Beacon Street Diary blog

Precious liberty

Lemuel Haynes 1753-1833, Freed 1774

As I was reading about the remarkable Lemuel Haynes, I could have thought that his story was set in the 20th century rather than the two hundred years earlier. Abandoned by his African American father and Caucasian mother, Lemuel Haynes achieved many firsts, as a former indentured servant who rose to become a celebrated preacher and internationally popular author, he was outspoken on issues of liberty and justice and completely dedicated to his Calvinist and Federalist beliefs.

Primarily self-educated, he was offered a place at Dartmouth College but opted to stay in his native Connecticut to study with successors of Jonathan Edwards. He served in majority white churches in Granville, MA; Rutland, VT; and later in Granville, NY. Like many of his profession, he married one of his flock, but it was Elizabeth Babbitt who, according to one source, proposed to him in 1783. Their interracial marriage produced 10 children who went on to live productive and prominent lives.
"Liberty is equally as precious to a black man, as it is to a white one, and bondage equally as intolerable to the one as it is to the other."

A popular figure known for a caustic wit, Haynes was recognized by preachers, civic leaders and academics through his prolific writings and poetry. It was his preaching that affected his congregations; one of his parishioners wrote: "I never heard a sermon from my minister without gaining something new."[1]

What pastor would not like to win this praise?

-Cary Hewitt

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[1] "January 1, 1837". Sketches of the Life and Character of the Rev. Lemuel Haynes, A. M.: For Many Years Pastor of a Church in Rutland, Vt., and Late in Granville, New-York by Timothy Mather Cooley