Payne Cemetery

The Payne Cemetery sits on a narrow ridgetop along State Route 595 south of New Straitsville. It is the only remnant of a freed African American community known as Paynes Crossing. 

Current research indicates that Paynes Crossing was involved in the Underground Railroad Movement, and may have been established expressly for this purpose. Paynes Crossing was not a "town" per se, but a system of farmsteads spread out on a rural landscape.

The free people of color by the name of Norman, Lett, and Harper who came to Paynes Crossing were the first settlers in this area, arriving in the 1830's. By the 1850's, they owned a considerable amount of land here and tax records indicate that some were rather wealthy ($1,000 personal property). According to the census records for this time period, whites are living in black households, and vice versa. Most of the families came from Virginia and some even traveled to Ohio together.

Payne grave stone

Some of the men enlisted in the U.S. Colored Troops and fought in the Civil War, and some of the men stayed behind (presumably to conduct Underground Railroad activities). One of the U.S. Colored Troops grave stones is shown in this photo.

One of the men, Elijah Lett, married into the Woodson family - confirmed slave descendants of Thomas Jefferson.

The Payne family, for which the area was named, did not arrive until the 1860's which suggests that the settlement may have had another name during the early 19th century. By 1900, coal companies had bought up most of the land in the area and the families had moved. Mining operations soon obscured any remains of the community, leaving only the ridgetop cemetery.

The Payne Cemetery was used from 1852 to 1945. Family burials include the Betts, Cookes, Hardens, Mabrays, Priests, and Striblens.

Map to Cemetery

Map to Payne Cemetery

Click on map to enlarge image


Volunteers and the Passport in Time Program

passport in time logo

The cemetery was restored through the tireless efforts of many partners from the surrounding region. It was transformed into a shining example of early African American history in rural America, now a frequently visited interpretive stop.   

The cemetery would likely still be fading into obscurity if the Wayne's archaeologist had not mentioned the cemetery in a program she gave. The Lancaster Genealogical Society heard about it second-hand and called for more information. They agreed to adopt the cemetery and research its background. 

The project became part of the Passport in Time Program. This national program connects local volunteers with heritage resources in their area to bring history alive. In the case of the Payne Cemetery, the genealogists reunited families, and pieced together the story of what happened here over a century ago. Through the tireless work of the group from Lancaster, information continues to unfold.