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Samuel Davies


Samuel Davies’ association with the College of New Jersey began at age 28 when he embarked on a trip to Great Britain and Ireland to raise money to build Nassau Hall and a house for the president, as well as a charitable fund “for the education of pious and indigent youth.”

In 1758, Davies was elected to succeed Jonathan Edwards, but declined, reluctant to quit his pastoral work in Virginia and believing that Samuel Finley was better qualified for the office. He was eventually persuaded to accept and he took up his duties on July 26, 1759. Davies’ election to the presidency was greeted with joy. “I believe there was never a College happier in a president,” said one trustee. “You can hardly conceive what prodigious, uncommon gifts the God of Heaven had bestowed on that man.” But the joy was short-lived. Eighteen months later, Davies died of pneumonia after being bled for “a bad cold.”

During his brief tenure, Davies drew up the first catalog of the College library, then housed on the second floor of Nassau Hall — 1,281 books in all. He was an ardent promoter of the library. “A large and well-sorted collection of books is the most ornamental and useful furniture of a college,” he said. He urged students to go beyond the “narrow limits” of their assigned reading and encouraged them to read widely after graduation so they would continue to “investigate Truth; and guard against the stratagems and assaults of Error.” He believed that reading good books by authors with differing points of view would keep them modest.

* Jacob Green served as acting president from 1758 to 1759.

Samuel Davies (1723–1761).
James Massalon, active late 19th century. Oil on canvas, 1874, 74.5 x 62 cm. (29 5/16 x 24 7/16 in.). Princeton University, presented by John Maclean. Photo: Bruce M. White