National Records of Scotland

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John Witherspoon (1723-1794)

John Witherspoon (1723-1794)

Signatory of the American Declaration of Independence

John Witherspoon studied at the University of Edinburgh from 1736 to 1743 where he was a contemporary of the historian William Robertson. While minister at Beith in Ayrshire, he led local volunteers against the Jacobite army and in January 1746 was briefly held prisoner in Doune Castle. He also baptised a runaway slave who then sought his freedom through the courts as highlighted in our feature The James Montgomery slavery case 1756. The Reverend John Witherspoon continued his ministry at Paisley before accepting an invitation from the Presbyterian College of New Jersey to become their president. He moved to America in 1768, taking with him books for the college library at Princeton. He was elected as a delegate to the constitutional convention in Philadelphia held in 1776 and was one of two Scots who signed the Declaration of Independence. The other was James Wilson.

Birth in 1723

John Witherspoon was baptised on 10 February 1723, the son of James Witherspoon, minister of the gospel in this parish, and Anne Walker. The entry in the Old Parish Register (OPR) for Yester in the county of East Lothian includes tha names of three witnesses.

Baptism entry for John Witherspoon

Baptism entry for John Witherspoon (26 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, OPR 725/1

Marriage in 1748

The Reverend Mr John Witherspoon, minister of the gospel, married Elisabeth, daughter of Robert Montgomerie of Craighouse, on 14 August 1748. The entry in the Old Parish Register for Beith shows they had been proclaimed in August and were both from the parish.

Marriage entry for John Witherspoon

Marriage entry for John Witherspoon (19 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, OPR 581/1, page 98