Reese Witherspoon is a direct descendant of John Witherspoon, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. I think that may be as awesome or maybe more so than an ancestor coming over on the Mayflower.
John Witherspoon – the one who coined “Americanism”Originally hailing from Scotland, Rev. John Witherspoon was the only active member of the clergy to sign the Declaration. His legacy in America, though, isn’t in politics, but in education – Witherspoon was the sixth president of the College of New Jersey, now known as Princeton University. It took two years for representatives of the school to get Witherspoon to come to America (his wife in particular was initially opposed to the idea). Once the reverend took over at the helm in 1768, the school flourished.
According to the president’s biography on the Princeton website, he was “a man of strong convictions,” but introduced students to ideas with which he had publicly disagreed. He is remembered as a dynamic intellectual who brought the thinking of the Scottish Enlightenment into the mainstream in the colonies. Indeed, his ideas have a direct link to the nation’s history, since the students who graduated during his tenure included one president (James Madison), one vice-president (Aaron Burr), 60 members of Congress and three Supreme Court justices.
But even though he had only a meek presence in the political sphere, Witherspoon was the person who coined the term “Americanism” in an essay on language. When John Adams visited Princeton in 1774, he met with Witherspoon and was seriously impressed. The future president of the U.S. said the college president was “as high a Son of Liberty, as any man in America.”
On a less historical note, Reese Witherspoon, who played Elle Woods in the Legally Blonde movies, is a direct descendant. John would surely be proud.