A very scarce miniature portrait of the first Bishop to the former slave colony of Liberia, Rev. John Payne [1815-1874].
Born in 1815 in Westmoreland County, Virginia, Payne was early moved by the experiences of the slaves in his native State and sensed a call to minister Christ to God’s oppressed people in some way. He enrolled at the College of William and Mary, graduating in 1833 and then from Virginia Theological Seminary in 1836. He ordained in 1836, married in 1837, and the pair left immediately to serve the next five years ministering at Cape Palmas Colony of formerly enslaved African-Americans in West Africa.
In 1851, Payne was formally consecrated Bishop of Cape Palmas and its Environs, including broader Liberia. He spent the next twenty years in Liberia, built five churches, two asylums, and a hospital. Perhaps more importantly, he ordained twenty indigenous ministers, which led to the opening of Liberia College [of Theology] in 1851. When his wife died, he married another fierce advocate for the freed slaves, Miss Martha Jane Williford of Georgia.
Today, the Virginia Theological Seminary’s library is named in honor of its first “Missionary to the Slaves” and is the home of an important archive related to African Americans in the Episcopal Church.
Housed in a fine, sterling case with appropriate patina, the whole measures 4.5 x 7cm. As seen, the miniature, originally composed on what appears to be vellum, lacks the right margin and has losses to facial details. It remains, however, an important piece of slavery, abolitionist, and re-colonization, Liberia history.
Rear reads, "Right Reverend John Payne D.D. Born Jan'y 9th, 1815"