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Camden New Journal - LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Published: 7 February 2008
The history of Thomas Paine revisited

• THANK you for the interesting article by Dan Carrier (A tale to revive the passion in democracy, January 31) on Thomas Paine and Sir David Attenborough’s hopes to produce a film on his life based on Professor John Keane’s biography of Paine.
Paine, it is true, did leave Thetford and sought to sign on a privateer, but his father followed him and brought him back home, presumably being able to do so as his son had not completed his apprenticeship, and as this was a legally binding contract it was illegal for anyone to hire a runaway apprentice, hence the ship’s captain, who had the name Captain Death, had to let the boy go.
This was lucky for Paine as not long after sailing the ship encountered a French privateer and in the fight that followed it was sunk and most of its crew, including the captain, perished.
Thomas did sign on another ship some time later, and this time his father did not intervene.
Paine’s first wife did not die in childbirth, nor did the child she bore, a daughter, but both died later, the child some time before its mother.
Paine married a second time and settled in Lewes, Sussex, where he became the owner of a general store while remaining an excise officer.
He did not flee to America to escape political oppression, though he certainly hoped to create a new life for himself there.
Instead he had followed the advice of Benjamin Franklin, who had befriended him and who provided him with a letter of introduction to a number of influential people in the then colonies.
Nor did Paine go to France to help foment rebellion but had accompanied a delegation the rebellious colonists sent in an attempt to solicit French support for the revolution in the British colonies. In 1791 he wrote his classic Rights of Man (not The Rights of Man,) the first part of which was a defence of the revolution in France in response to an attack on it by Edmund Burke, while the second part, published in 1792, mapped out a programme for political and social reform in Britain that became the “bible” for Britain’s radical reform movement.
His book was banned following his prosecution for seditious libel, for which he was found guilty by a rigged jury, but as he was not in court having gone to France to take up a seat in the National Convention, to which he had been elected by the citizens of Calais, he was declared an outlaw.
He never returned to Britain alive, although William Cobbett, who had illegally exhumed his remains from Paine’s farm in New Rochelle, New York State, brought his bones back to Britain intending to erect a worthy monument over them.
This never materialised and the bones are now lost. Perhaps Paine would not have mourned this as he wrote of the world being his village and to do good his religion.
Former Honorary Secretary Thomas Paine Society

Send your letters to: The Letters Editor, Camden New Journal, 40 Camden Road, London, NW1 9DR or email to The deadline for letters is midday Tuesday. The editor regrets that anonymous letters cannot be published, although names and addresses can be withheld. Please include a full name, postal address and telephone number. Letters may be edited for reasons of space.

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