Lemuel Haynes

In January 1754, a five-month-old boy was orphaned by his parents. No one knows who the parents were, though most speculated that the child was born to a white mother and a black father. In the mid 18th century, this was simply not something that was supposed to be done. The child, Lemuel Haynes, was indentured to Deacon David Rose of Granville, Massachusetts. Legally, Lemuel was the property of Mr. Rose until he turned 21. But by all accounts, Lemuel was raised as one of the Rose family. Haynes would later recount, “[Deacon David Rose] was a man of singular piety. I was taught the principles of religion. His wife, had a peculiar attachment to me: she treated me as though I was her own child. I remember it was a saying among the neighbors, that she loves Lemuel more than her own children.”[1]

Haynes was included in the family work of farming. He was educated in the small school in Granville and in the regular family worship. He had a hunger for learning and devoured whatever books he could get his hands on. He made it his “rule to know something more every night than [he] knew in the morning.”

When he turned 21 he was freed from his indenture. It was the year 1774 and American Revolution was in full swing. Haynes joined the Continental Army and served until a bout of typhus forced him leave the military. He returned home to the Roses. As was the custom during family worship on Saturday evening, someone in the family would read a sermon to the family. Haynes read a manuscript of a sermon on John 3:3. Deacon Rose asked Lemuel if the sermon was from Jonathan Edwards or George Whitefield. When he admitted that it was his own sermon, the family encouraged Lemuel to pursue gospel ministry.

Haynes was very much a product of the First Great Awakening. He poured over sermons by Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield. He memorized large portions of Scripture. He was trained by Daniel Ferrand of Canaan, Connecticut and William Bradford of Wintonbury, Connecticut. He was a brilliant student, and he had to be. No African-American had ever been ordained to gospel ministry before. In 1785 Lemuel Haynes became the first African-American ordained by any religious body in America. In 1804 Middlebury College awarded him an honorary master’s degree, also a first for an African-American.[2]

Haynes eventually was called to pastoral ministry in an all-white congregation in Rutland, Vermont. He served there for 30 years. Haynes lamented that Vermont was full of people sympathetic to both a deist and opponent to Christianity like Thomas Paine and Arminianism. New England at the time was prone to churches that admitted anyone to the Lord’s Supper, regardless of a profession of faith. It was also common for pastors to baptize the children of people who showed no credible evidence of faith. The essentials of the faith were often ignored in the churches. Haynes knew that “a clear understanding of the doctrines of the gospel were very necessary for ministers at that time.”[3] So he preached and wrote forcefully. Haynes mocked the Universalist preacher Hosea Ballou in a satire that was circulated throughout America and England. Haynes mocked the universalist idea to the lies of the serpent in the Garden of Eden. Ballou was not amused but Haynes would not relent.

Haynes also wrote forcefully against chattel slavery in America. He celebrated the principles of the republican government formed in America while also rebuking the inherent contradictions of that same system enslaving Africans. He rebutted pro-slavery arguments with clear and faithful biblical responses in his address, Liberty Further Explained.[4]

Lemuel Haynes left Rutland after 30 faithful years of ministry. By most accounts, he was forced out because some in the church could no longer submit to a black man as their pastor. His final pastorate was in South Granville, NY along the Vermont border. He would die a few years later and be buried in the cemetery of the South Granville church. His final sermon was preached on 2 Cor 1:9, “Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us not rely on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” A fitting text for a dying minister.

Lemuel Haynes remained faithful to the last. He overcame incredible hardships and met each one with an unwavering faith and trust in the sovereignty and graciousness of his God. He penned his epitaph with the words by which he hoped to be remembered:

Here lies the dust of a poor hell-deserving sinner, who ventured into eternity trusting wholly on the merits of Christ for salvation. In the full belief of the great doctrines he preached while on earth, he invites his children, and all who read this, to trust their eternal interest on the same foundation.

[1] Lemuel Haynes and Thabiti M Anyabwile, May We Meet in the Heavenly World: The Piety of Lemuel Haynes (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Reformation Heritage Books, 2009), 2.

[2] Haynes and Anyabwile, 7.

[3] Haynes and Anyabwile, 8.

[4] Haynes and Anyabwile, 10.