Vermont Black History Month

First ordained black minister in USA pastored in Rutland

Republished from Vermont Historical Society Black History Database

A veteran of the American Revolution, Lemuel Haynes was the first black man to be ordained as a minister in the United States. He served the West Rutland Congregational Church for 30 years.

Haynes was born on July 18, 1753 in West Hartford, Connecticut, to a white mother and black father. The identity of his mother has long been the subject of debate, either servant Lucy (or Alice) Finch or a member of the prominent Goodwin family.

At the age of five months, Lemuel Haynes was indentured to Deacon David Rose, a blind farmer from Granville, Massachusetts. Part of the indenture required Rose to provide Haynes’s education. Haynes was raised by the Rose family in a strict Calvinist household where he gained an affinity for religious thought.

Haynes’ indenture expired in 1774 and he joined the minutemen of Granville. In 1775, he marched with his militia company to Roxbury, Massachusetts, following the news of the Battles of Lexington and Concord and in 1776, he garrisoned the recently captured Fort Ticonderoga.

During the American Revolution, Haynes began to write extensively, criticizing the slave trade and slavery. He continued these activities after the war, and also began to prepare sermons, family prayers and other theological works. Haynes argued that slavery denied black people their natural rights to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.

After his military service, Haynes studied theology in Connecticut and Massachusetts and received a license to preach in 1780. He served his home church in Middle Granville while also serving as a missionary in the Republic of Vermont. At this time he married a white school teacher named Elizabeth Babbitt.

In 1785 Haynes became the first black man ordained in the United States. From 1785 to 1788 he served as the pastor of the Hemlock Congregational Church in Torrington, Connecticut. From Torrington he moved to West Rutland, Vermont where he served as pastor of the West Parish Church (now the West Rutland United Church of Christ) for 30 years. While in West Rutland, Haynes received an honorary Masters degree from Middlebury College at its second commencement in 1804. This was only the fourth degree given by the school and the first to an African American.

Haynes continued to write and speak about slavery. Unlike many of his north abolitionist contemporaries who preferred expatriation of black Americans to Africa, he strongly advocated for abolition and the full integration of races in the United States. In addition to his abolitionist views, he was a staunch Federalist which led, in part, to his dismissal from the West Rutland Church in 1818. He served the Manchester, Vermont, Congregational Church for three years before settling at the South Granville, New York church from 1822 to his death in 1833.

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  1. Lemuel Haynes was the founding pastor of our Congregational Church in Bridport, Vermont. The church was established in 1790 with 12 members.