Archibald Alexander

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Archibald Alexander
portrait by Bass Otis
1st Principal of Princeton Theological Seminary
In office
August 12, 1812 – October 22, 1851
Preceded byInaugural holder
Succeeded bySamuel Miller
3rd President of Hampden–Sydney College
In office
May 31, 1797[1] – November 13, 1806[2]
Preceded byDrury Lacy (Acting)
Succeeded byWilliam S. Reid (Acting)
Personal details
Born(1772-04-17)April 17, 1772
South River, Rockbridge, Virginia
DiedOctober 22, 1851(1851-10-22) (aged 79)
Princeton Township, New Jersey
Janetta Waddel
(after 1802)
ChildrenJames Waddel Alexander
William Cowper Alexander
Joseph Addison Alexander
Alma materWashington & Lee (A.B.)
Princeton University (D.D.)

Archibald Alexander (April 17, 1772 – October 22, 1851)[3] was an American Presbyterian theologian and professor at the Princeton Theological Seminary. He served for 9 years as the President of Hampden–Sydney College in Virginia and for 39 years as Princeton Theological Seminary's first professor from 1812 to 1851.[4]

Early life[edit]

Archibald Alexander was born at South River, Rockbridge County, Virginia, on April 17, 1772, son of William Alexander, a farmer of means.[5] He was raised under the tuition and ministry of Presbyterian minister William Graham (1745–1799), a man who had been trained in theology by John Witherspoon.

His grandfather, of Scottish descent, came from Ireland to Pennsylvania in 1736, and after a residence of two years removed to Virginia. William, father of Archibald, was a farmer and trader. His nephew was the American novelist William Alexander Caruthers (1802–1846).[6]

At the age of ten Archibald was sent to the academy of William Graham at Timber Ridge meetinghouse (since developed into Washington and Lee University), at Lexington.[5] At the age of seventeen he became a tutor in the family of General Thomas Posey,[7] of The Wilderness, twelve miles west of Fredericksburg, but after a few months resumed his studies with his former teacher. At this time a remarkable movement, still spoken of as "the great revival," influenced his mind and he turned his attention to the study of divinity.


On October 1, 1791, he was licensed to preach, ordained by the presbytery of Hanover on June 9, 1794, and for seven years was an itinerant pastor in Charlotte and Prince Edward counties.

By the time he was 21, Alexander was a preacher of the Presbyterian Church. He was appointed the president of Hampden–Sydney College,[8] where he served from 1797 until a revolt among the students forced him to retire in 1806, and from 1807 to 1812 he was acted as pastor of the old Vine street Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia.[5]

The Princeton Theological Seminary was established at Princeton, New Jersey in 1812 and Alexander was appointed its first professor,[5] inaugurated on August 12, 1812. In 1824, he helped to found the Chi Phi Society along with Robert Baird and Charles Hodge. In 1843, he returned to Washington College to deliver an alumni address, which was one of his many publications.

Alexander was one of the earliest supporters of the American Colonization Society that arranged the emigration of free Black and enslaved Black Americans to Liberia. In 1827, he and his close friend Samuel Miller defended the organization's mission against attacks by John Brown Russwurm in Russwurm's paper, Freedom's Journal. He later served as the Colonization Society's vice president and wrote the most comprehensive history of the movement written before the twentieth century, A History of Colonization on the Western Coast of Africa (1846).[9]

Samuel Miller became the second professor at the seminary and for 37 years Alexander and Miller were considered together as pillars of the Presbyterian Church in maintaining its doctrines. Charles Hodge, a famous student and successor of Alexander, named his son Archibald Alexander Hodge after his mentor.

