For many people, September is the month to head back to school, but for Timothy Ford, eldest son of Theodosia Ford, September 1783 was his time to graduate from the College of New Jersey (currently Princeton University).
At that time, the entire college was housed in a single building, Nassau Hall, which served as classroom, dormitory, dining hall, and library. Nassau Hall suffered greatly during the Revolutionary War. British soldiers had used it as barracks, and it was hit by Patriot cannonballs during the Battle of Princeton. It later served as a military hospital. When Timothy Ford started school in 1780, the building was still undergoing repairs.
Nassau Hall played a new role in 1783 when Princeton, New Jersey became the capital of the United States. The Continental Congress fled Philadelphia because of rioting Continental Army soldiers demanding overdue pay. Seeking a safe refuge, Congress met in the library of Nassau Hall while empty dorm rooms were used by Congressional committees. At the same time, students like Timothy Ford continued to attend classes. Charles Thomson, the Secretary of the Continental Congress, gave a description of the dormitory, which rings true today: "I passed by the chambers of the students, from whence in the sultry heat of the day issued warm steams from the beds, foul linen, and dirty lodgings of the boys."
On September 23, 1783 Congress adjourned for the day so that members could attend the graduation ceremony of the class of 1783. For the ceremony, a platform was erected, and seats were placed in the ruins of the nearby Presbyterian Church. Guests in attendance included: ambassadors from both France and the Dutch Republic, a visiting Italian count, and two future presidents, George Washington and James Madison. The graduates made public orations which lasted for five hours, including Timothy Ford's oration on "Taste." After the ceremony, graduates gathered together for a final class dinner. Graduate Gilbert Tennent Snowden recalled: "The class dined together & in drinking toasts the first was 'May all college animosities be forgotten' by Mr. Ford."
The college became a family tradition. Timothy's grandfather, the Reverend Timothy Johnes, served as one of the original trustees of the college. Timothy's younger brothers, Gabriel and Jacob III, and his brother-in-law Henry William DeSaussure all attended the College of New Jersey, and all went on to study law. Eventually, they moved to South Carolina, except Gabriel, who remained in New Jersey and inherited the Ford Mansion.