Life and Career
Born in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, in 1775, James Carnahan attended the College of New Jersey with the class of 1800 and maintained close ties to the institution throughout his life—serving as a tutor at the college after graduation and studying theology under President Samuel Stanhope Smith. After his ordination as a Presbyterian minister, Carnahan founded a seminary in Georgetown, Washington D.C., where he resided for eleven years and owned at least two slaves.
Upon his return to Princeton as college president in 1823, Carnahan oversaw a period of conflict and low enrollment but continued to serve in the role for thirty-one years with the aid of John Maclean, Jr.—the vice president who would eventually succeed him as president. Under Carnahan and Maclean Jr., the Princeton Alumni Association was founded in 1826 with James Madison (alumnus and former President of the United States) at its head. Increased engagement with alumni improved the college’s finances and allowed Carnahan to invest in new faculty and reverse the downward enrollment trend.