Role in Ravensworth: leaseholder in Parcel 1.1

(Payne’s several appointments to public office and voting record are compelling evidence that he had written leases rather than a mere tenant agreement, as having legal title to land was a qualification for voting and holding public office. It’s assumed he had a written lease at least by 1758, though no recorded lease has been found earlier then 1762. The lack of recorded deeds in many cases makes it uncertain whether a person was a leaseholder or a tenant.)

William Payne, Jr. was born July 31 1724 in Westmoreland County, son of William Payne, Sr. (1692-1776) and Alicia (Jones) Payne. He married Susannah (Clark) Brown (1721-1771), widow of Nathaniel Brown,in 1748. They had seven children:

Like his father, William, Jr. was appointed by the Virginia governor as a justice of the Fairfax County Court (1758 and 1770) and as sheriff in 1761.2

Argument With Washington – Fact or Myth? William, Jr. was famously reported to have knocked Washington down in an argument about an election. The account is told in Mason Locke Weems’ The Life of Washington, which is also the source of the myth of Washington cutting down a cherry tree and unable to tell a lie. The story, often repeated, is discounted by many historians, but considered true in its essential facts by others, including Washington’s respected biographer Douglas Southall Freeman 3

Leader in Revolutionary Era

With his brother Edward Payne, George Mason, George Washington and 21 others, he was elected in July 1774 to serve on the Fairfax County Committee of Safety. The Committee was established to govern and defend the county, in response to events that led to the end of British government in Virginia and to the Revolutionary War. 4

No records have been found regarding what additional service William, Jr. may have performed during the war. He would certainly have had past militia experience, but at 50 years old he was on the upper end of the 16 – 50 age range when men typically were called to serve in the militia. The following is an excerpt from “Fairfax County Militia Plan ‘for Embodying the People'”, written by George Mason for the Committee of Safety:

…WE the Subscribers, Inhabitants of Fairfax County, have freely & voluntarily agreed, & hereby do agree & solemnly promise, to enroll & embody ourselves into a Militia for this County, intended to consist of all the able-bodied Freemen from eighteen to fifty Years of Age, under Officers of their own Choice; & for that Purpose to form ourselves into distinct Companies of Sixty-eight Men each….5

As a respected local leader, if not in the military, it’s most likely William, Jr. continued in some important role supporting the war effort at the county level. It’s a Payne family belief that he worked in financing the war effort. 6

Map by George Washington

Detail from 1766 map drawn by George Washington shows locations of William Payne, Jr.’s residence and Payne’s Mill within Henry Fitzhugh (Colonel)’s Ravensworth quarters (Parcel 1.1).

Ravensworth Leases

Also like his father, William, Jr. was a Ravensworth leaseholder rather than a landowner. He and his father are listed on Henry Fitzhugh (Colonel)’s list of Tenants and Rents 1764 in Parcel 1.1. In 1762 his father gifted him a half share of the Payne’s Mill lease.

Fairfax County court records show no instance in which William, Jr. sold land in the county, and a single purchase just seven months before he died on July 12, 1782: he bought 357 acres from Josiah Watson near the northern border of today’s City of Falls Church.7 His will devised this land to his sons William (150 acres) and Devaul (157 acres). This is the only owned land mentioned in the will.

Regarding the lease location where William Gooding lived: In 1807 his son William Gooding, Jr. opened Gooding’s Tavern in a home on rented land a short distance from Payne’s Mill. It’s possible the father’s and son’s homes were in the same house or close to each other and near the mill.

Regarding his leased lands, the will bequeathed to his sons:

  • to Benjamin Clarke “my lease where he now lives and my lease where William Gooding lives and also my Mill Seat on Accotink Run.” (Since William Payne, Jr. and his brother Sanford had each received half shares of the mill in 1762, he must have gained full ownership at some point.)
  • to William and Devaul one half each “my lease for the plantation where I now live.”8

It’s almost certain that the leases were all on Ravensworth. The mill seat was and the above detail from George Washington’s 1766 map locates his residence adjacent to the mill.

William, Jr.’s estate was valued at a little more than 1032 pounds.9

Kentucky Land Warrants

His will also bequeathed to all his children: “My land warrants for 10000 acres in the back inhabatance [future state of Kentucky] to be equally divided among such of my children as will be willing to pay their equal proportion of their expense.” Not owning substantial property here, this bequest resulted in the migration of many Payne family members to Kentucky. The source of the land warrants is uncertain, whether purchased or granted for some service. Most likely it was purchased:

  • The 1779 Virginia law that created the Virginia Land Office provided “…a procedure for obtaining waste and unappropriated lands….” in the areas that became the states of Kentucky (1792) and Ohio (1803). “…any person could purchase as much land as desired upon payment to the Treasurer of a fee of [as little as] forty pounds for one hundred acres.” The several step procedure resulted in receiving a warrant that the purchaser then presented to obtain a grant of title to the land signed by the governor.10
  • The 1779 Virginia law also enabled awarding bounty lands for three years continuous Revolutionary War service in the regular army or navy, but not militia. The first warrant was issued in 1783, when William, Jr. was dead. And, again, no record has been found indicating any military service.11


  1. Brooke Payne and Joanne Leach Gatewood, The Paynes of Virginia (C.J. Carrier Company, 1977), 232-235.
  2. “The Fairfax County Courthouse by Ross De Witt Netherton and Ruby Waldeck – Free Ebook,” 106, accessed July 26, 2013, and “Past Fairfax County Sheriffs – Fairfax County, Virginia,” accessed April 4, 2015,
  3. “Examining this anecdote in his biography of Washington, Douglas Southall Freeman concluded that it is a ‘well founded’ episode which occasioned Washington to decide that it would be a principle of his life to ‘receive reproof, when reproof is due, because no man can be readier to accuse me than I am to acknowledge an error when I am guilty of one….'” Christopher Harris, Public Lives, Private Virtues: Images of American Revolutionary War Heroes, 1782-1832 (Taylor & Francis, 2000), 16.
  4. “The Fairfax County Committee of Safety,” Daughters of the American Revolution Magazine, Volume 49 (National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution., 1916), 239–245. (Google eBook)
  5. “Fairfax County Militia Plan ‘for Embodying the People’ (February 6, 1775),” accessed April 8, 2015,
  6. Payne and Gatewood, The Paynes of Virginia, 232–233.
  7. Fairfax County deed N1:446 (lost) of 12/15/1781
  8. Fairfax County will D1:141
  9. Fairfax County will books D1:441 (5/27/1882) and D1:400 (9/16/1783).
  10. “Secretary of State Virginia Treasury Warrants,” accessed April 8, 2015, Searches of the database accessible from this webpage find several warrants issued to men named William Payne, and to others matching names in his family.
  11. “About the Revolutionary War Bounty Warrants,” accessed April 6, 2015,, accessed April 5, 2015.