History's HEROES? 1737 - 1809

Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine - Timeline

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1737 February 9th - Thomas Paine is born in Thetford, Norfolk, to Joseph and Frances Paine (nee Cocke).
1744 Thomas enrolls at Thetford Grammar School. He studies there until 1749.
1750 Thomas becomes an apprentice to his father, a stay-maker.
1753 Thomas enlists and goes to sea, serving on-board a privateer, the King of Prussia.
1759 Thomas returns to Britain and sets up his own business as a master stay-maker in Sandwich, Kent.
September 27th - Thomas marries Mary Lambert, who was an 'Orphan of Sandwich', meaning she had no money or relatives to provide for her. Her father had been an excise officer.
1760 Mary Paine dies during childbirth. The child (born premature) also dies. He moves home to his parent's and starts studying to join the excise service.
1761 July - Thomas takes up employment as a supernumerary excise officer in Thetford.
1762 December - Thomas moves to Grantham in Lincolnshire to become an excise officer.
1764 August - Thomas is transferred to Alford. At this time his salary is £50 a year.
1765 August 27th - Thomas is sacked from his job for "claiming to have inspected goods he did not inspect."
1766 July 31st - He requests reinstatement to the Board of Excise but has to wait for a vacancy. Over the next two years he works as a stay-maker in Diss, Norfolk, and later as a servant in Kensington. He also applies to become an ordained minister.
1768 Following a short time as a school teacher in London, Thomas regains a job as an excise officer in Lewes in East Sussex. He lives above the tobacco and snuff shop of Samuel and Ester Ollive.
1769 Thomas becomes involved with the Society of Twelve, a local, intellectual group that meet to discuss town politics. He is also a member of the Vestry Church group that collects taxes and tithes to distribute among the poor.
1771 March 26th - At age 34, Thomas marries Elizabeth Ollive. The previous year, he had set up a tobacco business with Elizabeth and her mother after Elizabeth's father's death.
1772 Thomas writes his first publication, 'The Case of the Officers of Excise', a 21-page article asking parliament for better pay and working conditions.
1773 December 16th - Resistance to the British ‘Tea Act’ sees a group of American colonists in Boston destroy ships' cargoes by throwing them overboard into the harbour, after officials refused to return three shiploads of taxed tea to Britain (Boston Tea Party).
1774 Spring - Thomas is fired from his job with the excise service for being absent from his post without permission, after distributing his pamphlet in London. His tobacco business has also failed.
April 14th - To avoid being sent to the debtor's prison, he sells his household possessions to pay his debts.
June 4th - Thomas formally separates from his wife Elizabeth, and moves to London. He has £45 from his separation settlement.
September - A friend introduces Thomas to Benjamin Franklin. Franklin has been impressed by his writings and suggests emigration to British Colonial America.
October - Thomas emigrates from Great Britain to the American colonies. He barely survives the voyage across the Atlantic, as the ship's water supplies are bad and typhoid fever kills five passengers.
November 30th - On arriving at Philadelphia, he is too sick to leave the ship. Benjamin Franklin's physician, there to welcome Paine to America, has him carried off ship. He takes six weeks to recover his health.
1775 April 19th - The American Revolution begins after fighting breaks out on Lexington Green between armed Massachusetts militiamen and a British advanced guard sent to destroy the colonists' weapons depot at Concord.
January - Robert Aitken offers Thomas Paine a job as executive editor of his brand-new Pennsylvania Magazine.
1776 January 9th - Thomas Paine's 96-page pamphlet, 'Common Sense', is first published. Written in a simple reasoned style, it is widely read and presents the American colonists with a powerful argument for independence from British rule.
February - Thomas Paine writes, in a pamphlet, of the 'Free and Independent States of America', later to become the United States of America.
July 4th - American Declaration of Independence is made, declaring the 13 American colonies are now independent states, and no longer a part of the British Empire.
July 7th - Thomas joins the Pennsylvania Associators' march to Perth Amboy; the expected British invasion is a false alarm. Later at Fort Lee, he is hired as General Nathanael Greene’s aide-de-camp. He also works as a war correspondent for the Philadelphia papers.
December 13th - Thomas Paine's forces join Washington's Army in New Jersey. Senior officers tell the writer that the country needs him publishing, not fighting.
Paine walks 35 miles to Philadelphia, expecting to be captured at any moment. The city is in chaos. He writes the first of his 'Crisis Papers', which is hurriedly printed and distributed.
December 25th - After many defeats, Washington's army is in low spirits. Paine’s words are read to soldiers boarding boats to cross the freezing Delaware River and inspire them to a victory days later in a surprise attack at Trenton - an important turning point in the war.
1777 Thomas Paine becomes secretary of the Congressional Committee on Foreign Affairs but is expelled in 1779, after he alluded to secret negotiations with France in his writings.
1781 March - Thomas Paine and John Laurens land in France in order to seek assistance for the war. They return to America in August with a loan of 10 million. Thomas also organises the Bank of North America to raise money to feed and clothe the army.
1783 November 25th - As the last of the British troops in New York depart from Manhattan, Washington marches his troops, including Thomas Paine, down Broadway in celebration.
1783 September 3rd - The Treaty of Paris is signed, effectively ending the American Revolutionary War. The document is later ratified by US Congress and King George III. The ratification documents are exchanged in Paris on 12th May 1784.
Thomas buys a house on the corner of Farnsworth Avenue and Church Street in Bordentown City, New Jersey. He will live in it from time to time, until his death in 1809.
1785 Acknowledging that much of Paine’s service to the new US government had been at his own expense, Congress awards him $3000 and New York State gives him a confiscated Royalist farm in New Rochelle.
