This historic cemetery serves as the final resting place and a reminder of an African American community of small farms that were collectively known as Paynes Crossing. This cluster of farms were home to many former slaves and free people of color. The residents of the area were involved in the Underground Railroad and used their homes to shelter and shield enslaved people as they made their journey to freedom. The farms that were part of the community consisted of four families with the surnames Harpers, Letts, Normans and Stevens.
of Paynes Crossing ceased to exist as the children left the farms for new opportunities in the city after the Civil War. The families were some of the first to settle this area
in the 1830s. By the 1850s, the four families owned a considerable amount of land in the Straitsville area and tax records indicate that some owned personal
property worht more than $1,000.
Most of the families came from Virginia and some even traveled to Ohio
together. Some of the men enlisted in the U.S. Colored Troops and fought in the
Civil War while others remained to work the land and protect the families while also continuing the work of assisting enslaved persons. The Payne family, for which the area was named, did not arrive until
1880. This suggests that the settlement may have had another name during the height of the community's involvement in the Underground Railroad.
By the early
1900’s, coal companies had bought up most of the land in the area and the
families moved on from their homes. The cemetery was not restored
until 1995 by the Wayne National Forest together with the efforts of many
partners from the surrounding region. In the cemetery, flags and stones mark the
graves of African American soldiers from the Civil War. Payne’s Crossing was
transformed into a notable example of early African American history in rural