Richard Stockton was born in Princeton in October 1730. His ancestors immigrated to America in 1670. He graduated from the College of New Jersey in 1748. After college, he studied law from David Ogden in Newark.
In 1766 and 1767, Stockton visited England, Scotland, and Ireland. While in Scotland, the trustees of the College of New Jersey asked Stockton to visit Dr. Witherspoon. Dr. Witherspoon had declined the presidency of the college. Stockton answered Witherspoon’s objections and accepted the presidency of the college. Witherspoon moved to Princeton and was influential in the Revolution.
Stockton’s experience abroad was a mixture of good and bad. While in Edinburgh, he was robbed. Stockton used a small sword to defend himself and wounded the thief. On another occasion, he was scheduled to cross the Irish channel. Unfortunately, his luggage was late, and he missed his ship. But this was fortunate because that ship was shipwrecked in a storm. Both passengers and crew died.
Service at Home
In 1768, the British government appointed Stockton as a provincial royal judge and executive council member. As such, he enjoyed the favor of King George III.
However, the time came when he decided to renounce his allegiance to the king of his country. Stockton was a New Jersey delegate to the Continental Congress in June 1776. When the question of independence came up, Stockton had doubts about the pragmatism of this action. After hearing John Adams’ arguments for independence, he cheerfully spoke in favor of independence.
Upon his return to New Jersey, Stockton resigned his appointment to the royal council.
Kidnapped, Imprisoned, Impoverished
On the thirtieth of November, a party of royalists kidnapped Stockton at night and took him to New York. He was thrown in prison and denied necessities. When Congress learned of his capture, they unanimously passed the following resolution:
“Whereas congress hath received information that the Honorable Richard Stockton, of New-Jersey, and a member of this congress, hath been made a prisoner by the enemy and that he hath been ignominiously thrown into a common goal, and there detained-Resolved, that General Washington is directed to make immediate inquiry into the truth of this report, and if he finds reason to believe it well-founded, that he send a flag to General Howe, remonstrating against this departure from that humane procedure which has marked the conduct of these states to prisoners who have fallen into their hands; and to know of General Howe whether he chooses this shall be the future rule for treating all such, on both sides, as the fortune of war may place in the hands of either party.”
Eventually, Stockton was released. But his confinement sufferings were so severe that he never recovered from the shock. Additionally, the British devastated his property, burned his library and private papers, and seized his livestock. Reduced to poverty, he depended on the generosity of a friend for necessities. Since his imprisonment, his health declined. He languished for several years. Finally, at age fifty-three, Richard Stockton died in 1781.