The Invisible Man of African American Theology

Lemuel Haynes (1753-1833) was long considered the “invisible man of African American theology” due in part to his affinity for Jonathan Edwards and his open critique of Thomas Paine, which “led many to the mistaken belief that he was not an abolitionist.”
The illegitimate son of a slave and a white socialite, young Lemuel didn’t know his parents. He was indentured to and raised by a Baptist deacon, David Rose. Unlike many of his slave counterparts, his was a humane and deeply spiritual upbringing in between the first and second “Great Awakenings.” He married Elizabeth Babbit, with whom he raised 10 children. Theirs was a happy, worshipful home brimming with Bible reading, singing, quizzing, and prayer. His kids loved him.
A veteran of the Continental Army (1776), he admired George Washington and the Federalist Party. Though fond of Republican political philosophy, Haynes was quick to point out the glaring inconsistency of slavery. In a fledgling nation trying to figure out the shape of church and state, Haynes modeled for Christians and ministers the courage and compassion of speaking to the societal or political issues of the day.
Haynes was steeped in the teachings of English Puritanism and breathed the revivalist air of George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards, whose doctrines of grace, God’s active providence, and his sovereignty in salvation he championed. Lemuel Haynes was the first African-American to be ordained by any American religious body. He pastored in MA, CT, and 30 years in Rutland, VT, and for the first 5 years in one of them, saw very little fruit. “Death and eternity were ever before him," as seen by the 500 funerals he officiated years in 41 years.
He was a “faithful preacher” and by accounts of his letters, a good friend. We all do well to learn from his letters which he often signed off: “Remember me at the throne of grace. My heart wishes you success. The Lord make you faithful.”

  1. May We Meet in the Heavenly World: The Piety of Lemuel Haynes, by Thabiti Anyabwile, Reformation Heritage Books. Kindle Edition.
  2. “Lemuel Haynes” by John Saillant; in Makers of American Theology, eds. Mark G. Toulouse and James O. Duke, pp. 97-100.
  4. Image of painting by Eugene H. Bischoff for the Bennington Museum (Vermont).

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