B y Lisa Dougan Kelly
The Rev. Lemuel Haynes died in South Granville in 1833. The legacy he left is nothing short of remarkable.
Born in 1753 in W. Hartford, Conn., he was the son of a man of “non-mitigated African extraction” and a white woman. There are differing accounts as to whether his mother was a servant in the household where he was born or the daughter of a locally-prominent family.
Regardless, at the age of five months he was bound out to the home of Deacon David Rose in Granville, Mass. There he remained-cherished by his adoptive mother-until his indenture ended in 1774 at the age of 21, according to biographer Timothy Mather Cooley.
Haynes then enlisted as a “Minuteman” in the Connecticut militia. In 1776, he joined the Continental
Army and marched to Fort Ticonderoga. He only served a short time before contracting typhus and was sent home.
As a child, various sources differ on whether he was sent to public school or was self taught. Whichever, he was an avid learner. Upon his return from military service, he turned down an opportunity to enroll in Dartmouth College choosing instead to study Latin and Greek with local clergymen in Connecticut.
In 1780, Haynes was licensed to preach and accepted a position with a white congregation in Middle Granville, Conn. In 1785, he was officially ordained as a Congregational minister making him the first black man to lead a Protestant congregation in the United States.
In 1783, he accepted a marriage proposal from a white church member — school teacher Elizabeth Babbit. The couple had 10 children. His longest tenure as a pastor was the 30 years he spent at the west parish Congregational Church in Rutland. According to local historian Helen MacLam, there were 290 African Americans in Vermont at that time.
In his writings, Haynes labeled Vermont a “great moral desert.” According to biographer Cooley, “He was keen in repartee; and whoever attacked him rudely or impertinently had reason to regret that he had not preserved silence.”
By this time, he had an international reputation. In 1804, he was awarded a Masters of Arts degree from Middlebury College-the first black man to have ever been so honored.
After 30 years, Haynes was dismissed from the Rutland Church. There is confusion as to whether this was caused by racial issues or his unwillingness to accept less than strict adherence to religious doctrine. His fifth great-granddaughter, Carrie O’Brien Ambrosi of Hampton, has done extensive research into Haynes’ history.
“I learned that he never made an issue of race,” she said. “He just hoped everyone would get along and that no one would dwell on differences.”
When he left Rutland, he moved to Manchester, Vt., ” a pleasant town on the west side of the
Green Mountains,” according to Cooley. While there, he became the champion of two brothers who were convicted and sentenced to hanging for the murder of a local man.
Convinced of their innocence, Haynes took on their cause visiting them daily in prison. When the
supposed victim showed up alive just prior to their execution, he was proven right.
Following that success, he accepted the position as pastor of the Congregational Church in South Granville where he served until his death in 1833. In his memory, another venture has blossomed.
Mary Kellogg, Chairman of the Founders Committee of “Haynes House of Hope” said her group’s original goal was to protect the church and parsonage on the church grounds by acquiring a designation on the list of national and state historic places.
Unfortunately, the parsonage could not be saved, but a new building is equipped to house — free of
charge — two terminally ill patients and their families. It is totally funded by donations and staffed by
From modest beginnings, Lemuel Haynes managed to make a huge difference wherever he went, and the giving continues in his name.