This summer as I traveled on the St. Lawrence Seaway I had the luxury of seeing one of the Thousand Islands where John Payne hid after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Payne is documented as being part of John Wilkes Booth’s conspiracy crew against the United States Government. He is also listed as being hung on July 7th, 1865 with the other accused for the assassination of President of the United States. Thousand Island lore and words written by John A. Haddock in a book called “A Souvenir of the Thousand Islands” say differently.
“A man bearing the description of John A. Payne, was seen in the vicinity of Sharbot and Rideau lakes, Ont., and at Smith's Falls during the latter part of May, 1865, and shortly afterward at Gananoque, where he stayed for a day or two, and then settling his hotel bill, in payment of which he offered a gold piece of English coinage, he left, no one knew whither. Was it John A. Payne who made his appearance at Fisher's Landing? The description and the time tally well. It may with some show of reason be asked: If he wanted to hide himself effectually among the islands, why did he not choose some spot among the myriad islands of the Admiralty group near Gananoque, or in the Navy group below?
Evidently he was a shrewd observer. He well knew that the defrauded Brotherhood would hunt him to the death, but he also knew that they would be unlikely to venture to the American side of the St. Lawrence; while they would search every island in the Canadian Channel.”
Maple Island is by no means hidden, so no one would even fathom of searching for him on an island so exposed in the middle of the seaway. In August of 1865 several men arrived at Gananoque, Ontario making general inquiries about Payne saying that they had been previously employed by him. Those men were in reality “gentleman” from the secret “Brotherhoods of the South”.
As the story goes and not written in Canadian or American history books; lingering smoke plumes were spotted the next day coming from the island Payne was hiding on. The body of John Lewis Payne was found dead with his throat slit among the embers with a sign of three crosses carved on his breast. This is positive evidence that he met his death at the hands of the Brotherhood and not hung as written.
The fact that there were others who fell victim to the oaths of the Brotherhood makes me wonder why Ulysses S Grant was not at Ford’s Theatre the night Lincoln was assassinated. Grant and his wife had been invited to accompany Lincoln but declined the invitation at the last minute. Was Lincoln's death really just a grand conspiracy planned by the Confederate leaders?
After many books and thoughts written on the subject I do not think we will ever know the true story. In the Library of Congress there is a photo with names of all the guilty parties on the scaffold that are about to meet their fate. If John Lewis Payne was murdered in August of 1865 and his body found on Maple Island then who was about to be hung instead? As I watched the island fade into the distance I prefer to believe Haddock's version. As you cruise through the narrow channels of the seaway around the islands there lies bottles of spirits that line the bottom from the prohibition era. Pirates roamed freely and the waters around the islands still carry their tales as the spirit of one John Lewis Payne still floats around the island as the real truth still blows in the wind.
Coloured Images and Text by Linda Seccaspina
Quote from: A souvenir of the Thousand Islands of the St. Lawrence River- By J Haddock