Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory, 1787-1900

By Philip S. Foner; Robert James Branham | Go to book overview

7 UNIVERSAL SALVATION

Lemuel Haynes

Lemuel Haynes ( 1753-1833), believed to be the first African American ordained by a Protestant church in the United States, was born to a black father and a white mother in West Hartford, Connecticut. Abandoned by his mother, he was bound out to the Rose family of Granville, Massachusetts, and was indentured until the age of twenty-one. Soon after his release, he volunteered as a minuteman and later fought as a member of the Continental Army under Ethan Allen.

In 1776, Haynes was preoccupied with the conflict between the stated principles of the revolution and the continued existence of slavery and racial discrimination among its patriots. In his ballad "The Battle of Lexington," composed one year after the events of April 1775, Haynes insists that

For liberty each Freeman strives
As its a Gift of God
And for it, willing yield their Lives
And Seal it with their Blood.

Twice happy they who thus resign
Into the peacefull Grave
Much better those in Death Consign
Than a Surviving Slave.

Also in 1776, Haynes composed the remarkable if unfinished essay "Liberty Further Extended; or, Free thoughts on the illegality of Slave- keeping," the manuscript of which was discovered in 1983 by Ruth Bogin. Its title page reprints the newly issued Declaration of Independence. To be consistent with its principles, Haynes argues, the emerging nation must "let the oppressed go free" and recognize "that an African, or, in other terms, that a Negro . . . has an undeniable right to his Liberty: Consequently, the practice of Slave-keeping, which so much abounds in this Land is illicit."

After the war, Haynes studied for the ministry. He learned Latin and Greek while supporting himself as a teacher. In 1785, he was ordained in the Congregational ministry in Torrington, Connecticut. Soon after, he journeyed as a missionary to the Vermont frontier and in 1788 became second pastor in Rutland, where he would preach for thirty-four years. Haynes's sermons became justly famous, and the number of his congregants multiplied several fold. During his tenure in Rutland, Haynes delivered more than five thousand sermons. He possessed an astonishing memory and was able to recite Milton Paradise Lost and much of the Bible

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