On a rolling hillside behind the Decatur United Methodist Church in Decatur Township lies a little cemetery that is the final resting place of the oldest man in Washington County, and possibly the oldest in the United States.
According to his headstone, William Payton was born Sept. 2, 1792 and lived to be 127 years, three months and 24 days old.
"He was a slave, and was later freed," said Jim Irvin, Trustee for Decatur Township.
JASMINE ROGERS The Marietta Times
Decatur Township Trustee Jim Irvin, left, along with fellow Trustee Terry Mayle and Mayle’s granddaughter, 3-year-old Morgan Ramey, stroll through the Decatur United Methodist Cemetery, near the gravestone of the oldest man to have lived in Washington Count
According to a 1919 Marietta Times article written at the time of Payton's death, Parkersburg Judge L.N. Tavnner had looked up Payton's birth records and substantiated his claim.
He was older even than Micajah "Cajoe" Phillips, another freed slave buried in Watertown Township who was believed to have lived to 125.
Payton was born during George Washington's presidency and could tell tales of Thomas Jefferson's presidency, said the article.
Decatur United Methodist Cemetery
Also known as the Antioch Cemetery.
Still has active burials.
Earliest known burial 1886.
Final resting place of William Payton, oldest man to have lived in Washington County.
Approximately 200 headstones.
Payton was one of many ex-slaves to lay down roots in Decatur Township. The township played a prominent role in the early Underground Railroad, said Decatur Township Trustee Terry Mayle.
Payton, however, was never a part of the Underground Railroad. He was born into slavery and purchased by the Creel family of Parkersburg, Virginia which is now West Virginia, according to his obituary.
Payton was so fond of the Creel family that he stayed with them for five years after he was released from slavery. After he moved to Ohio, he made a yearly pilgrimage to visit the Creel family in West Virginia and pay his respects, said the article.
Payton spoke to the Marietta Times in 1915, and joked that the secret to his long life was not abstaining from any of the things he was told to abstain from.
Payton told the paper that he smoked tobacco, but only the kind he grew himself. He also said he believed "gin was made to cheer mankind."
Payton also remained very active throughout his life. Besides his yearly trips to visit the Creels, he told The Marietta Times in 1915, at the age of 122, that he still tended his 30-acre farm.
Payton might be the oldest man to have ever lived in the United States, but that is not to say The Decatur United Methodist Cemetery is without modern attribute. Discretely positioned behind a bench, gathering up rays of sunlight is a surprisingly unique addition for a cemetery.
"We gathered up some private funds to put that in here," said Irvin referring to the solar panel which lights up the newly installed flag pole.
The cemetery's previous flag pole was destroyed in the June 29 storm that struck the area.
"I just wanted a flag in our cemetery," said Irvin.
The township trustees are also looking into replacing some of the headstones that have disappeared over the years. Approximately 200 headstones are scattered throughout the cemetery, but are sparse in the older section of the cemetery.
Replacing the headstones could be a challenge, said Mayle, because the township lost many of its records in a fire a few years ago.