By Carla Charter
WEST RUTLAND, VT. – A Vermont historical marker to memorialize the Rev. Lemuel Haynes and his work will be dedicated in West Rutland on Saturday. Haynes was the first African-American minister ordained in the United States, was an abolitionist, and had his writings published internationally. In1804 was presented with an honorary Masters degree from Middlebury College. “He was a remarkable man. He was a man of conviction. He lived his life by these convictions which were rooted in the Bible. He did the right thing. Not only was he the first black minister but he was pastoring a mainly white parish,” said Mary Reczek, a trustee of the West Rutland Historical Society.
Haynes’ Father was black and his Mother was white and was from a fairly well to do family. Lemuel was put up for indenture at five months old, Reczek said. “Some indentures were for the purpose of training for work while other’s were more like foster care,” according to Reczek.
Although the name of the couple Haynes was indentured to has been lost to history it is known that they were from West Hartford Connecticut. “We know he (the indentured father) was a church man. He had a keen knowledge of the Bible. He educated Lemuel and taught him how to read. Lemuel became a very astute student of the Bible.”
At Age 21 Haynes joined the patriots in the American Revolution. He went to Lexington but arrived after the battle of Lexington. He then went to Fort Ticonderoga but again arrived after the Fort had been captured. Haynes developed a fever and as a result was sent back home to recover.
He was ordained as a Congregational Minister in 1785, then served as an itinerant pastor for three years in the Springfield and Pittsfield, Massachusetts area. Haynes then went north to Vermont, like many at the time, due to land grants. “Many of the early settlers were from Connecticut and Massachusetts.” He remained there for thirty years, preaching in West Rutland.
After the battle of Lexington, Haynes wrote the treatise ‘Liberty Further Extended,’ which spoke out against the idea of only property owners being allowed to vote as well as abolition. Haynes also preached abolition from the pulpit. As early as the 1780’s his sermons were distributed internationally.
“Haynes’ sermons were so potent and so forceful, yet so gentle and easy to understand. People would walk from surrounding towns to listen to him preach. His contemporaries believe Haynes was so successful here because he was intelligent, humble and witty. He could be asked about a Bible verse, give a tongue in cheek answer, but the congregation still understood what he was saying. He educated people and influenced the way they lived.,” Reczek said.
Haynes left the area in 1818, with the reason for his leaving stated that his mutual obligation to the congregation and to speak out and write about abolition was wearing him down, Reczek stated. She continued, she believed his comments on slavery and equality of races may have been seen as a threat by land owners as well. At the time, she explained people who were not considered to be living a moral life could be brought before the trustees of the church. The trustees could then vote them out of the community. “I suspect his sermons hit too close to home for some wealthy landowners who did not want to be the next one shunned, so by mutual agreement he left and was given $300.”
The dedication ceremony will be held at 11 a.m. at the corner of Pleasant Street and Route 4A, location of the Congregational Church.
More information on the Rutland Historical Society can be found at www.rutlandhistory.com