Lemuel Haynes: First Black Ordained Minister
Updated: Jan 13
Born in 1753 In West Hartford, Connecticut to a white woman “of some standing” and an unnamed African American man, Lemuel Haynes was the first Black man in the U.S. to become an ordained minister. Entering the world under the scandalous circumstances of an inter-racial relationship, a five-month old Lemuel was indentured to a blind farmer in Granville, Massachusetts until his twenty-first birthday.
Although he had little formal education, Haynes became a passionate student of the Bible and books on theology and began preaching to his local congregation as an adolescent boy. At the age of twenty-three, he served as a Minuteman at Fort Ticonderoga during the American Revolution. At twenty-seven, he was licensed to preach in Connecticut and became fully ordained five years later. He served an all-white congregation in Torrington for two years, but after experiencing racism from some members, he moved to Rutland, Vermont. There, he married a white school teacher, Elizabeth Babbitt, and their family grew to include ten children. He spent thirty years in Vermont, where he developed an international reputation for his preaching and writings. He was awarded an honorary Master’s Degree from Middlebury College – the first ever presented to an African American. He reportedly left Rutland over political differences, though Haynes was said to blame the falling out on the belief that his congregation came to realize he was Black. He concluded the last eleven years of his career in South Granville, New York.
Haynes wrote and preached extensively against slavery and pointed out the hypocrisy of colonists who fought for their own liberty but justified enslaving others. Unlike white abolitionists who argued for the repatriation of Blacks back to Africa, Haynes argued that God’s plan was to defeat slavery and pave the way for equality within America. During his life, he was unable to escape the destruction of racism and had to uproot his career and family more than once, despite being highly qualified and renowned. But his writings, along with the writings of other abolitionists, laid the foundation for others to build upon.
If you’d like to learn more about Lemuel Haynes and his writings, we recommend: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part2/2p29.html and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lemuel_Haynes#Writings