Jonathan Mayhew

Richard Jennys1766

Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery

Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery

Born Chilmark, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts

This rare 1766 mezzotint engraving by Richard Jennys attests to Jonathan Mayhew's heroic status among his contemporaries. The son of Experience Mayhew, who served as a missionary to Native Americans, Jonathan Mayhew demonstrated at an early age his affinity for independent thinking. The Harvard-trained Congregational minister preached in support of individual liberty and the limitation of royal power, which, he argued, should be supported when just but resisted when tyrannical. These principles, and the role of the New England Congregationalist clergy in preparing the colonists for rebellion, would help shape the intellectual framework of the American Revolution. Shortly before his death in 1766, Mayhew delivered an important sermon entitled "The Snare Broken," celebrating the repeal of the Stamp Act, which had taxed the colonists without their consent. John Adams later recognized the role of Mayhew's rhetoric in shaping revolutionary sentiment, praising his determination to resist "tyranny . . . and at the same time to destroy . . . bigotry, fanaticism, and inconsistency."

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