William Paterson


Paterson's letters and writings contain occasional glimpses of the pride he felt at being of Scotch descent. About the only discordant note is to be found in a letter he wrote when Dr. Witherspoon was elected president of Princeton. In this letter he says:

"Witherspoon for president! Mercy on me! We shall be over-run by Scotchmen, the worst vermin under heaven."

Some time later, when he had evidently recovered from the mood strongly resembling a grouch, he wrote a letter in which he pictured what may be considered to be his true attitude:

"I have a filial affection for Scotland and lose all patience when people rail against it. I have the happiness, or unhappiness, as you may please, of being a part of a Scotchman myself, for, I don't care who knows it, my grandfather, or great-grandfather was born and rocked in that part of the Isles, which is sufficient in all conscience to entitle me to the name. At times I glory in being a Scotchman, though I should say that vanity never swells me so high as when I think myself of Scotch origin."

Judge Elmer says that Paterson was a native of the North of Ireland. The Encyclopedia Brittanica and Appleton's Cycopedia of American Biography agree that he was born at sea. Cortland Parker, for many years the leading lawyer of Newark, says that he was born at sea or in the North of Ireland. North, "according to the best information obtainable" says that he was born in the North of Ireland. His grandson, Judge William Paterson, in an address delivered in 1895, says that his ancestor was born at Antrim, Ireland. The inscription on a family monument in the New Brunswick cemetery gives his birthplace as Antrim.

Mrs. Wood says:

"William Paterson was the oldest, possibly the only child of Richard Paterson. Of his mother but one detail, gleaned from a Somerset mortgage of 1776, survives. Her name was Mary and she died January 15, 1772, aged 49, and was interred in the burying ground of Presbyterian church at Princeton. Nobody knows exactly where William Paterson was born. A descendant and namesake felt that most evidence pointed to the parish of Letterkenny in county Donegal, Ulster. Others claim county Antrium as his birthplace and set December 24, 1745, as the date of his birth."

Occasionally suggestions, but with no apparent claim to authenticity, arise, that William Paterson was a relative of the William Paterson, who was born in Dumfriesburgh, Scotland, in 1658, and who went South to London, carrying a peddler's pack. He made money in the metropolis and then started for America, considering the opportunities for advancement better in the new country. But he did not get nearer to the Atlantic seaboard than the Bahamas where he spent some time in "public religious exhortations." Then he returned to London where in 1694 he founded the Bank of England. Losing control of the bank he returned to Edinburgh, where he conceived a colossal scheme of accumulating fortunes for himself and for associates who were willing to risk their money, by running a fleet of vessels from London to the Isthmus of Darien and thence to Africa, exchanging commodities in the three continents. Stockholders were not slow in coming in, a considerable augmentation of the necessary funds coming from Amsterdam. Paterson was on board of one of the first vessels that left London in 1695. The vessels were well stocked with English goods for the Isthmus. The project collapsed and Paterson returned to Edinburgh, where he died in 1719. In the mean time the idea of a triangular maritime enterprise had caught the public favor and Paterson had imitators, most prominent among these being Peter Hasenclever, who changed Paterson's triangle by substituting the West Indies for Africa and Northern New Jersey for the Isthmus. Hasenclever made a mess of the enterprise and the English investors, who were operating under the name of the London Company, placed John Jacob Faesch in charge. Faesch did not do any better than Hasenclever had done and so the London Company entrusted the enterprise to Robert Erskine. Fantastic as the scheme sounded to many in those days, and as a similar venture would sound at the present day, Erskine made money and had received the plaudits of English investors when he and his employees joined the riotously inclined subjects of George III. Erskine was captain of the Ringwood military and upon his selection he received a letter commendatory of his patriotic endeavors. The letter, dated August 17, 1775, came from a lawyer who was practicing his profession in New Brunswick, New Jersey; this lawyer was our own William Paterson.

Contact Us