Hartford: William S. Marsh, 1820.
First edition. 48pp. 1 vols. 12mo. The First African-American Ordained Minister Preaches on a Wrongful Conviction. Contemporary pebbled cloth, yellow endpapers. Provenance: William P. Sheffield (bookplate) American Imprints 1550; McDade 111; Sabin 31054. Item #353820
Born in West Hartford, Connecticut in 1753 to a white woman and a black man, Lemuel Haynes was adopted by Deacon David Rose. He received a formal education, and following service as a minuteman and as a private in the Continental army, he prepared for the ministry, becoming a Congregational clergyman. He later married a white woman, fathered 10 children, and eventually became a pastor in 1788 at the West Parish in Rutland, Vermont. "Among early American Negro writers Haynes was relatively prolific... he was also more than ordinarily literate... Indeed, Middlebury College in 1804 conferred upon him a master's degree, causa honoris, probably the first of its kind in Black America" (Blyden Jackson, A History of Afro-American Literature pp. 70-71). At the time of the present work Haynes was the pastor at the Congregational Church in Manchester.
The present work by Haynes is a startling account of the first wrongful conviction case in the United States, which played out in New England in the early 19th century. It contains an account of the trial itself, along with a summary of events and a sermon preached upon the whole affair by Haynes. The first two sections contain Haynes' work regarding the Boorn case. The first is his "Narrative" relating the facts of the Boorn-Colvin case; the second part, with its own sectional titlepage, is "Prisoner Released. A Sermon, Delivered at Manchester, Vermont, Lords Day, Jan. 9th, 1820. The Remarkable Interpolation of Divine Providence, In the Deliverance of Stephen and Jesse Boorn, Who Had Been Under Sentence of Death, For the Supposed Murder of Russel Colvin."
"This is one of the most famous cases of American criminal law and a constant reminder that innocent persons can be convicted ... Russell Colvin, the alleged victim, had married a sister of the Boorns and had several children by her. He was mentally deficient and disappeared in 1812. Local gossip credited the Boorns with having disposed of him, presumably because he was a burden on the family. In the spring of 1819 ... the Boorns were arrested and, either from fear or mental weakness, they told stories involving each other in the death of Colvin - Stephen's amounting to a confession of murder. They were tried and sentenced to be hanged; the state legislature, however, commuted Jesse's sentence to life imprisonment. As a last resort a notice was placed in the papers requesting information about Colvin. A farmer in Monmouth County, New Jersey, believed he recognized a hired man in the vicinity from the description. This man, who was mentally deranged, was enticed to Manchester, arriving on December 22, 1819, six weeks before the day set for Stephen's execution. It was definitively established that he was the missing Colvin; he had apparently wandered off of his own volition" (McDade).
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