This Place in History: Lemuel Haynes

Vermont History

WEST RUTLAND, Vt.

At ‘This Place in History’, we’re in West Rutland with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins.

“We are going to be talking about one of the most amazing Vermonters, Lemuel Haynes. He was a minister, a writer, a great thinker and he preached right here in Rutland for 30 years. He wasn’t born in Vermont, but we’ll claim him,” introduced Perkins.

“What I find fascinating is that there haven’t been a lot of biographies written about him, but he had so many firsts. He was an African American. He was born in Connecticut to a black father and a white mother. Not a lot is known about that early childhood. He ended up being indentured out and raised as an indentured servant in Connecticut.”

“He ultimately found a calling for education and a good way to get an education was to enter the church and train towards the church. He trained to be a minister and learned other languages. He ended up becoming ordained in 1785 and so this is very, very early. He was one of the first, if not the first, African Americans to be ordained into the Congregational Church in the whole United States,” said Perkins.

“But, even before that, he had a role in the American Revolution. He fought for the Patriots. He was stationed at Fort Ticonderoga. In 1776, he wrote an essay called ‘Liberty [Further] Extended’, which was one of the first, probably again the first, pieces written about why slavery was horrible and why we shouldn’t have slavery and written by an African American.”

“He took over the West Rutland Congregational Church in 1787 and he stayed here for 30 years, preaching to this community. Again, as you can imagine it was Vermont, and at the time, it was a largely white community. He led that whole congregation. And, this was a hotbed by 1810-1819 of the Congregational Church breaking up into different modes of thought. We had something called Universalism and Unitarianism. We’ve talked about this in other programs.”

“He was right in the middle of that and he wrote a number of books that received worldwide publication arguing for the older, more conservative view of Congregationalism. Ultimately, his conservative views towards the church ended up with him parting ways from West Rutland. He moved down to Manchester, Vt. and then to Granville, N.Y., where he lived out the remainder of his life.”

“I feel like he was certainly celebrated in his time and shortly after his death. There was a book-length biography written about him in the 1830s. If you can imagine a book-length biography written about an African American thinker in the 1830s, that’s pretty amazing. He was the first African American to receive an honorary degree. He received a master’s degree from Middlebury College in 1804. So very well known in his time.”

“And then I think this systemic racism became a part of our historical background and people didn’t really write about him again until recently. So now scholars are starting to write about him again. You’re seeing books come out and signs installed, so that we can understand what an impact he had, not just as an African American, but as a great scholar in our country,” concluded Perkins.

At ‘This Place in History’!

For more from our ‘This Place in History’ series, click here.

For a map of Vermont’s roadside historic markers, click here.

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