Lemuel Haynes – an eloquent man of God

Print More

Part 2

Rev. Haynes spent the next 30 years of his ministry in West Rutland, Vt. His congregation was very attached to him and vigorously objected to any disparaging remarks about their “coloured minister.” But the way they defended him was to say “his soul is pure white.”

In the years after the Revolutionary War, when Haynes was actively preaching, writing sermons and becoming known as a powerful speaker, the biography by Rev. Cooley differs greatly from the research articles found on the internet. 

Cooley only mentions religion. Many other sources say that Haynes wrote and preached extensively about the evil of slavery. He believed that slavery denied black people their natural rights to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Haynes compared the British oppression before the war to the slave experience. He wrote, “Liberty is equally as precious to a black man, as it is to a white one, and bondage as equally intolerable to the one as it is to the other.”

In the lengthy biography, Cooley says that Haynes left “limited material” but he printed many of the extremely long sermons given by Lemuel Haynes. He also included numerous letters written, through the years, to both Cooley and to Deacon Elihu Atkins. These letters only mention religious revivals, numbers of members added to the church and the state of religion in Vermont. There is no mention of slavery, abolition or politics in the biography.

In contrast, the research papers online emphasize that Haynes had a reputation for evangelical Calvinism and fervent opposition to slavery. His essays and sermons on natural rights, liberty, justice and interracial harmony were printed internationally.

It is difficult to believe that Rev. Haynes would censor his letters and omit topics that were so important to him. Perhaps Rev. Cooley felt it would be safer to avoid the controversy surrounding slavery, abolition and politics. 

However, Cooley’s biography does tell us much about the character of Rev. Lemuel Haynes. He had a quick mind and a sharp wit. Anecdotes abound illustrating his sense of humor. He once told a fellow minister who was lamenting the loss of all his sermons in a fire, “Brother, they gave more light from the fire then they ever gave from the pulpit.”

On another occasion, Haynes, an ardent Federalist, accidently entered a celebration for newly elected Andrew Jackson. He was urged to give a toast and offered this “Andrew Jackson, Psalm 109 Verse 8.” When someone finally looked up the reference, they found, “Let his days be few, and let another take his office.”

A sermon preached by Haynes in 1805 brought him fame. It was his response to a sermon by Hosea Ballou, a leading Universalist spokesman. Haynes’ brief Sermon Against Universalism satirically equated Ballou to the serpent and to the devil. It was printed in 40 editions.

Although Haynes was successful in religious revivals in his own and neighboring churches, he was fighting a losing battle. Times were changing. The free and independent spirit of the Revolutionary War was affecting religious attitudes. Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason encouraged free thinkers. People were accepting the idea of universal salvation instead of the orthodox Calvinist doctrine Haynes embraced.

Calvinism was a harsh and unforgiving doctrine. Predestination meant that God has chosen those he intends to save. Haynes worked to save the souls of sinners and preached that sinners must repent, people must be born again and love God above all—before Judgement Day. And yet, no matter how you lived your life, God had already decided if you were going to heaven or hell.

In his letters, Haynes complained about the “corrupting influence of the Revolutionary War,” and people were reading books on reason. He also disagreed with most of the abolitionists, who wanted to send the blacks back to Africa. He believed God’s plan was harmonious integration of the races as equals. 

In 1801, Haynes published a tract on slavery, The Nature and Importance of True Republicanism. In 1804, he was awarded an honorary Master of Arts degree from Middlebury College, the first ever awarded to an African-American. In 1814, Haynes was a delegate, representing Vermont ministers, at the convention of the Connecticut General Association in Fairfield. There he met Dr. Timothy Dwight, President of Yale University, who invited him to preach in New Haven. He filled the church with his “impassioned eloquence.” In 1818, after 30 years, he was dismissed from his church in Rutland. He was 65 years old.

Rev. Cooley printed letters saying the parting was a mutual decision, but other sources indicate it had to do with his outspoken political opinions and Calvinist beliefs. One research document indicated racism. Haynes supposedly said, “He lived with the people of Rutland 30 years and at the end of that time they found out that he was a nigger, and so turned him away.”  

Haynes then spent two years in Manchester, Vermont where he played a leading role in a famous murder trial. He believed in the innocence of two brothers in a case based on dreams and circumstantial evidence. The “murder victim” appeared in town shortly before Jesse and Stephen Boorn were to be executed. Haynes published a factual account of the case, which was important in American judicial history and also a best seller.

The aging minister spent the last years of his life at a church in South Granville, New York. All through his 30 years in West Rutland, then two years in Manchester, Vermont and eleven years in South Granville, New York, Haynes longed to return to another Granville. “My heart is often at Granville. I cannot be wholly weaned from the place of my childhood and youth.”

In the last year of his life, Lemuel Haynes finally returned to Granville for a few weeks in August, to substitute for their ailing minister. It was 1833 and he was 80 years old. “I preached in Granville on the Sabbath and it was an affecting thought to stand at the desk where I used to preach more than 40 years ago.”

Haynes visited the old homestead where his master, David Rose, had lived and died. It was the first framed house in the parish and he had helped to build it. (It was located on Rt. 57 near the top of East Hill.) He walked over the fields he had cleared and planted so many years ago. He also went to the burying ground. Many of the stones bore epitaphs he had composed, including the first burial in the cemetery, of three-year old Calvin Coe. “I was the first come here to lie, Children and youth prepare to die.”

Rev. Lemuel Haynes, age 80, died Sept. 28, 1833 in South Granville, New York, of gangrene. Lemuel, his wife and several children are buried in Lee-Oatman Cemetery in South Granville. His home in the village was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1975 and is now a museum. A United Church of Christ in Queens, New York is named for him. 

It is a measure of his power and eloquence as a preacher that Lemuel Haynes inspired such a strong following at a time when his message was being rejected by enlightened thinkers. It is also a measure of the man he was, to have been openly loved and respected as a black minister with a white wife, in several small New England towns, in the early 1800s.

During his lifetime, Haynes was well-known and celebrated, but until recently, he was almost forgotten. Today, many scholars are studying and writing about the well-documented faith and social views of this very early black abolitionist.

“Nearly 150 years after his death, a manuscript written by Haynes around 1776 was discovered, in which he boldly 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 slaveholders fighting for their own liberty while denying it to others.” (Africans in America)

Rev. Haynes believed that plainness was the chief excellence of a service. He once said that you “get home and to heaven the same way, one foot before t’other. The Lord calls us to follow him, not wait to be carried.”

The words of Lemuel Haynes are his best epitaph.