Robert Finley Information

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Rev. Robert Finley
Finley robert.gif
President of the University of Georgia
In office
Preceded by John Brown
Succeeded by Moses Waddel
Personal details
Princeton, New Jersey
DiedOctober 3, 1817 (aged 44–45)
Athens, Georgia
ChildrenRobert Finley, Rev., Esther Caldwell
Alma mater Princeton University

Rev. Robert Finley (1772 – October 3, 1817) was briefly the president of the University of Georgia. He initiated the American Colonization Society, which later founded Liberia. Finley was born in Princeton, New Jersey, and graduated from College of New Jersey (later renamed Princeton University) at the age of 15.

Early life

Finley was born in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1772 to James Finley and Ann Angrest. His father, James Finley, was born 1737 in Glasgow, Scotland, where he was trained as a yarn merchant and where he became acquainted with Rev John Witherspoon who was then a pastor in the town of Paisley about six miles from Glasgow. James immigrated to New Jersey in 1769. His paternal grandparents were James Finley from Paisley, and Ann McDonald.


Robert Finley entered the College of New Jersey at the age of 11 and graduated in 1787. [1] He taught at several places, including Charleston, South Carolina, where many slaves existed. The Presbytery of New Brunswick, New Jersey licensed him as a minister in 1794. Finley returned to Princeton in 1793 to study Theology, and served as a tutor, eventually becoming a trustee of the university from 1806 until his resignation in 1817. In 1795, he was ordained as the Pastor of the Presbyterian Church at Basking Ridge, where he served for 20 years as a popular preacher and noted educator, and originated the concept of the modern Sunday School curriculum. [2]

Basking Ridge, New Jersey

Finley taught at the Princeton University Grammar School; [2] and at the Basking Ridge, New Jersey Classical School ( Brick Academy), serving there from 1795 until his acceptance of the University of Georgia (UGA) presidency in July, 1817.

In 1795, Dr. Robert Finley, re-established the private academy, known as the Basking Ridge Classical School, conducting classes first at the Presbyterian parsonage and then in a new frame school building erected near the church. In 1809, with enrollment expanding, Finley organized financing and construction of a new two-story brick building prominently located in the center of the village of Basking Ridge ( Brick Academy).

Boys from the local area and from far away places like Virginia and New York City attended this exclusive school and most were given a classical education in preparation to enter the College of New Jersey (later renamed Princeton University). Students boarded with Dr. Finley and other local residents. Two buildings still standing near the Brick Academy were later used as dormitories.

In the village of Basking Ridge in Bernards Township, Main Street was renamed North and South Finley Avenue that runs through the town center next to the local Presbyterian church that he represented.

American Colonization Society

Dr. Finley and Samuel John Mills helped organize the National Colonization Society of America and the American Colonization Society at Washington, D.C. in 1816 and 1817. Contributions were solicited from many contemporaries, including former students such as Charles Muir Campbell.

Liberia began as a settlement of the American Colonization Society (ACS), who believed black people would face better chances for freedom and prosperity in Africa than in the United States. The country declared its independence on July 26, 1847. The U.S. did not recognize Liberia's independence until February 5, 1862, during the American Civil War. Between January 7, 1822, and the American Civil War, more than 15,000 freed and free-born black people who faced legislated limits in the U.S., and 3,198 Afro-Caribbeans, relocated to the settlement.

Finley fell ill while traveling south to assume his new position at the University of Georgia. He died only three months after arriving and is buried in Jackson Street Cemetery on the school's north campus in Athens, Georgia.

Archival Collections

The Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, has sermons and a Latin manuscript from Robert Finley in its collections.


  1. ^ Finding Aid to the Robert Finley Papers at the Presbyterian Historical Society
  2. ^ a b Laurie, Maxine N.; and Mappen, Marc; Encyclopedia of New Jersey: Rutgers University Press; 2004/2005. P. 273.

Additional Information

Preceded by
John Brown
President of the University of Georgia
Succeeded by
Moses Waddel