With an oral tradition that their ancestors were slaves owned by Thomas Lee, the Payne family’s history has been closely linked with that of Stratford. Very few records of the African-American community at Stratford exist, but it is possible that the Payne name originated with the Payne family that lived and are buried near the colonial port of Leedstown. It is also possible that the Paynes descended from the slave West who was listed in Philip Ludwell Lee’s estate inventory of 1782.
The first recorded Payne at Stratford was William Payne (1833-1927) who was born on the plantation and worked, both before and after the Civil War, as butler and house servant for Mrs. Elizabeth Storke. He married Hannah Jackson from nearby Popes Creek Plantation. William’s brother Roderick Payne was Mrs. Storke’s driver. William “Bill” Payne is buried in the Shiloh Baptist Church cemetery, directly across from Stratford’s entrance, and his wife Hannah is buried at Stratford.
William Wesley Payne (1875-1954), son of William and Hannah, grew up at Stratford during Mrs. Storke’s ownership of the plantation. After Wesley married Louisa Mary Johnson in 1901, she worked as cook for the Stuart family who inherited the plantation from Mrs. Storke. The couple made their first home in the outbuilding northeast of the Great House. Wes (sometimes called West) worked at Stratford all except for four years after the death of his wife when he had to care for his youngest children.
Wesley Payne is best remembered for his lively interpretation of the kitchen yard after the Robert E. Lee Memorial Foundation purchased Stratford. Mrs. Lanier, President of the Foundation, offered Wesley Payne his choice of a monument marking his birth site. He preferred that a cabin, similar to the one in which he was born, be built on the knoll across from the Great House. The cabin, built to Wesley’s description, was constructed in 1941. Wesley Payne is buried in Shiloh Baptist Church cemetery.
Wesley and Louise Payne had ten children. Their son Ulysses Sylvester “Joe” Payne (1909-1985) worked at Stratford for fifty-three years. A veteran of World War II, Joe Payne began working for General and Mrs. B. F. Cheatham, Stratford’s first resident superintendent, and served as Head Gardener for many years. He married Dorothy Johnson, who became a historic interpreter at Stratford after her retirement from teaching school. Like his father and grandfather, Joe Payne is buried at Shiloh Baptist Church.
Thomas Payne, Wesley’s brother, also grew up on Stratford. Laura Payne was one of his thirteen children. Laura lived in the west brick room of the Great House while working as cook for the Stuart family from the late 1920s to 1932. After her marriage to Leon Streets, who worked on the farm at Stratford, they lived in a tenant house that was moved to build the Executive Director’s house. In 1940 they built a home a short distance away on Route 3. Laura worked at Stratford for 57 years, mostly as head cook in the Plantation Dining Room. Laura and Leon’s daughter, Vernell [Cruse], was born at Stratford in 1936.
A new sign marker in the area of the former slave cemetery at Stratford memorializes the known Payne descendants who were buried there: Walter Payne (Wesley Payne’s uncle); Hannah Jackson Payne (Wesley Payne’s mother); Ardrick Payne (Wesley Payne’s brother); Lawrence Payne (Wesley Payne’s brother); Ardrick Payne (Wesley Payne’s great-uncle); William Payne (Wesley Payne’s great-uncle); Walter Payne (Wesley Payne’s great-uncle) and Hannah Payne (Wesley Payne’s sister).