Friday, January 29, 2010

Getting to Know John Howard Payne

Until recently, I was unfamiliar with the Cherokee scholarship of John Howard Payne. After learning a little more about him, I do and I don’t understand the reasons for his relative obscurity. But a year from now, his name may be better known than it is today. I'll attempt to sort this out…



John Howard Payne (1791 – 1852) was an American actor, poet, playwright, and author who had most of his theatrical career and success in London.

A 1917 biography by Lucian Lamar Knight describes how Payne took an interest in the Cherokee:

In 1832 Payne returned to New York. The question agitating the public mind at this time was the removal of the Cherokee Indians to a trans-Mississippi region. To one of Payne's fine poetic temperament, the idea of using force to drive these primitive inhabitants of the soil— these native Americans—into an unwilling exile was most repugnant.

Mr. Payne came to Georgia in 1836, on the eve of the famous deportation. It so happened that, at this time, Georgia was in a turmoil of excitement. Events were rapidly approaching a climax; and in order to deal, on the one hand, with meddlesome interlopers whose purpose was to inflame the red men, and, on the other, with lawless characters escaping across the state line into Indian Territory, it was necessary for Georgia to extend her jurisdiction, with a rod of iron, over the domain of the Cherokees.

There was, at this time, among the Indians two distinct parties, one of which, under Major Ridge, strongly favored removal as the wisest course for the nation to adopt. The other, headed by John Ross, strenuously opposed removal; and these were regarded as the sworn enemies of the state….

When John Howard Payne came to Georgia, he visited the Cherokee nation as the guest of John Ross…

His object in making this visit was unknown to the civil authorities; but his affiliation with John Ross put him at once under suspicion. He contemplated nothing sinister. His purpose was merely to gather information. But Tray was in bad company, at least, to Georgia's way of thinking, and, while visiting John Ross, he was put under arrest and imprisoned in the old Vann house, at Spring Place, in what is now Murray County, Georgia.

Eventually, Payne was released, and got on with his work of collecting and recording the myths, religious traditions, foodways and other aspects of the Cherokees. Payne submitted articles to popular newspapers, but most of his work was never published. He promoted a theory espoused by James Adair in the 1700s, namely that the Cherokee were one of the lost tribes of Israel.

During his time in the Cherokee Nation, Payne began working with the missionary Daniel S. Butrick, who went on to serve as a chaplain during the Trail of Tears and wrote of the experience.

In his Myths of the Cherokee, James Mooney had a couple of references to John Howard Payne. And in The Cherokee People, Thomas Mails relied heavily on Payne’s work. But the bulk of his research has been unavailable to most readers. That’s about to change, though. A collection of The Payne-Butrick Papers, edited by WCU professors William Anderson, Jane Brown and Anne Rogers is slated for publication in October 2010. Here’s the blurb for the book:

This landmark two-volume set is the richest and most important extant collection of information about traditional Cherokee culture. Because many of the Cherokees' own records were lost during their forced removal to the west, the Payne-Butrick papers are the most detailed written source about the Cherokee Nation during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In the 1830s John Howard Payne, a respected author, actor, and playwright, and Daniel S. Butrick, an American Board missionary, hastened to gather information on Cherokee life and history, fearing that the cultural knowledge would be lost forever. Butrick, who was conversant with Cherokee culture and language after having spent decades among them, recorded what elderly Cherokees had to say about their lives. The collection also contains much of the Cherokee leaders' correspondence, which had been given to Payne for safekeeping. This amazing repository of information covers nearly all aspects of traditional Cherokee culture and history, including politics, myths, early and later religious beliefs, rituals, marriage customs, ball play, language, dances, and attitudes toward children. It will inform our understanding and appreciation of the history and enduring legacy of the Cherokees.


While the forthcoming book might bolster Payne’s reputation as a student of the Cherokee, he’ll likely remain best known for a song he wrote in 1822:

Home, Sweet Home

'Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home;
A charm from the sky seems to hallow us there,
Which, seek through the world, is ne'er met with elsewhere.
Home, home, sweet, sweet home!
There's no place like home, oh, there's no place like home!

An exile from home, splendor dazzles in vain;
Oh, give me my lowly thatched cottage again!
The birds singing gayly, that come at my call --
Give me them -- and the peace of mind, dearer than all!
Home, home, sweet, sweet home!
There's no place like home, oh, there's no place like home!

I gaze on the moon as I tread the drear wild,
And feel that my mother now thinks of her child,
As she looks on that moon from our own cottage door
Thro' the woodbine, whose fragrance shall cheer me no more.
Home, home, sweet, sweet home!
There's no place like home, oh, there's no place like home!

How sweet 'tis to sit 'neath a fond father's smile,
And the caress of a mother to soothe and beguile!
Let others delight mid new pleasures to roam,
But give me, oh, give me, the pleasures of home.
Home, home, sweet, sweet home!
There's no place like home, oh, there's no place like home!

To thee I'll return, overburdened with care;
The heart's dearest solace will smile on me there;
No more from that cottage again will I roam;
Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home.
Home, home, sweet, sweet, home!
There's no place like home, oh, there's no place like home!




While I was unable to find a vocal performance of Home, Sweet Home, I did manage to turn up this old gem from Ralph Stanley and Don Reno.

3 comments:

The Appalachianist said...

This is music to my eyes.

kanugalihi said...

man don reno could eat a banjer alive. that double roll on home sweet home recordings is an unattainable lust object for me.

did you enjoy that story i sent you?

Anonymous said...

This brings to mind Paynes Prairie
south of Gainesville, FL named after a son of chief Ahaya the Cowkeeper of the Alachua band of
the Seminole tribe.