Jonathan Maxcy (1768-1820), second president of Brown University, was born in Attleboro, Massachusetts on September 2, 1768. He entered the College from William Williams’ Academy in Wrentham at the age of fifteen and graduated in 1787. His poem at Commencement, “The Prospects of America,” with the valedictory addresses, also in verse, was acclaimed by the audience and he “was induced with reluctance to consent to its publication.” He was immediately appointed as a tutor. He was baptized by President Manning in 1789, and licensed to preach by the First Baptist Church in Providence on April 1, 1790. He supplied the pulpit of that church after Manning’s resignation as pastor. After Manning’s death on July 29, 1791, he was requested by the Corporation at the annual meeting in September “as often as he conveniently can without interfering with his duties as Pastor of the Church he serves to attend & accasionly (sic) Lecture on Sundays Morning & Eveng. prayers in the College Hall in compensation for which services he be allowed the occupation of half the Presidents house & half the College Lands.” On September 8, 1791, he was ordained as pastor of the First Baptist Church, and on the same day elected a trustee of the College and appointed professor of divinity. In September 1792 he was elected president pro tempore, being given a trial period because of his youth. At the Commencement after his election the College was illuminated and a transparency in the attic story displayed his name and the words, “President 24 years old.” On becoming president, he resigned as pastor of the Church. In September 1797 he was formally elected president. Of his presidency, Professor Romeo Elton wrote:
“The University over which he presided with distinguished honor to himself and benefit to the public, flourished under his administration, and his fame was extended over every section of the Union. The splendor of his genius, and his brilliant talents as an orator and a divine, were seen and admired by all.... Under his administration the College acquired a reputation for belles-lettres and eloquence inferior to no seminary of learning in the United States. His pupils saw in him an admirable model for their imitation, and the influence of his pure and cultivated taste was seen in their literary performances. Though destitute of funds, and patronage from the legislature of the state, guided by his genius and wisdom, the College flourished and diffused its light over every part of the country.... Dr. Maxcy was one of the most learned men which our country has produced. Criticism, metaphysics, politics, morals, and theology all occupied his attention. His stores of knowledge were immense, and he had at all times the command over them.”Maxcy was, as Elton said, “rather small of stature, of a fine form and well-proportioned. All his movements were graceful and dignified.” However exalted his reputation, the students referred to him as “little Jock.”
In 1802 Maxcy resigned to become president of Union College in Schenectady, New York, succeeding Reverend Jonathan Edwards. This was a surprising appointment, considering that his theological opinions were at odds with those prevailing among the supporters of the college. After two years of a successful administration, he left to become president of South Carolina College, where he felt the warmer climate would be good for his health. He was an extremely popular president and remained there for the rest of his life. He died at Columbia on June 4, 1820.