Lemuel Haynes – an eloquent man of God

Print More

Rev. Lemuel Haynes

Part 1

A young man of mixed parentage—black and white—through his talent, diligent study and hard work, became a well-known and much-loved minister. 

Why is this remarkable? Because it happened in the late 1700s in a small New England town, at a time when blacks were considered less than human.

An illegitimate child was born July 18, 1753 in the home of John Haynes in West Hartford, Connecticut. All sources agree that the father was African but it is unknown if he was a slave or free. Local history books and internet sources differ in identifying the mother. 

Some sources state that the mother was a servant girl named Alice Fitch and the father a black slave, whose name is lost in time. According to the 1954 History of Granville by Albion B. Wilson, John Haynes discharged Alice Fitch and kept her baby, naming him Lemuel Haynes.

Other sources hint that the mother was a member of the prominent Goodwin family of Hartford. 

However, a book written in 1837 by Granville minister Rev. Timothy Cooley, Sketches of the Life and Character of the Rev. Lemuel Haynes, states that the father was a full African and the mother came from a respectable New England family. The quotes in this article come from that book. Cooley was a life-long friend of Lemuel Haynes.

The solution to the problem of this illegitimate baby raises many questions. Generally, in those days, a woman who had an illegitimate child either had a quick wedding, or raised the child under her own name, or was sent to the poorhouse. For some reason, this case was different. The infant was given the name of a respectable West Hartford family and placed in a good Christian home.

In Lemuel’s own words: “When I was five months old, I was carried to Granville, Massachusetts and bound out as a servant to Deacon David Rose till I was twenty-one. He was a man of singular piety. I was taught the principles of religion. His wife, my mistress, had 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 loved Lemuel more than her own children.”

Calling a five-month old infant an indentured servant is ridiculous. He was a baby and needed someone to nurture him—he needed a mother. No family would take on a responsibility like that without a good reason. He would need years of care before he could work as a servant. This clearly raises the possibility that the mother was from a respectable family and those involved felt he needed special treatment. A good Christian family, willing to raise this infant, was found in a neighboring state. Problem solved.

It was a condition of his indenture that Lemuel would receive a district school education. “As I had the advantage of attending a common school equal with the other children, I was early taught to read, to which I was greatly attached.”

Lemuel developed an interest in religion early in life. A sermon was read and discussed every Saturday night at the Rose homestead. Soon it became Lemuel’s duty to read the sermon. One evening he read a sermon that David Rose found very interesting. He asked Lemuel who wrote the sermon, “Davies, Watts or Whitfield?” After a long pause, the young man answered, “It’s Lemuel’s sermon.”

When his indenture was over, Lemuel did not leave the Rose home. He continued to live there and work on the farm. It had become his home too. In 1775, Elizabeth Rose died, the only mother he had ever known. Lemuel felt, “bitter mourning and lamentation.”

Also in 1775, the Minute Men marched to the Lexington Alarm and Lemuel Haynes was with them. In 1776, the troop was sent to guard the recently recaptured Fort Ticonderoga. Lemuel remained on garrison duty until he contracted typhoid fever and was sent home.

The people of Middle Granville (now West Granville) regarded Lemuel as “one raised up of God” and asked him to lead devotions in their church, which had no minister. The community encouraged him to become a minister, and although it was arranged to have him attend Dartmouth, Lemuel was apprehensive and did not go.

Instead, he studied Latin with Rev. Daniel Farrand of New Canaan and then Greek with Rev. William Bradford of Wintonbury (now Bloomfield). Lemuel taught school in exchange for the lessons in Greek.

In 1780, he passed an exam in theology and languages and received a license to preach. He was 27 years old. Lemuel Haynes was unanimously called to be the first pastor at the Congregational Church in Middle Granville, which he accepted.

“It was a wonder of the age to be invited to be the spiritual leader in the town that knew him as a servant boy and under all the disabilities of his humble extraction.”

Rev. Haynes stayed five years in Granville and was known for his eloquent sermons. It was said of him that, “His articulation was uncommonly distinct and that he presented arguments with great simplicity and striking effect.”

During his Granville ministry, in 1783, Lemuel Haynes married Elizabeth Babbitt. She was teaching school in Granville Center and “possessed a refined education for that day.” Although she was virtuous and pious, she was not shy, because she proposed to him. The marriage of a white woman to their black minister was approved of by all the local clergy and the community. 

Elizabeth was born in Dighton, Massachusetts in 1763 and died in 1836. They had ten children and “all were pious but one.”

In 1785, Haynes was ordained as an evangelist minister and called to Torrington, the first African-American ordained in the United States. According to Rev. Cooley, “He overcame the prejudice of bigots with the power of his preaching.” Some internet and historical sources claim that Haynes left after two years, due to the active prejudice of several members. 

Haynes was then sent to Vermont as a traveling missionary. It was a “season of great moral darkness in New England and Vermont was considered a moral desert.” In 1788, he accepted a call to be the minister of the mostly white (with a few poor Africans) West Parish Church in Rutland, Vermont (now West Rutland).

(Continued in October issue.)