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Cathy Altman talks to the Current Transitions students about the connection between John Knox Witherspoon and the Altman family.

Executive director discusses Witherspoon name

Cathy  Altman, executive director of the North Myrtle Beach Area Historical Museum, presented information regarding the descendants of John Knox Witherspoon and the connection to her family to the students of Current Transitions.

John Knox Witherspoon was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, born in Scotland on February 5, 1723, to a family of clergymen.  By the age of four, he could read the Bible, at the age of 13, he entered college and at age 20, he was licensed to preach. In 1768, Witherspoon left Scotland to travel to New Jersey to accept a position as president of the College of New Jersey (now known as Princeton University).  He was elected to Congress in June 1776. On July 2, 1776, the day of the vote on independence, another delegate claimed that America wasn’t yet ripe enough for independence. Witherspoon immediately declared “It is not only ripe for the measure, but in danger of rotting for the want of it.” Witherspoon became the only clergyman to sign the Declaration of Independence.

Between 1776 and 1782, Witherspoon would serve on more than 100 committees, wearing his minister’s robes in Congress to remind the delegates that God was on their side. Despite personal setbacks Witherspoon never lost his belief that America would prevail in the struggle for independence. In 1777, his son was killed at the Battle of Germantown, and later that year, the British burned their home. In addition, part of the Battle of Princeton in 1777 was fought on the college campus – the college was so badly damaged that it was closed for several years.

After the Revolutionary War, he continued to serve as president of Princeton University, and spent several years working to rebuild the college. He was a member of the New Jersey convention that ratified the U.S. Constitution, making New Jersey the third state to approve the Constitution. John Knox Witherspoon would die on his farm near Princeton in 1794 at the age of 71.

The Current Transitions students have been studying the Revolutionary War. Upon learning that Altman’s husband is a descendant of John Knox Witherspoon, they asked if she would prepare a presentation. Altman said, “I was excited to do the research regarding the connection between John Knox Witherspoon and my husband’s family. The students were eager to hear the presentation and were very engaged”. The research was conclusive that her husband’s family are descendants of John Knox Witherspoon.

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