brief tenure as the university’s president.
Princeton Cemetery is typical of graveyards of the 18th and 19th centuries, and largely consists of smaller, rounded tombstones. Even the major graves are generally modest, including that of its most famous resident, former President Grover Cleveland. The majority of the famous graves are clustered around the Old Graveyard and the prestigious President’s Plot, which are located near the corner of Wiggins Street and Witherspoon Street.
Jonathan Edward’s tomb consists of a partially exposed stone sarcophagus located in the Old Graveyard. In addition to the above-mentioned clergyman, other famous theologians buried here include Archibald Alexander (d. 1851), Charles Hodge (d. 1878) and Benjamin Warfield (d. 1921).
Princeton Cemetery is located two blocks north of the University campus, a short distance from downtown Princeton, approximately twenty-five miles northeast of Philadelphia and forty-five miles southwest of New York City. As of this writing the cemetery hours were not available. There is no cost of admission. Web: http://www.nassauchurch.org/ (official website)
Princeton was the first major religious and theological center in America outside of New England. The Princeton Theological Seminary of Princeton University is generally considered to be the first seminary in America not directly rooted in Puritanism. The Nassau Presbyterian Church was established in 1766 to serve the university faculty and students.