Daniel Payne was born February 24, 1811, in Charleston, S.C. Daniel Payne was African American, born to free parents. At a very young age, he lost his parents. He was four years old when his father died, and he was nine years old when his mother died. He was raised by his aunt in Charleston, and by the time he was twelve, he was very well educated. He had learned a lot about history and most basic subjects, and he showed a lot of promise.
From twelve to seventeen, he held various apprenticeships. One of them was to a carpenter. Payne said that it was while he was a carpenter that he learned Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. From the age of fifteen, he was interested in serving the church, but it wasn’t until he was eighteen that he was converted. Almost immediately, he turned to education—both as a means to further his own understanding and, much more, to educate others. He felt a unique calling to teach others, and from 1830 to 1835, as a very young man, he ran a school in Charleston.
The South Carolina legislature, at that time, passed a law prohibiting the education of both free blacks and slaves, and of course, many of Payne’s students were free blacks and slaves. So, he wasn’t able to run his school any longer. In 1835, he closed down his school and headed north. He was in New York for only a few days when he heard about the Lutheran seminary in Gettysburg, which he then attended from 1835 to 1837. This seminary would go on to play a crucial role in the Civil War. On the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1, 1863, fighting took place on Seminary Ridge, right up against the Lutheran seminary.
After Payne completed his degree in 1837, he was ordained as a Lutheran, but then he moved over into the African Methodist Episcopal Church and served in that denomination through the 1840s and 1850s, applying his energy to bring about a program of study for a trained and educated clergy. This was his dream, and eventually it led to his becoming a founder of the reconstituted Wilberforce University in Ohio. He served as the university’s first president from 1863 to 1876.
In 1859, just before he was involved in the planning and the founding of Wilberforce University, he gave a lecture titled “The Christian Ministry: Its Moral and Intellectual Character.” In it, he talks about how we need to have improvable minds, that having an improvable mind is like the rude marble in the quarry passing through the creative hands of the sculptor. He talks about how there must be an unquenchable desire for useful knowledge, to always be seeking that knowledge, and how important it is to apply that knowledge. He says, “This is essential.”
He continues, “You can know whether you possess this essential quality by looking at the manner in which you have pursued your studies,” this quality of applying what you have learned. “If you read today and neglect it tomorrow, if you study this month and omit the next, then you will never be able to teach others the deep things of the Spirit of Truth because you yourself will never reach them.” And then he says, “What a man does not have, he can never give to others.”
Daniel Payne died on November 2, 1893, at the age of eighty-two.