Princeton's History

Princeton's historic past is treasured; and its memory, well-preserved.

In 1675, a Quaker missionary from England, encouraged by New Jersey proprietors John Lord Berkeley and Sir George Carteret, arrived to establish a settlement in this area near the Delaware River, which was inhabited by the Lenni-Lenape Indians. The Keith survey of 1685 established the western boundary of Middlesex and Somerset Counties and later, the Township of Princeton. Today Keith's Line is recognized as Province Line Road. With the laying of the cornerstone for Nassau Hall in 1754, Princeton began its development as a location for quality education. Nassau Hall was named for William III, Prince of Orange-Nassau. This simple stone edifice was one of the largest public buildings in the colonies and became a model for many other structures in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Over the following twenty years, the tranquility of Prince Town and the new College was interrupted by the War for Independence. In the autumn of 1776, General George Washington moved through New Jersey with the British in hot pursuit. College President, John Witherspoon, disbanded the school, and Richard Stockton, College Trustee, moved his family from their home, Morven. Both of these gentlemen became members of the Continental Congress and were signers of the Declaration of Independence.

In 1783, Congress fled from Philadelphia to Princeton, fearing a mutiny by some of the soldiers. General Washington took up residency at Rockingham in Rocky Hill, where he wrote his Farewell Orders to the Army. On September third, he rode to Nassau Hall to receive news that the Treaty of Paris had been signed, which officially recognized America's independence. Princeton, thereby, became the first Capital of the New Nation.

During the late seventeenth century, people traveling from the Raritan River to the Delaware River had a choice between two Indian trails through Rocky Hill or through Princeton. Traffic increased so much by 1766 that the Colonial Assembly ordered the roads be widened, which meant cutting back the trees to the desired width.

Princeton's central business district, across Nassau Street from Princeton University, is the heart of the Princeton Region; and Palmer Square, built in 1936, is a focal point for leisurely strolling, shopping, and dining. However, many surrounding townships and boroughs relate to the name, and "Princeton" has become the "hub" of the Region. Many mailing addresses use the term Princeton.

The entire Princeton Region is steeped in history, and each municipality has a charm of its own. Coming together like pieces in a puzzle, these elements blend to form a complete picture that is known as Princeton. Check out Things to Do in Princeton related to History.