The Gems of My Family Tree: The ‘transcendent genius’.


600 (1)Meet The Reverend Governor Thomas Mayhew. He was born in Wiltshire in England, in a town called Tisbury. He then emigrated to the American Colonies in 1631, where he established the first English settlement in Martha’s Vineyard in 1642. When the settlers started to build their colony, they came across a population of about 3000 Native Americans. Mayhew insisted that whilst he was governor at least, there would be no mistreating the Natives. They were to be dealt with as trading partners and treated respectfully. From that time, the Natives of the area lived peacefully, and intermixed socially with the new settlers at Martha’s Vineyard; a situation that was absolutely unrivalled anywhere else in the colonies at that point. A native named Hiacoomes befriended Mayhew, and taught him the language of his people. Together, they talked history, and Thomas taught Hiacoomes the Christian heritage of the white settlers. Hiacoomes became the first Christian Native American Minister.
Curiously, after his son Thomas jr dies young, the Governor (he is still known as the Governor, to this day) starts to get paranoid. New visitors arrive from overseas, and he views everyone as a threat to his power. And so he decides he wants to run the Island as if it’s his own country. He assigns himself the role of Chief Magistrate without assistants, and he makes a large number of the population of Martha’s Vineyard sign a Submission to his rule. This was the closing years of Feudalism, and Thomas was losing his land rapidly. There was a brief respite, when in 1671 a council in New York granted Mayhew the title of:

“…Governor for life, Chief Justice of the Courts of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, Lord of the Manor of Tisbury and collector and receiver of the customs for the Vineyard.”

His power lasted until his death a couple of years later, and slowly the Feudalism regime fell.
I think, despite his later years, the work Thomas and his son undertook to ensure that the Native American tribes in the area were not disturbed, and were treated fairly, is hugely ahead of its time given the context of the rest of the colonies and the mistreatment of the natives. It is testament to this, that when King Philip’s War broke out, the Native tribes of Martha’s Vineyard did not spring up to fight in the uprising against the Colonialists with their fellow tribesman.
Thomas Mayhew is my first cousin, nine generations back.

His grandfather, also named Thomas Mayhew is my great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather (that’s great x9 grandfather).

It is amazing what little gems you find when you research your family tree.

And so it continues, to my favourite distant relative of them all…….. Dr Jonathan Mayhew.

Reverend Governor Thomas Mayhew of Martha’s Vineyard had a son, also called Thomas.
Thomas had a son called John Mayhew.
John had a son called Experience Mayhew.
Experience had a son called Jonathan Mayhew.
And Jonathan Mayhew, was referred to as “the transcendent genius” by …… President John Adams.

So, my great x9 Grandfather, is also the great x4 grandfather of Jonathan Mayhew. Without Thomas Mayhew marrying Alice Waterman in 1534, there would be no me, and there would be no Jonathan Mayhew.

f0301 Jon Mayhew was born in 1720 in Martha’s Vineyard. He died in 1766, a decade before the beginning of the American Revolution. But, his influence cannot be underestimated. He was a strong supporter of the separation of Church and State despite being a Minister at the Old West Church in Boston. He was a liberal Christian. One of the first in the new World. For this liberalism, the Boston Association of Congregational Ministers refused to allow him to join. Mayhew was preaching individual liberty in religion and conscience, preaching salvation by character rather than purely on faith, and fighting the dogmas of the day. In both 1750 and 1754, whilst opposing the Stamp Act, Mayhew argued for American Rights and freedom from British tyranny.

There are many history websites that make the claim that during the sermon, Mayhew uttered the phrase that became perhaps the most famous of all revolutionary phrases:


“No taxation without representation.”

– I am unable to verify that Mayhew coined the phrase in Boston, but will keep looking into it. If it’s true…. that will make my life.

In 1750, Mayhew writes his most important and influential work. Some argue, it is the catalyst for the American Revolution. “A discourse concerning the unlimited submission and non-resistance to the high powers” is written and preached 100 years after the execution of King Charles I.
Here, he argues for the Right of a collective of people to break away from their King, stating that violent revolution is a:

“reasonable way of vindicating their liberties and rights; it is making use of the means, and the only means, which God has put in their power, for mutual and self defense. It would be stupid, tameness, and unacceptable folly, for whole nations to suffer one unreasonable, ambitious and cruel man, than to wanton and riot in their misery.”

– Mayhew makes the convincing case that the King does not derive his powers from divine right, and that only Paliament, and thus, the people gave power to the King originally. He argues that government is only legitimate if allowed legitimacy by the people. Once the ruler acts against the will of the people, he is a tyrant, and it is perfectly reasonable, and crucially, does not go against the Christian faith, to oppose and fight for liberty from the tyrant. It is easy to see how this text influenced the Revolutionaries, by uniting both political and religious justification for rebellion against the crown.

President John Adams, reflecting on the influence of the discourse by Mayhew, stated that the sermon….

“…was read by everybody. A great influence in the commencement of the Revolution. Dr. Mayhew seemed to be raised up to revive all the animosity of the people against tyranny within Church and State and at the same time to destroy their bigotry, fanaticism and inconsistencies. This transcendent genius, threw all the weight of his great fame into the scale of his country.”

– Adams goes on to say that Mayhew is one of six men responsible for the American Revolution. Writing to Thomas Jefferson, Adams says that Mayhew’s writings were such an influence:


“that the Substance of it was incorporated into my Nature and indelibly grafted on my Memory”

Mayhew was a friend of American Founding Father Samual Adams. He talked freely and openly with James Otis Jr, And quite beautifully, Robert Treat Paine, Massachusetts Representative at the Continental Congress, and one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, said of Mayhew, that he was:

“The father of civil and religious liberty in America.”

– Thomas Mayhew quite clearly played a spectacularly important role in radicalising New Englanders and promoting revolutionary ideas such as individual liberty, and the duty to resist and fight tyranny, in the decades leading up to the American Revolution. It amazes me, and humbles me, that without his great x4 grandfather…… I would not have been born either.

It is both amazing, and inspiring when you trace your family history back and find interesting and exciting names that helped to influence the course of history.
One of our family (also a direct descendent of Thomas Mayhew – my great x9 grandfather) told us never to research the family tree. I am still not sure why. Perhaps it has something to do with three brothers being in the exact area of Whitechapel during the Ripper murders. Hmmm…..

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3 Responses to The Gems of My Family Tree: The ‘transcendent genius’.

  1. Mom says:

    Fab post! I dream of a find like this (someone so well documented) ij my heraldry….some day? Thanks for sharing such a richly written story. This was truly a pleasure to read.
    Kassie aka “Mom”

  2. Amanda Boerst says:

    I stumbled upon your post while doing my own family tree. Gov. Thomas Mayhew is my 11th great grandfather. Wonderfully written post!

  3. Slightly surreal to have a distant relative read an article of mine!

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