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Lemuel Haynes: A Notable New York Native Often Overlooked

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An Often Ignored Figure in Upstate New York History

Lemuel Haynes: Soldier, Abolitionist and the First African American Clergyman Ordained in the United States

Lemuel HaynesIn the hamlet of South Granville, New York near the intersection of NY 149 and Washington County Route 27 stands a white house with dark green shutters. The unassuming structure doesn’t attract much attention from passersby traveling through the rural area, but has important historical significance. The residence served as the home of Lemuel Haynes from 1822 until his death in 1833, and was named to the National Register of Historic Places and designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1975.

You may be wondering who Lemuel Haynes is—and if so, you aren’t alone. Much like his home in South Granville, Haynes never attracted substantial attention although he was an important historical figure. He fought in the American Revolution, was an adamant abolitionist, became the first African American to receive an advanced degree upon being awarded an honorary Master of Arts degree by Middlebury College, and was the first African American clergyman ordained in the United States.

Haynes was born in 1754 in West Hartford, Connecticut to a white middle class mother and a black father. His parents abandoned him shortly after he was born, giving him over to indentured servitude in Granville, Massachusetts. Though indentured servitude was far from ideal, it provided Haynes with the opportunity to gain an education, something most blacks were denied. Indentured servitude also exposed Haynes to Christianity, as his master allowed Haynes to accompany him to church. These two aspects of Haynes’ early life would prove to be incredibly influential, guiding Haynes to his career later in his life.

Haynes’ term as an indentured servant ended when he was 21 years old, at which point he decided to join the minutemen military squad in Granville. He received military training and served as a soldier during the American Revolution, marching on Roxbury, Massachusetts with his company and helping to defend Fort Ticonderoga after American troops had reclaimed it from the British. Throughout the war, Haynes witnessed mistreatment of black soldiers in the military, which inspired him to write about freedom and abolition while he served. At the conclusion of the American Revolution, he was further inspired by the Declaration of Independence and continued writing, penning essays and poems to voice his belief that freedom should be granted to blacks as well as whites.

The Lemuel Haynes House in South Granville, NY. Photo Courtesy of Daniel CaseAfter the war, Haynes continued his education, studying Latin and Greek with clergymen in Connecticut. He began to compose theological writings and put together sermons for family prayer, becoming a knowledgeable and respected member of his community. In 1780, he was granted a license to preach and began preaching at a white congregation in Middle Granville. It was here that he met and married his wife, a young white schoolteacher named Elizabeth Babbitt. Following his time in Middle Granville, Haynes moved on to preach in Torrington, Connecticut. It was during his time in Torrington that Haynes was officially ordained as a minister, becoming the first ordained African American minister in the United States. But, despite this honor, he faced significant prejudice as a black preacher in an all white congregation and eventually resigned from his post at the Torrington church.

In 1788, Haynes was invited to become the pastor for a mostly white congregation in Rutland, Vermont. He served at this church for 30 years. During that time, Haynes developed his reputation as a preacher and writer and gained some recognition for his work, receiving an honorary Master of Arts degree from Middlebury College in 1804. In 1818, he left the congregation he had loyally served in Rutland as a result of politics, conflicts of style and, unfortunately, because of the racist feelings of some members of the congregation. He then took a position at a congregation in Manchester, Vermont, where he served for four years before moving on to South Granville, New York. He served as the pastor of South Granville Congregational Church for 11 years, until his death in 1833.

Haynes was an influential figure who is often overlooked by historians. His life and influence helped to begin breaking down racial barriers in the United States and many followed in his footsteps to continue the progress that he started. His influence, much like his home, can still be seen today.

Jessica Venezia is a Contributor to The Free George. Photo of the Lemuel Haynes House Courtesy of Daniel Case.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

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