On July 18, 1753, Lemuel Haynes was born to a white mother “of respectable ancestry” and an African father in West Hartford, Connecticut. His parents abandoned him as a child, giving him to a local deacon in Middle Granville, Massachusetts. Lemuel’s parents had an agreement with Deacon John Haynes that their son would work on Haynes’ farm until age 21 in exchange for housing and education.
Thus, Lemuel spent his youth as an indentured servant working on a Massachusetts farm to earn his keep. He worked on the farm by day and studied at night. With a basic education, Lemuel developed a passion for books, especially for the Bible and the study of theology. As a youth, he frequently conducted services at the town parish and sometimes read sermons which he wrote himself. Stories from his youth tell of Lemuel seeing the Aurora Borealis, an experience that led him to become a Christian.
A Free Man and The Revolutionary War
His work eventually earned him his freedom at the age of 21 in 1774 and he immediately enlisted and served in the colonial militia, serving as a “Minuteman”. On the morning of May 19, 1775, a contingent of Minutemen, under the leadership of Ethan Allen, commandeered a notable victory. The group silently invaded the British-held Fort Ticonderoga and demanded its surrender. As the British commander surrendered, a group of brave patriots stood, waving the flag that distinguished them as the Green Mountain Boys. In that group of eye witnesses stood Lemuel Haynes, an African American. Haynes was one of three African American men assigned to Ethan Allen’s famed “Green Mountain Boys”.
A Passionate Writer
While serving, Lemuel began doing a considerable amount of writing and was especially drawn to write about liberty. 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. Lemuel was fully dedicated to freedom’s cause, both in service in a Connecticut military unit and also in writing about freedom in a series of poems and essays. [Side note: More than 5,000 African Americans, both slaves and free men, fought in the Revolutionary War.]
Liberty Further Extended, His Most Important Work
One of Lemuel’s most important written works was titled, “Liberty Further Extended”, which was written in 1776 and inspired by the Declaration of Independence. His work was a response to the Declaration of Independence. Lemuel was one of many Founders who staunchly believed freedom must be extended to Africans. Lemuel became well-known for his sermons and writings that used scripture to defend the Right to Life and Freedom for all Americans, especially slaves and indentured servants.
After the War…
The end of the Revolutionary War brought Lemuel back to Massachusetts. Lemuel turned down an opportunity to study at Dartmouth College. Instead, he studied Latin and Greek with clergymen in Connecticut and taught school. In 1780, he became licensed to preach and accepted a position with a white congregation in Middle Granville, Massachusetts
In 1783, Lemuel married a white schoolteacher, Elizabeth Babbitt, and the couple had three children: Elizabeth, Louis and Samuel Woodbridge Haynes.
A First, Lemuel’s Ordination
Haynes was officially ordained as a Congregational minister in 1785 and is considered to be the first African American ordained by a mainstream Protestant Church in the United States. His next 50 years were spent pastoring churches. Five of the churches he served included Anglo members. Lemuel’s sermons were often published during his lifetime and his counsel was routinely sought by the presidents of both Yale University and Amherst College.
Another First, An Honorary Degree
Later in his life, Lemuel received an honorary degree from Middleburg College. This was 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 led to a parting. Some degree of racism, along with political differences, was suspected as the reason for his departure from his post. Lemuel had developed an international reputation as a preacher and writer. He was especially known for arguing the moral grounds for an immediate end to slavery in opposition to those favoring gradual emancipation.
His last official appointment was in Manchester, Vermont, where he counseled two men convicted of murder. The two men narrowly escaped hanging when the alleged “victim” reappeared. Haynes’s writings on the seven-year ordeal became a bestseller for a decade.
Nearly 150 years after his death, a manuscript written by Haynes around 1776 was discovered. In it, he 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 liberty while denying it to others.
Honored By History
For the last eleven years of his life, Haynes voluntarily ministered to a congregation in upstate New York. He died on September 28, 1833, at the age of 80. Lemuel Haynes’ work, “Liberty Further Extended”, is still considered one of the most forceful Revolutionary-era arguments against slavery, and one of the first authored by an African-American. His work is deemed especially notable because of its link to evangelical culture and Revolutionary politics of the era. His home in South Granville is a National Historic Landmark and a United Church of Christ in Queens, New York is named for him.