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John Howard Payne Papers

Identifier: VAULT-Ayer-MS-689

Scope and Content of the Collection

The John Howard Payne Papers consist of fourteen volumes (many disbound and boxed for conservation purposes) of material relating to American Indians, primarily the Cherokee, between 1794 and 1842 (bulk 1825-1842).

Collection includes correspondence, extensive notes and research, transcriptions, memoranda, unpublished works, and government publications and other printed items. The first six volumes have been edited and annotated into two books by a historian and two anthropologists at Western Carolina University, published by the University of Nebraska Press in 2010. The introductions in these books provide the content of this part of the collection, with information and background on John Howard Payne and his collecting preparations for his history of the Cherokee, as well as of Daniel S. Butrick, the missionary whose extensive research was passed to Payne to use for the project.

Volumes 1 and 2 contain the manuscripts Payne prepared for his history of the Cherokee (which he designated as "Cherokee Papers"). Volume 3 contains research and notes of miscellaneous information on Indian history and customs by Daniel S, Butrick included in letters to Payne. Volume 4 is primarily letters to John H. Payne, 1836-1837, many with information on Indian history and culture. Volume 5 consists of letters and documents pertaining to the Cherokee. Volume 6 contains letters and documents relating to Cherokee history copied and/or collected by Payne, 1838-1840. Volumes 7-14 contain miscellaneous material including correspondence, with further letters to Payne from Daniel Butrick and other missionaries, and from John Ross, leader of the Cherokees. Also letters of Charles Hicks, John Ridge, Evan Jones and others, and family letters of the Elizur Butler family. There are sketches and essays on Indian tribes such as the Creeks, the Sioux and the Delaware by Benjamin Hawkins, William Turner, and James P. Evans; historical and ethnological information on the American Indian, included in letters from Henry G. Clauder, William Byrd Powell and Gerard Troost; correspondence and notes concerning the Cherokee Tribal Council, John Ross and the U.S. government.


  • 1794-1842
  • Majority of material found within 1825 - 1842



Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The John Howard Payne Papers are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 1 box at a time (Priority III).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The John Howard Payne Papers are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections.

Biography of John Howard Payne

American actor, playwright, author and editor.

John Howard Payne was born in New York City in 1791, the son of a schoolmaster who soon moved his family to Boston. There, at his father's school, Payne early showed his theatrical interests, writing drama criticism and journal articles. Definitely precocious, at age fourteen he introduced a weekly journal, the Thespian Mirror, at fifteen attempted to produce a play, and the following year, apparently reluctantly, attended Union College. But Payne's ambition was to be a professional actor. After a few years, he left college for New York, and at first was spectacularly successful. By1809, because of his youth, charm and good looks, he became a star of the American theatre, touring for three years as Romeo, Hamlet, and other tragic heroes. This fame was not to last and in 1813, now twenty-one, Payne relocated in London and Paris, where he would remain for nearly twenty years.

Settled in Europe, accepting the fact he was not destined to be a great actor, Payne began his next career as a writer, adapter and compiler of countless plays. Again he achieved success and he became one of the era's best-known dramatists. One of his musical plays, adapted from a ballet, assured his fame when it contained a lyric which he composed for the enduring song "Home Sweet Home."

Always in debt, Payne returned from abroad in 1832, continuing to turn out theatrical criticism and numerous plays, some in collaboration with his friend Washington Irving. While in Georgia in 1835 in search of material for a magazine he planned to edit, he became acquainted with John Ross, head of the Cherokee Nation, who stirred Payne's interest in the Cherokee and their resistance to removal. Ross encouraged Payne to continue his involvement with the removal question and turned over to him original material on the history and customs of the Cherokees, including copious detailed notes and research by missionary Daniel Butrick. Payne's resolve was eventually to publish a history of the Cherokee Nation; unfortunately, this never occurred.

After several years of witnessing and writing about Indian causes and other matters and as usual in debt, Payne's political and literary friends helped to secure for him appointments as consul to Tunis, where he served from 1843 to 1845, and then again in 1851 and 1852. Never marrying, Payne died there in 1852.


4.6 Linear Feet (14 volumes in boxes, and 1 oversize box)


Material collected in the 1830s and 1840s by actor, playwright and editor John Howard Payne, relating to American Indians, primarily concerning the Cherokees for Payne's intended history of the Cherokee Nation. Collection consists of fourteen volumes of correspondence, manuscript notes, transcriptions, extensive historical research, memoranda, and published and unpublished documents.


Material is maintained in its original order, although the Newberry Library Conservation Department has disbound most volumes and repaired the contents. A calendar of the contents of each volume is found in Paul Kutsche's A Guide to Cherokee Documents in the Northeastern States, from the Native American Bibliography Series, No. 7, published by The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1986. See also, Check List of Manuscripts in the Edward E. Ayer Collection, compiled by Ruth Lapham Butler, Chicago: The Newberry Library, 1937.

Collection Stack Location

Vault 25 1-2; Vault 50 1


Gift, Edward E. Ayer, 1911.

Processed by

Virginia Hay Smith, 2012.
Inventory of the John Howard Payne Papers, 1794-1842, bulk 1825-1842
Virginia Hay Smith
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States