Lemuel Haynes was the first black person to be ordained by a mainstream Protestant church in the United States. Born in 1753, Haynes was an orphan who went to work as an indentured servant until he was 21 years old. In 1774, Haynes enlisted in the militia as a “Minuteman.” It was during that time he began writing sermons.
After his military service, Haynes studied Latin and Greek with clergymen in Connecticut. A few years later, he obtained his preacher’s license. After taking a job with a white church and marrying a schoolteacher, who was white, Haynes was officially ordained as a minister.
He served at another all-white congregation in Torrington, Connecticut, only to be forced out by prejudice. He resettled in a church in Rutland for 30 years. His leadership was recognized by Middlebury College, who gave him an honorary Master of Arts degree. It was the first ever given to an African-American by the college.
Haynes continued to serve at another church until 1818 when he left over conflict that may have been rooted by racism. The legacy of Haynes was closely associated with his assignment as counselor for two men convicted of murder in Manchester, Vermont. The men were exonerated when the supposed victim reappeared and Haynes recorded the story in a best-selling novel. He also built a presence as an avid abolitionist, writing articles that called slavery “sin,” like his recently discovered 1776 manuscript.
Minister Haynes died in 1833 after serving in New York. He was 80 years old.