Select Witherspoon Miscellany



Here are some Witherspoon stories and accounts over the years:

Wihterspoon Genealogies

The first genealogy of the family and lineage of John Witherspoon, the signer, was undertaken by his grandson in 1780.

There is a handwritten genealogy of the Witherspoon and Knox families dated May 1900, written by Newton Peirce of Boston and sent to Eleazor Witherspoon in Roxbury.  Wardlow's Genealogy of the Witherspoon Family appeared in 1910.  Another Witherspoon genealogy was written in 1944 by William S. Witherspoon.


John Witherspoon Arrives in America

In September 1734, a band of colonists set sail from Belfast for Williamsburg on the ship The Good Intent. These were John Witherspoon, his wife Janet, his sons David and James, his daughter Janet and her husband John Fleming and their families.  After a stormy voyage, the Witherspoon colonists landed at Charleston in December and, after, suffering many hardships (of which there is a vivid account written by one of the party), they finally reached Kingstree, only to find it a small collection of clay-chinked huts and the country a timbered wilderness infested with howling wolves and peopled by savage Indians.

According to The History of Williamsburg by William Willis Boddie: "John Witherspoon settled on Boggy Swamp in Williamsburg in 1734 and died there in 1737.  He was the first person to be buried in the Williamsburg district of South Carolina."


John Witherspoon, The Signer

In the first draft of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, Witherspoon demanded the deletion of a phrase that complained that the king of Britain had sent to America "not only soldiers of our common blood, but Scotch and foreign merceneries."

Some of the delegates sensed the difficulty of taking on the might of the British Empire.  It was Witherspoon who urged them to sign the Declaration, saying:

"There is a tide in the affairs of men, a nick of time.  We perceive it now before us.  To hesitate is to consent to our own slavery."

It is worth noting that of the 56 men who signed the document, 23 had some Scottish ancestry. Witherspoon was the only clergyman to sign the document.  It did have some similarities with the Declaration of Arbroath which proclaimed Scottish independence for the first time. 

Thomas Witherspoon's Lineage

Thomas Witherspoon of Jefferson County, Indiana was almost certainly the Thomas, son of Robert Wotherspoon and Agnes Craig of Paisley in Scotland.  The Sassines (Scottish tax records) in Renfrewshire in 1817 identified him as: "Thomas Wotherspoon, weaver, Seedhil in Paisley, and heir to Robert Wotherspoon, a wright there, his father."  Robert, a native of Glasgow who had moved to Paisley before he married Agnes, generally used the Wotherspoon spelling.  But Thomas is most often given as Witherspoon, including in his marriage record.


The Witherspoon Problem


The Witherspoon controversy centered around three parcels of land in an economically depressed neighborhood of South Knoxville in Tennessee.  Here was located the David Witherspoon Candora landfill site.  It covered forty acres and was used for the processing of scrap metal.

Starting in the 1950's, these scrap metals were heavily contaminated with radio-isotopes, asbestos, and various toxic chemicals.  Yet neighborhood women - often working for little more than the minimum wage - would sort out the radioactive metals by hand, placing them in barrels and carrying them to a warehouse for grinding.  Then in 1985, Dorothy Hunley, who had worked there for twelve years, died of osteogenic sarcoma, a rare bone cancer associated with the inhalation of radio-isotopes.  This alerted public attention to the problem.

In response of news accounts of Dorothy Hunley's death, an organization called South Knoxville Citizens for a Better Environment was set up and they demanded a prompt cleanup of the site.  They discovered that, although there had been numerous violations reported at the site for many years, this had not resulted in any alteration or revocation of Witherspoon's license to handle radioactive materials.

Again, nothing much was done.  Then, in 1989, local residents formed Project Witherspoon with the same cleanup objective.  But it was not until 1992, after much legal delaying, that a state committeee on Public Health actually toured the Witherspoon site.  Finally, in October 1993, the State of Tennessee filed a court action which effectively halted operations at the site.  Cleanup of the site was not to start until ten years later, in 2003
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