Established in 1757, Princeton Cemetery, owned by Nassau Presbyterian Church but nondenominational, has been called “the Westminster Abbey of the United States.” It certainly contains a microcosm of American history. By Zoom and a walking tour today, the Princeton Historical Society provided a fascinating overview of its history. Perhaps 23,000 people are buried in its approximately 19 acres, and efforts are nearing conclusion to digitize the disparate burial records—scribbled in ledgers, on file cards, and the like.
Among the many luminaries buried there are one U.S. President—Grover Cleveland (left above)—and most presidents of the University, but not Woodrow Wilson, who’s buried at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. The graves of Cleveland and his wife are often decorated with leis, as the people of Hawaii revere him for opposing Hawaiian annexation. Among those University Presidents was Aaron Burr, Sr., whose namesake son (of Hamilton notoriety) is also buried nearby (center above).
John Witherspoon, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and the children of Richard Stockton, another signer, are there. In a literary and artistic vein, you’ll find John O’Hara, African American artist Rex Goreleigh, and Sylvia Beach (right above), founder of the Paris bookshop, Shakespeare & Company. Milligan Sloane (d 1928) is buried there, founder and first president of the U.S. Olympic Committee. When the Olympic Torch came through Princeton en route to Atlanta for the 1994 Games, the entourage made a stop at the cemetery to honor him.
A large section of the cemetery is occupied by African Americans, many of them freedmen, former slaves, war veterans, early graduates of local schools after integration, and prominent citizens. Among them are the parents of Paul Robeson. Their graves have a clear view of the church where Robeson’s father preached and the street where they lived (Robeson himself is buried in New York State).
Princeton was originally a Presbyterian school, and Old Opequon (Presbyterian) church was the Valley of Virginia’s first place of worship. Its minister, the Rev John Hogue, graduated in the first class, “fresh from (Princeton’s) Nassau Hall.” (He’s my first cousin, seven times removed.) In addition, Moses Hogue, the sixth President of Hampden Sydney College, is another Princeton graduate who became a Presbyterian minister. He’s my fifth-great-half-uncle. I’m more pleased at how genealogy has enabled me to calculate these relationships than in their very attenuated existence!
You might have the impression that Princeton is the last bastion of WASP America, but the names in the newer part of the cemetery demonstrate a much wider heritage than you might expect.