John Barton Payne’s Life of Public Service Part 2

Part 1, published last month, dealt with John Barton Payne’s early years, his rise in the legal profession, and his lifetime connection to Fauquier County.

With the outbreak of World War I, Judge John Barton Payne was appointed to the U. S. Treasury Board of Appeals by Pres. Woodrow Wilson, serving as general counsel for both the Shipping Board Emergency Fleet Corporation and the United States Railroad Administration. His principal role in this capacity was to arbitrate strikes during the critical months of the war, and the plan he drafted to take over the railroads during the war was implemented.

Working in Washington, D.C., he had to give up his Chicago law practice and established a permanent home at 1601 Eye St. in Washington.  

In 1920, Pres. Wilson appointed him Secretary of the Interior, but he left in October 1921, when he accepted the chairmanship of the American Red Cross, a position he held until his death.

It was during his tenure that the ARC faced many challenges – and provided immeasurable support to those in need in the U.S. and other countries. Natural catastrophes he faced included the 1927 Mississippi Valley floods and the Florida hurricanes of 1926 and 1928, the West Indies hurricane of 1928, and the disastrous drought in the U.S. in 1930-31. In addition, the ARC provided emergency unemployment relief during the Great Depression, prior to the organization of federal relief.

In addition to his original appointment to head the ARC by Pres. Wilson, Judge Payne was subsequently reappointed by presidents Coolidge, Hoover and Roosevelt. Over the years, he was decorated one or more times for his humanitarian work by the governments of Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Norway, Poland, Siam, Sweden, Venezuela, and Yugoslavia.


Above, left: The John Barton Payne Memorial Challenge Trophy was photographed in the 1960s in the Warrenton Library. From left, Mrs. King Stone, Mrs. Francis Greene and Mrs. C. C. Jadwin, and in the background is the painting of Judge Payne executed by artist Gari Melchers in 1924. Above, right: Appointed chairman of the American Red Cross in October 1920 by Pres. Woodrow Wilson, Judge Payne was featured on the cover of Time magazine in May 1923 for his work with the organization.


A loyal Virginian

Judge Payne had always retained a close connection with his native Virginia, and was one of the founders of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. In 1919, his donation of over 40 paintings to the Commonwealth of Virginia in memory of his late wife Jennie and mother Elizabeth was  valued at $500,000, and helped get the museum’s collection started.

Among the paintings donated to the museum was The Rescue of St. Catherine by Saint George, painted by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), considered to be the rarest and one of the greatest of Rubens’ work. Also given was a full-length painting of Pocahontas by Warrenton artist Richard Norris Brooke (1847-1920), and busts of Sir Isaac Newton and Benjamin Franklin executed by sculptor Hiram Powers (1805-1873).

Later, in collaboration with Gov. John Garland Pollard, Judge Payne was able to secure federal funding under the Works Progress Administration to augment state funding for the new fine arts building in Richmond. In addition, he contributed $100,000 of his own money to the project.

Closer to home, in May 1921, Judge Payne pledged the funds to build a permanent home for the private subscription Warrenton Library. Designed in the neoclassical style, it was considered one of the most distinctive library buildings in the Commonwealth. It would serve until 1982, when the present public library across Winchester Street was dedicated, and the old library renamed the John Barton Payne Community Hall.

Both while he was alive and later in the terms of his will, Judge Payne provided funds for the care and maintenance in the family cemeteries in the Orlean area where his ancestors and others are buried.


Above, left: In the 1930s, Judge Payne led a Red Cross delegation to a conference in Nikko, Japan. This photo was taken by Mrs. Katherine Fox Bowman of Warrenton, a delegate to the conference. Above, right: Following the opening session of the Red Cross Convention in 1924, Judge Payne (right) was photographed leaving the hall with Pres. Calvin Coolidge.


Passing and remembrances

Taken to George Washington Hospital in January 1935 after suffering appendicitis, Judge Payne contracted pneumonia, and died on Jan. 24. He was attended at his bedside by Fauquier resident and doctor Adm. Cary T. Grayson, who had been Pres. Wilson’s personal physician and would succeed him as chairman of the ARC.

Upon learning of his passing, Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt issued the following statement:

“Again, the nation mourns the loss of a great man. And those of us who were privileged to know John Barton Payne, as a co-worker and friend, know how unfortunate and untimely his passing. His was an unselfish service. To the lasting memory of this man it should and will be said that he never drew a boundary line within or without the United States, when flood, fire, earthquake or other great adversities called the ‘Greatest Mother (the ARC) to help the needy.”

Judge Payne’s funeral was conducted at the historic St. John’s Church on Lafayette Square – which he had helped restore in memory of his late wife – and burial was in Washington’s Oak Hill Cemetery.

His legacy of giving continued after his death, as he left St. Leonard’s Farm to the American Red Cross, the College of William and Mary, and Washington & Lee University.

In May 1936, Fauquier County citizens led by Herman E. Ullman established the John Barton Payne Memorial Challenge Trophy – a large, Sterling silver bowl and tray – to be presented to the winner of the Corinthian Class at the Warrenton Horse Show. The tradition continues today.  

In September 1940, St. Leonard’s was sold to R. D. Van Roijen. Over the years, the Van Roijen family has generously given parts of the farm for public use.

Following in his footsteps as a jurist was a local Payne descendant, the late Hon. H. Dudley Payne Jr.  (1945-2017). A respected Warrenton attorney, he practiced law here for several years, and served as a judge in the 20th Circuit Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court from 1995 to 2007.

Special thanks to Mrs. H. Dudley Payne Jr. for sharing many documents collected by her late husband.


The SS John Barton Payne

The S.S. John Barton Payne was one of over 2,700 Liberty ships built during World War II. After the war, it was later used in an emergency humanitarian operation in Europe.

One of the lesser-known tributes to John Barton Payne was the naming of an American Liberty ship in his honor, launched in 1943 and used to transport tanks and other heavy weapons overseas during World War II.

After the war in Europe ended in May 1945, there was a humanitarian crisis throughout the continent and beyond, as cities were left as charred shells and towns flattened. Most farm animals had been lost, and starvation loomed.

In response, the recently-organized United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration initiated a program supported by 44 countries that would send about 200,000 horses, mules, heifers and milk cows and over 100,000 brooder chickens to people in nations devastated by war.

Animals that could be spared at home were gathered and ships found, including the now-idle SS John Barton Payne, to bring them where they were needed. About 7,000 volunteer “Seagoing Cowboys” signed up for six-week tours of duty to transport the animals to Germany, Poland, Yugoslavia, France, Belgium, Greece and Italy.

There is no doubt that the operation saved thousands of innocent lives, including many children. It was the sort of effort that Judge John Barton Payne would have embraced, and through his namesake ship, the good work was done.

John Toler
About John Toler 7 Articles
Broad Run resident John Toler is the co-author of the recent Fauquier County and Town of Warrenton history books, and has contributed numerous newspaper and magazine articles focused on the history of Fauquier, Prince William and Loudoun counties.

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