Q. Dear Mr. Mudd,
I read that Nathaniel FitzRandolph’s descendants get free tuition at Princeton University. Is this true?
A. According to legend, an agreement between Nathaniel FitzRandolph and the College of New Jersey (as Princeton was then known) was made in 1753. In exchange for donating the land on which Nassau Hall now resides, the College agreed to pay tuition for all of his descendants to attend the institution. We have bad news for today’s FitzRandolphs, though: No such provision was incorporated into the deed of gift.
When the College of New Jersey was founded in 1746, it held its first classes in Elizabeth, New Jersey, then quickly and temporarily moved to Newark. Though plans were in place to permanently move to New Brunswick, the residents of the town could not manage to raise the necessary funding. Nathaniel FitzRandolph, a Quaker, was responsible for raising the money and securing the land required by the trustees to relocate the College in Princeton in 1756. The citizens of Princeton raised £1,700 (well in excess of the £1,000 required) and provided ten acres of cleared land for the campus and 200 acres of woodland for fuel. FitzRandolph donated £20 and 4.5 acres of land and raised £500 by personally visiting residents to ask for donations. Nassau Hall sits on the land FitzRandolph donated.
FitzRandolph died in 1780 and was buried in the family burial ground, on the present site of Holder Hall. Remains from 32 family graves were uncovered during the excavation for the building in 1909. University President Woodrow Wilson directed the remains to be re-interred under the eastern arch of Holder Hall. A memorial tablet there bears the inscription, “Near this spot lie the remains of Nathaniel FitzRandolph, the generous giver of the land upon which the original buildings of this university were erected. In agro jacet nostro immo suo (In our ground he sleeps, nay, rather in his own).”
In 1905, the FitzRandolph Gateway, which functions as the main entrance to campus, was erected through a bequest from a descendant of Nathaniel FitzRandolph, Augustus van Wickle, a graduate of Brown University. For most of its existence, the gates have remained closed during the academic year, but were permanently opened to all upon the graduation of the Class of 1970. The FitzRandolph Observatory, built in 1934 to replace the Halstead Observatory, also honors the memory of Nathaniel FitzRandolph.
We also have a miniature version of the FitzRandolph Gateway here at Mudd, shown below. These gates are always open, too, but that’s mostly because the latch doesn’t work.
Historical Subject Files Collection, 1746-2005 (AC109)
University Land Records (AC028)
This post was originally an FAQ on our old website written by Kristine Marconi McGee. It has been revised and expanded here as part of the launch of our new website.
11 responses to “Can Nathaniel FitzRandolph’s Descendants Attend Princeton University for Free?”
I am in possession of the complete Fitzrandolph family tree. He is my great grandfather nine generations back. Though I am now 71 years old, and probably am not a candidate for entrance into undergraduate work, I have visited the campus a couple of times while working with Merrill Lynch at the Plainsboro conference center and have enjoyed being in the presence of the Fitzrandolph gate. My grandmother, Daisy Fitz Randolph was born in 1897 and hers was the first generation to drop the Fitz and to be known as Daisy Randolph born in Ankeny, Iowa to Charles Fitzrandolph, and Alice Thornton Fitzrandolph.
Larry Reed, Norman OK
Nathaniel Fitz Randolph is my 6th Great Grandfather. I hope to visit the University in the future.
This message is not about the beautiful Fitz Randolph Gate that I see everyday when I ride up Witherspoon Street, this message is related to the beginning of The College of New Jersey as the date given in the history provided here. In my research – the College of New Jersey started in Jonathan Dickinson’s parlor in Elizabeth, New Jersey 1746 not 1748. After he died within a few months, Aaron Burr, Sr. became the President and brought the college to Newark, New Jersey then to Princeton in 1756 where the college centered in Nassau Hall.
Thanks so much for alerting us to that typo! We’ve corrected it an added a link to our blog about the founding of Princeton University. We always appreciate when our readers let us know about inaccurate information they may find here.
I am also a direct descendant of the FitzRandolph’s on my mothers side, who was a Sefton. My great Aunt Helen researched our family tree back to the middle 1500’s. God Bless her. She was 104 when she passed in 1996.
Hi! I’m also a descendent and am putting together my family tree. I would LOVE to see what your Aunt Helen put together if you’re willing to share. shelleygerber1 at gmail.com.
I’m a relative to Nathanial Fitz Randolph and am so excited I’m planning a trip to visit our land we gave to Princeton university that started in 1700s
Tracy Randolph Taylor
Hi, my husband and I are doing the same thing july 2020.
Karen and thomas randolph.
Hi,I’m a descendant of Nathaniel Fitz Randolph. And I’m looking for family members. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook Paula Phillips-Jackson. Thank you for your time.
[…] 28, 1754—Nathaniel Fitz Randolph deeds 4 ½ acres in Princeton to the College of New Jersey (including the building site of Nassau […]
[…] and William Worth, a local stonemason. Construction began on July 29, 1754 on part of the 4.5 acres donated by Nathaniel and Rebeckah FitzRandolph. Smith designed the building to withstand the variable climate of New Jersey in the […]