Educator, clergyman. Payne was born free in Charleston on February 24, 1811, to London and Martha Payne but was orphaned as a child. He was trained early in Methodist traditions at Cumberland Methodist Church. He served apprenticeships in carpentry and tailoring and was formally educated in one of Charleston’s free black private schools. Payne chose to pursue a life of belles lettres, opening his own school in 1829. He mainly taught free black students, but his student body of approximately sixty pupils also included some slaves, who were instructed clandestinely. Payne’s career as an educator in Charleston was short-lived, however. White Carolinians, apprehensive about the abolitionist movement, were further alarmed by the advanced subjects that free blacks such as Payne were teaching. In 1834 a new state law prohibited both slave literacy and schools maintained by free blacks.
Unable to continue as a South Carolina educator, Payne sought the advice of friends and white minsters such as John Bachman, the well-known Lutheran pastor and naturalist. After receiving letters of introduction from these men to their northern friends, in 1835 Payne left South Carolina to enroll at Gettysburg Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. In 1837 he received his ordination as a Lutheran minister, becoming the second African American to do so (the first being Jehu Jones, Jr., also a Charlestonian). Unable to find a Lutheran appointment, Payne eventually moved to Philadelphia, where contact with the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church led him to join its ministry in 1842. During the remaining antebellum years he filled appointments in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. In 1848 he was appointed the first historiographer of the church and wrote its first official history. In 1852 Payne was elected bishop and was the first with formal theological training.
Payne was the perennial educator. While in Philadelphia he established a school, a Sunday school, and a literary society. As a minister and bishop, through his efforts to improve clerical preparation, Payne became the architect of the formally educated AME ministry. He argued that better-educated clergymen were more efficient and better able to elevate the race. Nevertheless, his efforts frequently caused contentious debate. Even so, with the assistance and encouragement of Bishop Morris Brown (another Charlestonian), the 1844 General Conference adopted recommendations of Payne’s committee on education, requiring a formal curriculum for future ministers. His crowning achievement as a churchman and educator occurred in 1863, when he persuaded the church to purchase Wilberforce University in Ohio. This was the first college in the country controlled by African Americans, and Payne served as its president until 1876.
In 1863 Bishop Payne dispatched the first AME missionaries into the lower South, where they focused their initial efforts among the freedmen near Beaufort, South Carolina. In May 1865 Bishop Payne returned to South Carolina to preside over the establishment of the South Carolina Conference of the AME Church. One of his greatest post–Civil War challenges was to assist in supplying enough trained clergymen for a church that was rapidly expanding. In his later ministry he continued promoting educational opportunities for African Americans.
Payne married twice. In 1847 he married Julia Ferris, who died a year later in childbirth. He married Eliza J. Clark in 1853. Payne died on November 29, 1893, in Wilberforce, Ohio. He was buried in Laurel Cemetery, Baltimore.
Coan, Josephus R. Daniel Alexander Payne. Philadelphia: A.M.E. Book Concern, 1935.
Dickerson, Dennis C. Religion, Race, and Region: Research Notes on A.M.E. Church History. Nashville, Tenn.: A.M.E.C. Sunday School Union, 1995.
Killian, Charles D. “Bishop Daniel A. Payne: An Apostle of Wesley.”
Methodist History 24 (1986): 107–19. Payne, Daniel A. Recollections of Seventy Years. 1888. Reprint, New York: Arno, 1969.
Stange, Douglas C. “A Note on Daniel A. Payne.” Negro History Bulletin 28 (October 1964): 9–10.