Statue of Doctor John Witherspoon

Statue of Doctor John Witherspoon

On today’s anniversary of his death in 1794, I chose the Statue of Doctor John Witherspoon at the intersections of Connecticut Avenue, N Street and 18th Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s DuPont Circle neighborhood as the destination for this bike ride. The bronze sculpture by William Couper is part of a group of fourteen statues in D.C. known collectively as the “American Revolution Statuary.” They are listed together as a group on the National Register of Historic Places, and are scattered across the city, mainly in squares and traffic circles.

John Knox Witherspoon was born in February of 1723 at Gifford, a parish of Yester, at East Lothian, Scotland. He was a Scots Presbyterian minister before he and his family emigrated to New Jersey in 1768 in order to become President and head professor of the small Presbyterian College of New Jersey, which would eventually become Princeton University.

As a native Scotsman who was long wary of the power British Crown, Witherspoon came to support the Revolution in his new country. He was then elected in June of 1776 to the Continental Congress as part of the New Jersey delegation, and appointed Congressional Chaplain. He voted to adopt the Virginia Resolution for Independence, which was finally approved on July 2, 1776. The text of the document formally announcing this action, the United States Declaration of Independence, was approved two days later, to which Witherspoon was a signatory, and the only college president to sign it.

Witherspoon went on to serve in Congress until November 1782, and became one of its most influential members. He served on over 100 committees, spoke often in debate; helped draft the Articles of Confederation, and played a major role in shaping foreign policy. He also helped organize the Federal government’s executive departments.  He later served twice in the New Jersey Legislature, and strongly supported the adoption of the United States Constitution during the New Jersey ratification debates.

Actress Reese Witherspoon has claimed to be a direct descendant of John Witherspoon. However, it has been noted by the Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence that her claim has yet to be verified.

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