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A Brief Chronology
of the Life of Thomas Paine
(January 29, 1737 - June 8, 1809)
- 1737 - Thomas Pain(e) is born on the 29th of January in
Thetford, Norfolk, England to Joseph and Frances Cocke Pain(e).
- 1750 - At age 13, young Paine apprenticed to his father to learn
trade of stay-making.
- 1753 - Thomas tries to run away to sea, on the ship Terrible
commanded by Captain Death, but was prevented by his
father. A year or two later, Thomas succeeds in joining the crew
of a ship for a short enlistment.
- 1757 - Thomas begins practice of his trade as a stay-maker in a
London shop. Living in London he attends lectures about Newtonian
astronomy, where he becomes acquainted with scientists and other
- 1759 - Thomas opens a shop as a master stay-maker in Sandwich,
Kent. He marries Mary Lambert, who dies a year later.
- 1762 - Enters customs service as unattached officer (gauger of
brewers' casks), at Alford, Lancashire.
- 1764 - Receives appointment as officer of customs.
- 1765 - Dismissed from his position (in August) after being
accused of stamping goods without inspecting them.
- 1766 - In London, Thomas teaches English at an academy operated
by Mr. Noble, and may have also engaged in preaching.
- 1768 - Thomas successfully petititons for reappointment to the
excise service; he take a position in the district of Lewes,
- 1771 - Marries Elizabeth Ollive (in March), daughter of a
deceased tradesman who owned the property where Thomas had
- 1773 - Solicits Oliver Goldsmith's aid in getting the cause of
excisemen before Parliament, which ignores the petition.
- 1774 - He is discharged from the excise service. He also
secures legal separation from wife and departs for North America
(in November), bearing a letter of introduction from Benjamin
- 1775 - Becomes editor of Robert Aitken's Pennsylvania
Magazine. His anti-slavery essay,
African Slavery in America,
is published in the Pennsylvania
Journal. Although unsigned, the essay is attributed to Paine,
who receives praise for it from Dr. Benjamin Rush, a leading
abolitionist. However, recent scholarship challenges the authorship,
as explained by researchers at
The Thomas Paine National Historic Association
- 1775 - Paine also anticipates the Declaration of
Independence in his essay,
Serious Thought, in which he also rebukes Britain
and America for the slave trade and slave holding (in Pennsylvania
Journal, October 18, 1775, signed "Humanus."). However,
recent scholarly research at
The Thomas Paine National Historical Association indicates Paine was not the author.
- 1776 -
Common Sense is published in January. Paine enlists in the Continental
Army and serves as aide de camp to General Nathaneal Greene. He
sees action at Fort Lee, New Jersey.
- 1776 - The Forester's Letters are
printed in the Pennsylvania Journal:
May; the first three letters are responses to the
writings signed Cato, the Rev. Dr. William Smith, a Scotch
clergyman of the English Church, Provost of the College of
Philadelphia; the fourth letter is a call for a return to first
- 1776 -
American Crisis I, (the first of the Crisis Papers),
appears on 19 December, 1776. Here are his famous opening lines:
These are the times that
try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot
will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country;
but he that stands it now, deserves the thanks of man and
The Crisis Papers are read to troops and is a morale-builder that helps the
Americans to win the battle of Trenton NJ on Christmas day,
December 25, 1776.
- 1777 - Congress appoints Paine its Secretary to
Committee on Foreign Affairs and appoints him to help
commissioners for an Indian treaty.
- 1777 -
Crisis IV (which opens with:
Those who expect to reap
the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigues
of supporting it. And near the close, it states, We fight not to
enslave, but to set a country free, and to make room upon the
earth for honest men to live in.)
