On March10th 1836, 90 of the 131 coloured members of the First Presbyterian Church (Nassau Presbyterian Church) in Princeton, New Jersey were dismissed to form a church under the name of "The First Presbyterian Church of Colour of Princeton". On September 4th 1840, Col. John Lowrey, an elder at the First Presbyterian Church, gave special permission for the colored members to receive communion at their own church. The Sacrament of the Holy Communion was given on the 2nd Sabbath of October 1840. This date marked the official beginning of the church that was later referred to as the "Third Presbyterian Church" (even though it was the second Presbyterian Church in Princeton) and the "Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church for Colored People in Princeton."
Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church began during a time of social, political and religious upheaval in the Princeton Community as well as the nation. The church emerged as a determined congregation of slaves, servants and free people who challenged the basics of the African Colonization Society and the weight of the Fugitive Slave Laws. Nurtured by the hope of the Underground Railroad and the challenges of the 1818 and 1837 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church responses to the sinfulness of slavery, the equality of all God's creation, and the period of Reconstruction, Witherspoon, along with other African American religious institutions, sought diligently to bring consciousness to the theological and social attitudes of the times.
Elizabeth "Betsey" Stockton was born a slave to the Stockton family of Princeton, New Jersey. She traveled as a missionary to the Hawaiian Islands. When she returned to Princeton as a free woman she started a Sabbath school at Witherspoon and was a beloved teacher for the neighborhood children.
One of Witherspoon's ministers who joined with ministers from New Jersey and Philadelphia to stand up against racism and Jim Crowism, was Reverend William Drew Robeson, father of Paul Robeson, who was installed as pastor of Witherspoon in October 1879 and served until 1901.
Members of Witherspoon served in two great world wars, the Vietnam War, were represented in the Civil Rights Movement and worked toward fair and equal housing in the Princeton community.
In the early 1950's, Witherspoon moved beyond the earlier focus toward an area of brother/sisterhood among Christians of various ethnic backgrounds. Today Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church holds a significant place in Princeton with members from many communities, occupations and interests. In 2003 Witherspoon welcomed the first female minister, Reverend M. Muriel Burrows. The 170th (1840-2010) anniversary of Witherspoon was held recently - celebrating the past, while growing faith assures us of a blessed future. The church has an open and diverse congregation who seeks to be stewards for peacemaking and racial reconciliation.