Haynes was the illegitimate son of an African father and a middle-class white woman, born in Hartford, Connecticut. His parents abandoned him and he was indentured (a limited and temporary form of slavery) to a white family in Massachusetts from the age of five months to 21 years.
After obtaining his freedom in 1774, he enlisted in the local militia and took part in the attack on Fort Ticonderoga under Ethan Allen. At the end of the Revolutionary War he studied independently for the ministry and was licensed to preach in 1780. He took a position as pastor to a white congregation, the first African-American ever to do so, and married one of his congregants, with whom he had 10 children.
He was officially ordained by the Congregational Church in 1785: the first African-American ever ordained by a major denomination in the USA. He had several other pastorates, including one of 30 years in a partially integrated church in Rutland, Vermont, during which his fame as a preacher and writer spread widely. He was awarded an honorary degree from Middlebury College in 1804: the first honorary degree ever awarded to an African-American. Several of his pastorates were however terminated because of white racism.
His seven-year, successful, fight for the freedom of two wrongly-convicted murderers in Vermont resulted in a best-selling book.
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