In the years before the Civil War, Virginia’s laws restricted free blacks and also tightened the legal grip on slaves. Some blacks, however, struggled through the system to freedom, just as many slaves wended their way to Union lines during the war. Katherine “Kitty” Payne, born into slavery in 1816 near present-day Huntly in northern Rappahannock County, and her family are one example.
Kitty Payne was the daughter of her owner, Samuel Maddox, and one of his slaves. She married Robert Payne, a free black, in 1836, and they had four children. Maddox died in 1837, leaving them to his wife, Mary, who emancipated them in 1843 and moved with them to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where Robert Payne died in 1844. Maddox’s nephew, Samuel Maddox Jr., however, alleged that Mary Maddox was not the rightful heir and not entitled to Payne and her children. On July 24, 1845, he and five accomplices kidnapped and returned them to Rappahannock County.
While Payne fought Maddox’s allegations in the courthouse here, the judge confined them in this jail for their safety. A year later, after complex court proceedings, she regained her freedom. In November 1846, Payne and her children left Virginia with the aid of Quakers and returned to Gettysburg. Payne married Abraham Brian, a free black, and they had a daughter. Kitty Payne died in 1850.
Brian purchased a farm on Cemetery Ridge, the focus of Pickett’s Charge during the Battle of Gettysburg. In 1864, James Arthur Payne, one of Payne’s children, enlisted in the 27th U.S. Colored Troops and fought in the Battle of the Crater in Petersburg.
Marker: Civil War Trails