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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 intellectuals.
  • 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, Sussex.
  • 1771 - Marries Elizabeth Ollive (in March), daughter of a deceased tradesman who owned the property where Thomas had resided.
  • 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 Franklin.
  • 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, A 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: 3 April; 10 April; 24 April; 8 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 principles
  • 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 woman.…
    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 lands
  • 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 independence
  • 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 Burke
  • 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
  • 1795 - Agrarian Justice is published. This is Paine's treatise on social welfare proposals, continuing his ideas from Rights of Man. 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 administration
  • 1800 - Maritime Compact published, consisting of 10 articles proposing an Association of Nations that shall remain neutral during armed conflict between any other warring nations
  • 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 ill-tended, however.
  • 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.

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