William Churchill Houston Papers
Held at: Princeton University Library: Manuscripts Division [Contact Us]
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Princeton University Library: Manuscripts Division. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
William Churchill Houston was born in South Carolina in 1746. He came to New Jersey for the purpose of attending the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University). He graduated from the College in 1768 and became master of the College's grammar school. In 1771, the College's trustees appointed Houston to the newly created post of Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy. He remained on the faculty until 1783. He also served as deputy secretary to the Continental Congress in 1775 and 1776.
Houston joined the Somerset County militia when British forces arrived in Princeton. The militia elected him captain of the Second Regiment of Foot in February of 1776, but Houston resigned from the position shortly afterward, feeling it was more important to attend to his duties on campus while President John Witherspoon was attending the Continental Congress. While helping to maintain the College during the war, he also represented Somerset County in the New Jersey General Assembly. Houston resigned from the General Assembly in May of 1779 when he was elected to serve as a representative of New Jersey to the Continental Congress. He served regularly until 1781, when he first became ill with tuberculosis, and then intermittently until 1785. Houston involved himself mostly in fiscal issues, commenting extensively on taxation. While serving in Congress, Houston used his spare time to study law with Richard Stockton. He was admitted to the New Jersey bar in 1781 and was appointed clerk of the Supreme Court of New Jersey shortly thereafter.
In April of 1782, Superintendent of Finance of the United States Robert Morris appointed Houston receiver of Continental taxes in New Jersey. State receivers were responsible for coordinating tax collection in the state and facilitating payment to Congress. It was also around this time that Houston settled in Trenton and began to build his private law practice, litigating cases in Burlington, Hunterdon, and Monmouth counties. As Houston began to expand his legal practice and scale back his Congressional duties, his tuberculosis worsened. The New Jersey legislature elected Houston to serve as one of its delegates at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. However, he had a very limited role due to his illness and was not able to sign the United States Constitution. Houston died on August 12, 1788.
The William Churchill Houston Papers covers Houston's legal career and his tenure as receiver for Continental taxes in New Jersey. The papers document aspects of the nation's legal and taxation history during the transition from colonial period to sovereign nation. Documents include correspondence of Houston with Robert Morris (1734-1806) and Michael Hillegas (1729-1804) regarding Houston's responsibilities as tax collector for New Jersey. Also included are legal files, which consist of account ledgers, case notes, deeds, depositions, indentures, and summonses. The bulk of the legal files pertain to Houston's private legal practice. The files were created during cases tried in the Courts of Common Pleas in Burlington, Hunterdon, and Monmouth counties. Documents related to Houston's estate are also included.
Princetonians, 1748-1768 : A Biographical Dictionary (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1976) by James McLachlan was consulted during the preparation of this biographical note.
No accruals are expected.
The legal papers were purchased from a private dealer on April 28, 1964. The correspondence was purchased from Daniel Maggin on September 18, 1964.
This collection was processed by Casey Babcock in August of 2007. Finding aid written by Casey Babcock in September of 2007.
No appraisal information is available.
- New Jersey. Court of Common Pleas (Burlington County)
- New Jersey. Court of Common Pleas (Hunterdon County)
- New Jersey. Court of Common Pleas (Monmouth County)
- New Jersey. Supreme Court
- County courts -- New Jersey -- 18th century -- Records and correspondence
- Indentured servants -- New Jersey -- 18th century
- Tax collection -- New Jersey -- 18th century
- Manuscripts Division
- Finding Aid Author
- Casey Babcock
- Finding Aid Date
- These papers were processed with a general operating support grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission, a division of the Department of State.
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research use.
- Use Restrictions
Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. No further photoduplication of copies of material in the collection can be made when Princeton University Library does not own the original. Inquiries regarding publishing material from the collection should be directed to RBSC Public Services staff through the Ask Us! form. The library has no information on the status of literary rights in the collection and researchers are responsible for determining any questions of copyright.
This series consists of correspondence related to Houston's position as receiver of Continental taxes in New Jersey. The bulk of the correspondence is with Michael Hillegas, the Treasurer of the United States, and Robert Morris, the Superintendent of Finance who appointed Houston to the position. The correspondence with Hillegas concerns warrants, receipts, debts, and bills, all issued during the procedure of tax collection in New Jersey. The correspondence with Morris documents the gathering war expenses, the state of supplies and provisions, the conditions of ports and trade, the process of collecting taxes, dealings between the states of New Jersey and New York and Congress, and the printing and issuing of bank notes and the problem of counterfeiting.
The series is grouped by correspondent and the documents are arranged chronologically.Physical Description
Drafts of letters by William Houston to Michael Hillegas.Physical Description
Letters from Hillegas to William Houston.Physical Description
Drafts of correspondence by William Houston to Robert Morris.Physical Description
Correspondence from Robert Morris to William Houston.Physical Description
Includes correspondence between John Witherspoon and Houston, letters from Timothy Pickering to Houston, correspondence between the Office of Finance and Houston, letters between various New Jersey county tax collectors and Houston, and correspondence from the United States Board of Treasury to Houston.Physical Description
This series consists of legal documents prepared in various New Jersey courts during the 18th century. A bulk of the material was collected and maintained by Houston during the course of his legal career. However, some of the material is dated after his death, likely meaning that Houston's successor continued to use files that Houston had established. The documents created during Houston's tenure were never separated from documents generated immediately after.
The series is organized into three subseries -- Court of Common Pleas, Estate Files, and Miscellaneous Documents -- which are arranged alphabetically.Physical Description
This subseries consists of legal documents created and maintained by Houston during the course of his career as a lawyer. Document types include briefs, summonses, receipts, deeds, and notes.
The documents are grouped by the county court to which they pertain and are arranged alphabetically by county.Physical Description
This subseries consists of the papers of Houston's estate. Included are portions of Houston's will, inventories of his personal items, various notes regarding his finances, documents related to inheritance and family matters, and documents related to the sale of portions of his estate.
Original order has been maintained in this subseries.Physical Description
This subseries consists of various legal documents collected during Houston's tenure as law clerk and in private practice.
This subseries is arranged alphabetically according to document type.Physical Description
Maintained by Houston during private law practice.Physical Description
Documents the legal aspect of indentured servitude.Physical Description
A bulk of the forms are related to the Supreme Court of New Jersey. Several are annotated by Houston. Some of the annotations reflect the changes necessitated by the Declaration of Independence and document the beginning history of the United States.Physical Description
For the Supreme Court of New Jersey. Most likely compiled while Houston was a law clerk for the court.Physical Description
Included here is an essay on taxation written by Houston while he was a member of the Continental Congress.Physical Description
Various oversized legal documents.Physical Description