Augustus H. F. Payne

by Earl Kimbrough
via Biblical Insights

When the dark and angry clouds of war gathered over the nation in 1860, some pacifist gospel preachers in Missouri drew up a document pleading with their brethren to refuse to take up arms in the conflict. Entitled Circular from Preachers in Missouri, the paper was intended for brethren in all states. After the war began, the Federal government, in a move to thwart the numerous Southern sympathizers in Missouri from taking the state into the Confederacy, enforced an extremely harsh military rule on the civilian population. All public gatherings of any sort were forbidden. Preachers were not permitted to conduct religious services, including funerals and weddings. They could not even hold a communion in a private home. Some pacifist preachers suffered such severe reprisals that they left the state. Moses E. Lard parted for Kentucky and then to Canada. However, others remained and tried to uphold the truth.

One of the latter was Augustus H. F. Payne, a native of Mason County, Kentucky, where he was born April 4, 1807. In early life, he became a Baptist, being baptized by "Raccoon" John Smith, when Smith was a Baptist preacher. But by 1830, under the preaching of Barton W. Stone, Payne united with "the Christian church." In 1836, he and his family went in a wagon train to Liberty, in northwest Missouri. The following year, he began preaching the gospel in homes and barns of Clay, Platte, and Clinton Counties, "never with any assurance of financial support." He was associated with Moses E. Lard, Thomas M. Allen, Jacob Creath, Jr., and others in evangelizing Missouri before the war.

A man of great courage, Payne was not frightened into ceasing his ministry to his brethren and others by the presence and decrees of Federal forces. Kenneth L. Van Deusen, in his biography of Moses E. Lard, gives an account of Payne's activities during the war. "When most of the churches were ordered closed and ministers were warned not to conduct weddings, funerals, baptisms, Bible studies or communion services, Payne defied the edicts and continued as if such orders had never been given. With the church buildings locked and under government seal, he went from house to house riding his horse to preach, teach, edify, and comfort his brethren. He buried their dead, performed their marriages, baptized many converts and, to the best of his ability, courageously helped to keep their faith alive. More and more threats were made against him, but he would not be intimidated."

Van Deusen vividly describes the results of Payne's courageous efforts to "obey God rather than men:' His modest cabin home was about three miles south of Plattsburg. One day as he was returning from a business trip to the town, a patrol of Federal soldiers commanded by "a Lieutenant Morton," terrorized his family by beating loudly on the door and demanding Payne's surrender. Payne's wife fearfully told the belligerent officer her husband was away, but would be returning soon. She sent her young son to find him and to tell him what had happened. The boy found his father visiting a neighbor. Instead of fleeing for safety; Payne went home at once and immediately was placed under military arrest. "He asked for the Lieutenant's orders to which the officer replied in a tone of sarcasm, 'I never show them. You must prepare to go with me."'

Reassuring his family that he would see them again soon, Payne rode away with the military escort. "However, the courageous preacher was wrong, for he never saw them again. The patrol took Payne a short distance away to a briar thicket and there, without the least bit of mercy, shot him twice through the chest at point blank range, killing him instantly." Payne's family and neighbors may have heard the shots that took his life. They found his body and buried him in a corner of his property, since a public funeral was forbidden.

Thomas M. Allen told Alexander Campbell that he would "sooner go to the grave being killed for not killing my brother," than to go there "with my brother's blood on my hands." Whether Augustus Payne ever voiced such a sentiment is unknown, but it is evident from his cold-blooded murder that he would rather die serving the Lord than to go to his grave having neglected his duty. It takes more than manly courage to do what he did. It takes the moral goodness springing from that virtue, which is essential to the exercise of an unshakable faith in the Lordship of Christ.

Soon after Payne's death, Lard paid tribute to his fellow soldier in the Lord's army. "No man in Missouri stood higher or was more honored than this self-effacing pioneer, nor did ever a pioneer more richly merit the esteem in which he was held" (Kenneth L. Van Deusen, Moses Lard, That Prince of Preachers). After the war, Payne was reburied by his family and friends with an appropriate service in the Green Lawn Cemetery in Plattsburg, Missouri, where his body waits the glorious morning of the resurrection at the coming of Christ.