Archival collections[edit]

The Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania has a collection of Archibald Alexander's personal papers dating from 1819 to 1851 including outgoing correspondence, manuscript articles and lecture notes.[10]

Personal life[edit]

On April 5, 1802, Alexander married Janetta Waddel, the daughter of a Presbyterian preacher, James Waddel (1739–1805), whose eloquence was described in William Wirt's Letters of a British Spy (1803).[11] Together, they were the parents of:

Alexander died on October 22, 1851,[3] at Princeton Township, New Jersey.[5]


His grandson, William C. Alexander (1848–1937), was an executive with the Equitable Life Assurance Society, author, and founder of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity. His great-grandson, James Waddell Alexander II (1888–1971), was a noted mathematician and topologist.


  • Christ's gracious invitation
  • Biographical sketches of the founder, and principal alumni of the Log college : together with an account of the revivals of religion, under their ministry
  • Outlines of moral science
  • Love to an unseen saviour
  • A history of the Israelitish nation, from their origin to their dispersion at the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans
  • A History of Colonization on the Western Coast of Africa (1846)
  • An address to candidates for the ministry : on the importance of aiming at eminent piety in making their preparation for the sacred office
  • Suggestions in vindication of Sunday-schools, but more especially for the improvement of Sunday-school books, and the enlargement of the plan of instruction
  • The evidences of Christianity
  • Thoughts on the education of pious and indigent candidates for the ministry
  • Thoughts on religious experience
  • Thoughts on religious experience' To which is added an appendix, containing "Letters to the aged," &c., &c
  • A discourse occasioned by the burning of the theatre in the city of Richmond, Virginia, on the twenty-sixth of December, 1811. By which lawful calamity a large number of lives were lost. Delivered in the Third Presbyterian church, Philadelphia, on the eighth day of January, 1812, at the request of the Virginia students attached to the medical class in the University of Pennsylvania
  • The canon of the Old and New Testaments ascertained
  • The canon of the Old and New Testaments ascertained; or, The Bible, complete, without the Apocrypha and unwritten traditions (Entered, according to the Act of Congress, in the year 1851 by A.W. Mitchell in the office of the Clerk of the District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.)
  • Evidences of the authenticity, inspiration and canonical authority of the Holy Scriptures
  • Practical sermons to be read in families and social meetings
  • Practical truths
  • A brief compend of Bible truth
  • A brief outline of the evidences of the Christian religion
  • A dialogue between a Presbyterian and a "Friend"
  • A Memorial of Mrs. Margaret Breckinridge
  • Remarks on a paragraph in the Rev. Doctor Davidson's History of the Presbyterian Church in Kentucky : in reference to the character of the late Mr. John Lyle, ruling elder in the Timberridge Church, Virginia
  • The way of salvation familiarly explained : in a conversation between a father and his children
  • A pocket dictionary of the Holy Bible. Containing, a historical and geographical account of the persons and places mentioned in the Old and New Testaments: and also a description of other objects, natural, artificial, civil, religious, and military; together with a copious reference to texts of Scripture under each important word
  • "Thomas Aquinas and the Encyclical Letter", The Princeton Review, 1: 245–261, January–June 1880
  • "Reminiscences of Patrick Henry", Southern Literary Messenger, 16 (6): 366–368, June 1850


  • Alexander, Archibald (1829). "Means of Growth in Grace". National Preacher. III (8). New-York: 121–128. Retrieved March 27, 2013.


  1. ^ Morrison 1912, p. 47
  2. ^ Morrison 1912, p. 61
  3. ^ a b Carey & Lienhard 2000, pp. 12–13
  4. ^ Archivist 2017
  5. ^ a b c d e Johnson 1906, p. 74
  6. ^ Hurt 2014
  7. ^ Posey 1992, pp. 166–120
  8. ^ Benedetto 2010, pp. 6–7
  9. ^ James 2010, pp. 33–37
  10. ^ Alexander 1851
  11. ^ Chisholm 1911


External links[edit]

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Academic offices
Preceded by President of Hampden–Sydney College
Succeeded by
New institution Principal of The Theological
Seminary at Princeton, New Jersey

Succeeded by