Firsthand Writings by BIPOC
Colonial-era and early-nineteenth-century materials written by Black, Indigenous, and other people of color have rarely survived and were rarely collected in deliberate ways by libraries and institutional archives before the twentieth century. Sometimes restricted access to literacy, attempted erasures, and ambivalence to understanding their point of views were part of the systematic oppression that Black and Indigenous peoples faced in New England and elsewhere. These facts make the availability of these firsthand writings by Congregational clergy and laypeople all the more significant.
Writings by BIPOC Clergy
Rev. Lemuel Haynes
Rev. Lemuel Haynes (1753–1833) is often described as America’s first fully ordained Black minister. Ordained in 1785, he served as pastor at several Congregational churches, including Torrington, Conn., West Parish Church of Rutland, Vt. (now West Rutland's United Church of Christ), Manchester, Vt., and the Congregational Church in South Granville, N.Y. An inquisitive student, soldier of the American Revolution, and early abolitionist, Haynes preached in support of equality for Black Americans across New England and New York. His preaching was well-regarded by numerous Trinitarian or Orthodox Congregational Ministers. Middlebury College granted Haynes an honorary master of arts in 1804. His sermon, Universal salvation, a very ancient doctrine, first preached in 1805, was a popular rebuttal to Universalist doctrines and was published in numerous editions. Rev. Timothy Cooley published a biography of Haynes in 1837.
- Manchester, Vt. First Church records
Much of the first manuscript record book of the First Church of Manchester, VT was written by Rev. Haynes, specifically the portions dating from 1818-1822.
- Granville, Mass. Congregational Church records
While serving in Rutland, VT Haynes wrote a series of letters to Rev. Timothy Cooley, the pastor of the above Granville church, primarily discussing ministry and local current events. One of these items is a reply to his daughter Electa updating her on family and friends at the end of her school year. Also included is Haynes's hand written epitaph.
- Bennington, Vt. First Church records
These records include items of correspondence received from Rev. Lemuel Haynes while he was minister at Manchester, VT. They include a manuscript sermon on the nature of repentance (first preached 1801), and a signed letter, dated 1806, to Rev. Elihu Smith of Castleton regarding a difficulty in the Congregational Church at West Rutland. Also included are an engraved portrait of Rev. Haynes and a short biographical sketch.
Writings by BIPOC Church Members
The Middleboro, Mass. First Church records contain a disciplinary confession from parishioner Alice Anthony (d. 1790). Elsewhere referred to as Else, she is identified in other documents as an Indigenous woman from the local Namasket/Pokanoket band of the Wampanoag people. She was admitted as a member of the First Church of Middleboro on January 24, 1742 and produced her confession many years later, on June 6, 1783. Though the document was probably written with the assistance of the local minister, it is the only document of its kind known to exist. In the confession Anthony apologizes for "the scandalous sin of intemperance" and for staying away from public worship, and asks the congregation to receive her back into the church and to pray for her.
Phillis or Philesh Cogswell was, like Flora/Flory Negroe, a member of the evangelical Fourth Church of Ipswich (The "new" Chebacco church). She was enslaved in the household of Jonathan Cogswell. Phillis/Philesh initially began attending church during the revivals of the 1740s, but she had never become a full member and felt her piety decline over the years. Her decision not to join a church changed with the onset of the Seacoast Revivals of the 1760s. On April 22, 1764 she submitted a formalized relation of faith to the congregation as part of the process of seeking full membership. While large parts of the document adhere to standard phrasing, there are also individual biographical details from her life. Other records relating to Phillis/Philesh include her personal signature, suggesting an ability to write, which was extremely unusual for an enslaved person and for women in general at the time. Following her application, she was baptized into the Fourth Church of Ipswich as a full member in May or June of 1764. Other contemporary records relate that Ms. Cogswell had been manumitted from slavery by 1785. For further information please see Erik R. Seeman's article "'Justise Must Take Plase': Three African Americans Speak of Religion in Eighteenth-Century New England."
The Fourth Church in Ipswich, also known as the "new" Chebacco church or the Separatist Church, was formed by "New Light" revivalists during the First Great Awakening of the 1730s-40s. The evangelical church counted four enslaved persons among its first twenty-two full members. One of these was a woman named Flora or Flory, owned by Thomas Choate of Ipswich. On July 23, 1749 she addressed a formalized confession of sins to the congregation. In the written record of the confession, she requests forgiveness for largely undefined transgressions, and expresses regret that her flaws could have negatively impacted the revival movement. Specfic phrasings within the document suggest that she may have engaged in lay preaching during the midcentury religious revivals. For further information please see Erik R. Seeman's article "'Justise Must Take Plase': Three African Americans Speak of Religion in Eighteenth-Century New England."
The Middleboro, Mass. records also include a relation of faith submitted by Anna Wright, Cuffee/Cuffy Wright's wife, racially identified in other records as Black. This formal document records Anna's spritual biography in accordance with Congregational conventions of the time. She produced the relation when seeking full membership to the Middleboro First Church in 1796, 23 years after her husband had been admitted.
Cuffee/Cuffy Wright was an enslaved person owned by Rev. Sylvanus Conant, minister of the Congregational Church in Middleboro, Mass., and is referred to elsewhere as "Cuffy the African". He sought membership in the same church by submitting a formal relation of faith document in 1773 in which he detailed his spiritual journey. Cuffee/Cuffy's relation is the only such document discovered thus far that was written in the enslaved's own hand. The grammar, spelling, and syntax of the document vary at times from standard English, but thematically it adheres to the Calvinist theology and praxis of eighteenth-century Congregationalism. For further information, please see James F. Cooper's article "Cuffee’s ‘Relation’: A Faithful Slave Speaks Through the Project for the Preservation of Congregational Church Records."