- 1778 -
Letter to Henry Laurens, expressing his views of the relative merits of farmers
and merchants as "useful citizens"
- 1778 - Supernumerary I, appears in June
- 1779 - Paine resigns as Foreign Affairs Secretary as result of
Silas Deane affair (in which Paine is eventually exonerated). He
is appointed Clerk of the Pennsylvania Assembly
- 1780 -
Emancipation of Slaves, the Preamble to the Act Passed by the
Pennsylvania Assembly, the first legislative measure for the emancipation
of Negro slaves in America, 1 March
Crisis IX appears in June. The University of Pennsylvania confers
an honorary degree on Paine
- 1780 -
Public Good is published, in which Paine refutes Virginia's claims to western
- 1780 - He contributes three hundred dollars toward establishment of
the Bank of Pennsylvania
- 1781 - Accompanies Colonel John Laurens, on Laurens' request,
and at Paine's own expense, to France on diplomatic mission
- 1783 -
A Supernumerary Crisis appears in December
- 1784 - State of New York presents Paine with a farm at New
Rochelle NY, for his eminent services in the cause of
- 1785 - Paine works on his design of a single-arch iron bridge;
also invents a smokeless candle
- 1787 - Takes his bridge proposal and design to France to the
Academy of Sciences
- 1787 - Prospects on the Rubicon is published
- 1787 -
Letters on the Bank, appearing in the Pennsylvania
Packet and the Pennsylvania Gazette, between March of 1786
and March of 1787
- 1788 - Returns to England to promote his bridge, and to visit
his parents. Visits former wife; continues to support her. Meets
Charles Fox, Lord Landsdowne, Mary Wollstonecraft and Edmund
- 1790 - Receives key to Bastille, in France, from the Marquis de
Lafayette, for presentation to George Washington
- 1791 -
Rights of Man is published as Paine's democratic-republican
reply to Edmund Burke's denunciation of the French Revolution
- 1792 - Rights of Man (part 2) is published
- 1792 - Paine returns to France, takes seat in
National Convention to which he was elected as a member from
Calais. Paine is one of the four major writers of a Constitution
for the Republic of France
- 1793 - As a member of the National Convention (January 1793),
Paine urges banishment, not death, of Louis XVI and family. Paine
is not heeded, even though he states the view that the Republic
should abolish monarchy but spare the life of the man. Paine's
plea is clearly the general idea to eliminate capital punishment.
- 1793 -
Letter to Danton,
indicating his desire to return to the United States as soon as a
new constitution is established for France.
- 1793 - The Age of Reason (part 1) is published
- 1793 - Paine is arrested and
imprisoned in Luxembourg Prison (November), a political prison, in
Paris. His transgressions presumably are his moderation regarding
Louis XVI and his determination for a written French constitution.
He continues his writing while in prison.
- 1793 -
To the Citizens of Europe July. Recent research concludes, however,
that the author was probably James Monroe, as the document is dated from Philadelphia
on 28 July, 1793, while Paine was in Paris at that time.
- 1793 - After 11 months in prison and without the intercession
of the American President, George Washington, or the Ambassador to
France, Gouvernour Morris, Paine is at last released (in November)
from Luxembourg Prison through the good offices of the new
Ambassador to France, James Monroe
- 1794 - Paine returns to the National Convention, in
spite of previous difficulties there. He continues to be known
as "the republican" among Irish, English other European
patriots and republicans living in Paris. Paine also writes
numerous letters and essays espousing republican values
- 1794 -
The Age of Reason (part 2) is published. This file contains
the entire manuscript
- 1795 -
Agrarian Justice is published. This is Paine's treatise on social welfare
proposals, continuing his ideas from Rights
Excerpts from Agrarian Justice were reprinted in the
Bulletin of Thomas Paine Friends in the Summer 2016 issue
- 1796 -
Letter to George Washington appears, describing his services to
the United States and his disillusionment with George Washington's
- 1800 - Maritime Compact published,
consisting of 10 articles proposing an Association of Nations that
shall remain neutral during armed conflict between any other
- 1802 - Returns to the United States of America, resides off and on at his farm in
New Rochelle NY and in New York City
- 1805 - Moves to New York City permanently
- 1809 - Dies in New York City, June 8, 1809. His remains were
buried on his farm in New Rochelle. The burial site was
- 1819 - Paine's remains were removed by the English 18th - 19th
century democrat, William Cobbett, with others, in a plan to give
Paine a fitting burial in England and to use the occasion of the
re-burial to garner support for a democratic-and-workers movement
among the British. The scheme to re-bury Paine's remains did not
materialize and his remains became lost to history.
- 1839 - The first Thomas Paine memorial in this country was
erected near the site of Paine's neglected burial site in New
Rochelle NY, through the efforts of New York liberal publisher
Gilbert Vale, who also wrote the first fair biography of Paine.
With renowned sculptor James Frazee, Vale raised donated funds for
an impressive marble pylon, engraved with Paine's words, near the
burial site. Later, in 1889, a bronze bust of Paine fashioned by
Wilson MacDonald, and funded by the newly formed Thomas Paine
Historical Association, was placed at the top of the marble pylon.
This monument continues to have attraction for Paine admirers, and
is still a place where they gather on the anniversary of the birth
of the great patriot-author-political philosopher.
Reprinted In The
BULLETIN OF THOMAS PAINE FRIENDS