February 8, 2007


And the man behind the brand is...
Henry Rutgers

Queen's College was established by Royal edict in New Jersey in 1766, launching more than 50 years of struggle. Classes commenced in a reclaimed hotel in 1771; the first graduating class three years later consisted of one Person: Matthew Leydt, a theology student.

By 1825 officials decided to change the school name in hopes of reversing the college's sagging fortunes. The man they sought to honor was Henry Rutgers who, cynics might contend, had three things to recommend him: he was rich, he was elderly and he was a bachelor.

Rutgers had been a former trustee of Queen's College from 1815 until 1821 when he resigned due to ill health. In 1825 he had no connection to the college, save for a friendship with president Dr. Milledoler. The official proclamation from the college stated that, "it is named for him as a mark of their respect for his character and gratitude for his numerous services rendered the Reformed Dutch Church."

However Henry Rutgers was not undeserving of this honor he did not seek. His family landed in Albany, New York from Holland in 1636 and gained great wealth and repute both there and in New York City. Henry was born in 1745 and served as a Captain in the Revolutionary War. In colonial America Rutgers served in the New York State Assembly but did not give attention to any business other than managing his land holdings. He leased large chunks of the lower East Side of New York City.

In the last years of his life Rutgers was one of New York's most prominent citizens. He gave land freely to schools, churches and public institutions. Surely the Queen's College trustees hoped that some of his benefactions would come their way after they changed the school name to Rutgers College.

Rutgers did give the college $200 for a bell that continues to ring out class hours but another donor gave over $2000 for the cupola housing the bell. Finally in 1827 Rutgers endowed the college with $5000, enough money to allow the school to inch towards prosperity. The Rutgers name also helped recruit New York men across the river to the small school.

It was a large gift for the time but only a small fraction of Rutger's wealth, estimated at over $900,000 when he died in 1830 at the age of 85. Rutgers established a gold medal in perpetuity to be given annually to the medical student with the best dissertation but that is all that is known that he donated.

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