John Howard Payne, His Life and Accomplishments

Hugh R. King

John Howard Payne was a person of vast experience and of varied undertakings and achievements. He was an actor, playwright, minor poet, newspaper editor, publisher and critic as well as a United States Consular official. He championed for the rights of American Indians, fought for the establishment of copyright laws and he was a gifted director and producer in the world of the theater. Payne was probably the first native American actor to enact the role of Hamlet, the first American performer to appear and become prominent on the European stage and the earliest American playwright to have his works produced abroad. John Howard Payne insisted on accurate period costumes for performers and included extensive scenery and costume designs for his plays. Payne wrote more than sixty different pieces for the theater including tragedies, comedies, farces and operas and his work was produced in both Europe and America for nearly half a century. Although his work was mainly adaptive and most of his plays and operas are no longer performed, Payne’s works enjoyed success until the latter half of the 19th century and were performed by the leading actors of the day .He also wrote the lyrics to arguably one of the world’s most famous songs, “Home Sweet Home.” Payne’s major flaw was that throughout his life he was a poor financial manager. He was lavishly extravagant and never free from financial debt. He had many enemies and detractors and was at numerous occasions the victim of bad timing, misunderstandings and downright malice. In addition to the above, ill fortune and a penchant for wandering probably kept John Howard Payne from achieving greatness in the eyes of the world.


Home Sweet Home Museum & Gardens

14 James Lane
East Hampton, New York 11937

(631) 324-0713

Open daily May – September, 10 a.m. To 4 p.m.
Sunday 2 p.m. To 4 p.m.
October and November weekends only.
December – April by appointment only.