The first student scholarships given to Princeton Seminary came from a woman—Martha Banyar LeRoy. Most of today’s seminarians and graduates probably know nothing of their early benefactor.
Mrs. LeRoy was born in 1769, the daughter of Goldsbrow Banyar, a career British colonial officer in America who had extensive land holdings in New York State. She later married Jacob LeRoy Jr., whose family originally lived in France, became Protestant after the Reformation, and eventually fled to Holland as persecuted Huguenots. The motto for this branch of the LeRoy family was “All my hope is in God.”
Born in America, Jacob LeRoy Jr. attended the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University) and became a highly successful businessman.
Both Martha’s father and her husband died in 1815, and left her an inheritance. She was likely thinking about these bequests when Zechariah Lewis, a member of the Princeton Seminary Board of Trustees, approached her in 1816 on behalf of the Seminary. Lewis was the son of a Congregational minister who had been a chaplain to George Washington’s army during the Revolution. Zechariah himself studied theology in Philadelphia under Ashbel Green and was licensed to preach. He eventually became a newspaper editor in New York City and was elected to the Seminary’s first board of directors in 1812, the year of the Seminary’s founding.
Martha Banyar LeRoy agreed to help in providing scholarships for deserving students of the new seminary, though her gift was initially anonymous. The first scholarship was announced at the board meeting of February 27, 1816, and the second at the meeting of May 10 of the same year. At the board meeting in September 1818, the scholarships, given in the form of a legacy, were named after Martha’s husband and her father, respectively, thus becoming the Banyar LeRoy Scholarships.
Martha died on October 10, 1829, and the principal of her generous legacy gift came to the Seminary in full. The Legacy Society at Princeton Seminary today is named in honor of this early benefactor.