Robert Payne, A Vintage Vignette

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Robert Payne
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
October 2, 2007

Several of the pioneers of the land that became the City of Madison had connections to Huntsville’s earliest prominent persons. As mentioned in the August 29 article, James Tribble and his wife Ann Echols in 1839 sold land where Bob Jones High School is now located to William Echols. Echols was a contemporary and neighbor of LeRoy Pope, “The Father of Huntsville”. Pope entered into land transactions with Robert Payne and Payne’s father-in-law, Henry Brown, who was a brother-in-law of LeRoy Pope. Henry lived in Huntsville, and Robert Payne purchased several lots in Huntsville. A deed says that one of his lots bordered upon Pope’s “grass lot”. Payne also had lots adjoining holdings of noted architect George Steele and General John Brahan, for whom Brahan Spring is named. However, Payne was known from census records to live in the Madison area, where he deeded land in 1832 for the Providence Cumberland Presbyterian Church, just east of Balch Road and south of Gillespie Road today. Judge Thomas Taylor’s “History of Madison County” (written in the 1880s) mentioned Robert Payne among notables Elijah Hussey, Elisha Rainbolt, Reuben Crutcher, Roland Gooch, John Withers, Clement Comer Clay, and dozens of other known pioneer landowners of the Madison area.

Payne first bought Huntsville lots in 1817, including one from Thomas Fearn, a surname found in the Payne marriage records of Virginia, when John Payne married Lucy Lee Fearn. The Virginia Paynes also intermarried with the Burtons, who figured prominently in early Madison and Redstone Arsenal land history. Payne’s Huntsville holdings were mostly along Holmes, Green, Washington, Franklin, Williams, and Lincoln Streets, but by 1818 he bought land along the route of Highway 72 (the pioneer westward settlement trail), east of today’s Jordan Lane. Payne’s last land purchase in the area was in 1837 from John Cartwright, another Madison area pioneer. Payne’s acreage was in Sections 4, 5, and 6 of Township 4, Range 2 West. Those parcels are bounded on the east by Hughes Road and north by Gillespie Road (plus its planned extension), running southward along Balch Road and Brown’s Ferry Road.

Robert Payne was born in 1795 in Pittsylvania County, Virginia. In 1819 he married Eliza Fleet Brown (daughter of Henry) in Madison County, Alabama. His son John Henry Payne was born here in 1821, and John married Frances Kezia Flinn of Limestone County. When Henry Brown’s Last Will and Testament was entered into probate in 1836, Robert through his wife inherited part of the estate. However, Robert was additionally entrusted with several other portions of the estate, to be managed for other daughters of Henry Brown without ownership or control of their husbands. Apparently, Robert Payne had the complete trust of his father-in-law, whereas other sons-in-law did not. Further, Henry Brown’s will indicated that he must have been a frequent visitor to the Madison-area residence of Robert Payne, because the will was witnessed by local residents William Watkins, James Wiggins, and Charles Word.

Robert Payne left no will in Madison County. His family left the area before 1850. During 1843 Robert died in Olive Branch, Mississippi. His son John Henry also died there in 1852. The family history continued in that location, but a descendant, Linda Payne Lyons, has returned to her ancestral grounds. Today she lives in Madison, only a mile or so from Robert Payne’s lands, where she can view the old estate and survey the changes that time has brought from the days of her pioneer ancestor. In fact, even Robert’s wife Eliza returned for at least the June term of the Madison County Chancery Court in 1855, when disputes arose over the administration of her father’s will. There are over 100 pages of minutes of that court’s proceeding in the case. The records of Robert Payne for the time that he lived in Madison County reflect the extensive interrelationships of the notable families of Huntsville with the owners of the land that became Madison after 1857. The two communities have always had a strong connection from their earliest days, and it continues to this day.

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