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Sale 2533 Lot 165
(NEW JERSEY.) Diploma from the Princeton Class of 1783, whose commencement was attended by Washington and the Continental Congress. Partly printed Document Signed in Latin by John Witherspoon as president and William Smith, John Rodgers, Robert Smith, John Woodhull, John Bayard, Alexander McWhorter, and Elias Boudinot as trustees, made out to graduate Joseph Venable. One page, 8 x 10 inches, on vellum; folds, worn with loss near bottom edge affecting small portions of the printed border, small hole affecting Robert Smith signature, 3 slits apparently intended for insertion of a ribbon seal (not present), minor soiling. [Princeton, NJ], 7 October 1783
Estimate $10,000 - 15,000
Shortly after the conclusion of the American Revolution, the Continental Congress was forced to leave Philadelphia after a revolt by unpaid soldiers. The Congress met in Princeton, NJ in July, August, September, and October 1783. The president of the congress, Elias Boudinot, was a resident of Princeton, where he also served as a trustee of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University). Congress was still in town for the college's graduation ceremonies on 24 September; a special viewing stand was erected for its members. The most distinguished guest, however, was General George Washington, making his first visit to the town since his victory at the Battle of Princeton in 1777.
Among the graduates honored on that day was Joseph Venable (1761-1833), to whom the present diploma was inscribed two weeks later. Venable had done most of his undergraduate work at Hampton Sidney College in Virginia, and then finished up with a year at Princeton; he later became a judge in Kentucky.
College president John Witherspoon, who signed here as "Joannis Witherspoon," was a longtime member of the Continental Congress and is best known as a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Most of the trustees who signed were also of Revolutionary significance. The Rev. John Rodgers, Rev. Alexander McWhorter, and Rev. John Woodhull had all been chaplains in the Continental Army; Colonel John Bayard had been commended by Washington for his role at the Battle of Princeton; and as noted Elias Boudinot was the current president of the Continental Congress.
Provenance: according to a note on the document's frame, by descent from Joseph Venable to daughter Elizabeth Venable Morton (1795-1869), to her son William Morton (1817-1896), to his daughter Mary Elizabeth Morton (1848-1920) of Kentucky, then by gift to Agnes Willson Major (1889-1966) of Kentucky.