People & Events
1753 - 1833
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Lemuel Haynes was probably the first African American ordained by a mainstream Protestant Church in the United States.
Haynes, the abandoned child of an African father and "a white woman of respectable ancestry," was born in 1753 at West Hartford, Connecticut. Five months later, he was bound to service until the age of 21 to David Rose of Middle Granville, Massachusetts.
With only a rudimentary formal education, Haynes developed a passion for books, especially the Bible and books on theology. As an adolescent, he frequently conducted services at the town parish, sometimes reading sermons of his own.
When his indenture ended in 1774, Haynes enlisted as a "Minuteman" in the local militia. While serving in the militia, he wrote a lengthy ballad-sermon about the April, 1775 Battle of Lexington. In the title of the poem, he refers to himself as "Lemuel a young Mollato who obtained what little knowledge he possesses, by his own Application to Letters." Although the poem emphasized the conflict between slavery and freedom, it did not directly address black slavery.
After the war, Haynes turned down the opportunity to study at Dartmouth College, instead choosing to study Latin and Greek with clergymen in Connecticut. In 1780 he was licensed to preach. He accepted a position with a white congregation in Middle Granville and later married a young white schoolteacher, Elizabeth Babbitt. In 1785, Haynes was officially ordained as a Congregational minister.
Haynes held three pastorships after his ordination. The first was with an all-white congregation in Torrington, Connecticut, where he left after two years due to the active prejudice of several members.
His second call to the pulpit, from a mostly white church in Rutland, Vermont that had a few "poor Africans," lasted for 30 years. During that time, Haynes developed an international reputation as a preacher and writer. In 1804, he received an honorary Master of Arts degree from Middlebury College, the first ever bestowed upon an African American. In 1801, he published a tract called "The Nature and Importance of True Republicanism..." which contained his only public statement on the subject of race or slavery.
Haynes was a lifelong admirer of George Washington and an ardent Federalist. In 1818, conflicts with his congregation, ostensibly over politics and style, led to a parting; there was some speculation, however, that the church's displeasure with Haynes stemmed from racism. Haynes himself was known to say that "he lived with the people of Rutland thirty years, and they were so sagacious that at the end of that time they found out that he was a nigger, and so turned him away."
His last appointment was in Manchester, Vermont, where he counseled two men convicted of murder; they narrowly escaped hanging when the alleged "victim" reappeared. Haynes's writings on the seven-year ordeal became a bestseller for a decade.
For the last eleven years of his life, Haynes ministered to a congregation in upstate New York. He died in 1833, at the age of 80.
Nearly 150 years after his death, a manuscript written by Haynes around 1776 was discovered, in which he boldly stated "That an African... has an undeniable right to his Liberty." The treatise went on to condemn slavery as sin, and pointed out the irony of slaveowners fighting for their own liberty while denying it to others.
Image Credit: From the collections of the Library of Congress
Portrait of Lemuel Haynes
"A List of the Names of Provincials..."
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