1787 September 17th - The United States Constitution is adopted by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and ratified by conventions in each US state in the name of "The People".
April 26th - Thomas leaves America for Paris, to look for sponsors for a single-span iron bridge he has designed. On August 29th his bridge is endorsed by the French Academy of Sciences.
September - Thomas visits his 91-year-old mother in Thetford (father Joseph having died the previous November), and arranges for her to receive a pension of nine shillings a week.
Sept 28th - His bridge design receives an English patent and an exhibition opens to the public. It is not successful at this time but the design will be used later for the Sunderland Bridge.
1789 Summer - The outbreak of the French Revolution stirs the imagination of nearly all Europeans.
1790 November - Edmund Burke publishes his attack on the French Revolution: 'Reflexions on the Revolution in France'. Thomas begins writing a reply supporting the revolution. The work is written partly in London partly and finished at Versailles.
1791 March 13th - Thomas publishes 'The Rights of Man'. It is a radical work, calling for representative democracy, and proposing Republican government.
June 21st - In France, Thomas sees the Royal family's flight. He founds La Société des Republicains and writes a manifesto (which is plastered on city walls). The king’s flight, he says, means abdication and the nation should seize the opportunity to establish a Republic.
June 25th - Thomas witnesses the return of the arrested king. He comments on the folly of a people in bringing back a king who had relieved them of his presence. Later that summer Thomas returns to England.
1792 February 16th - Paine issues his 'Rights of Man, Part the Second, Combining Principle' and Practice. It advocates establishing a republic and proposes alleviating poverty through progressive income tax. Its cheap price means it is widely read.
May 14th - Thomas’s London publisher, J.S. Jordan, is ordered to appear before the Court of King’s Bench, after 'The Rights of Man' causes a furor in England. Thomas offers to pay for his defence. However, Jordan pleads guilty.
May 21st - The British Government issues a writ against Thomas Paine for wicked and seditious writings.
August - Thomas becomes an honorary French citizen and is elected to the National Convention.
September 15th - Thomas flees to France. He is tried in his absence and convicted, for seditious libel against the Crown, on December 17th.
1793 February 1st - France declares war on Britain. The conflict will last for 22 years. Different coalitions of European powers, at different times, form against France.
January 21st - King Louis XVI is executed. Thomas Paine had strongly argued against this, recommending instead exile to the United States. This upsets the revolutionary leaders, especially Robespierre.
October 3rd - Thomas is denounced in the National Convention as a traitor to the Revolution (this follows the coming to power on June 2nd of the Jacobins, led by Robespierre. Paine has associated himself with the Girondins).
October 15th - the Tribunal criminel-révolutionnaire begins. Its actions would become known as the Reign of Terror.
December 28th - Thomas is arrested for being a supporter of Louis Capet (the former king). He is imprisoned in the Luxembourg prison in Paris, under threat of execution.
1794 June 10th - France’s National Assembly pass the Law of the 22nd Prairial, granting the Tribunal criminel-révolutionnaire absolute power and allowing its judges two verdicts: acquittal or death. There is a frenzy of executions.
Thomas Paine finishes writing his 'Age of Reason' while in prison.
July 24th - Thomas's name appears on the list of those to be executed. His cell door is marked, indicating execution, but the door is open because he is very ill. When the door is later shut, the mark cannot be seen, saving his life.
July 28th - Robespierre is executed after his own trial and attempted suicide, ending the Reign of Terror. In five weeks, 1,376 citizens have been executed.
November 6th - Paine is released from prison, largely because the new American Minister to France, James Monroe, argues the case for Paine's American citizenship. He resumes his seat in the French Convention.
1795 Thomas Paine's 'Age of Reason' is published. This attack on organised religion brings him many enemies.
1796 July 30th - Convinced that Washington had personally betrayed him by acquiescing to his imprisonment, Thomas Paine writes him an abusive letter, attacking his military reputation and his presidential policy. This attack alienates him from many of his friends.
1797 Winter - 'Agrarian Justice' is published (actually written in the winter of 1795 and '96). In this pamphlet he develops the ideas in 'Rights of Man', that land ownership separates most people from their rightful, natural inheritance, and means of independent survival.
Thomas goes to stay with Nicolas de Bonneville and his family. One visitor, at this time, is inventor Robert Fulton, credited with developing the first commercially successful steamboat.
1798 Paine believes that America, under John Adams, has betrayed the revolution in France and so, in September 1798, he writes an article for Le Bien Informé, advising the French government on how best to conquer America.
1800 Paine meets Napoleon who claims he sleeps with a copy of Rights of Man under his pillow. He tells Thomas that "a statue of gold should be erected to you in every city in the universe".
1802 Autumn - Increasingly disgusted with Napoleon's dictatorial rule, Thomas returns to America at the invitation of Thomas Jefferson. Mme de Bonneville, and her children, travel with him. He finds himself widely condemned for his anti-religious views.
1803 May 2nd - Thomas is instrumental in the United States buying the territory of Louisiana.
1804 May 18th - Napoleon proclaims himself emperor. His coronation ceremony takes place on December 2nd in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris.
1808 Summer - Thomas moves to stay at the house of Cornelius Ryder, and his family on Herring (now Bleecker) Street in the village of Greenwich. His health is deteriorating.
1809 Needing more care, he is moved to a farmhouse in Greenwich (now 59 Grove Street). He is cared for by Mme de Bonneville.
June 8th - Thomas Paine dies, aged 72. Mme De Bonneville, her two sons, and some New Rochelle neighbours are the only attendants at his funeral. He is buried in the grounds of his farm in New Rochelle, New York.
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