Revolutionary Writer

“My heart and myself are three thousand miles apart; and I had rather see my horse, Button, eating the grass of Bordentown than see all the show and pomp of Europe.”

SUCH WERE Thomas Paine’s feelings when he wrote these words while living in France after the American Revolution. He had purchased a house in Bordentown, New Jersey at the corner of Farnsworth Avenue and Church Streets in 1783 and lived there off and on until his death in 1809. It was the only property he would ever own.

Born in England, Paine emigrated to Philadelphia at the urging of none other than Benjamin Franklin who wrote for him a letter of recommendation. Franklin’s suggestion turned out to be a good one, for shortly after his arrival in America, Paine authored one of the most incendiary works ever written: Common Sense. A pamphlet of just forty-seven pages and costing two shillings, it began to be sold on the streets of Philadelphia in January of 1776. Within three months 120,000 copies had been purchased and shared, sending an electric shock throughout the colonies. It bolstered the cause of the revolution, reinforcing the belief that freedom was the noblest of all things to fight for. John Adams declared, “Without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain.”

Paine continued to write more inspirational works such as the Crisis Papers from which Washington read aloud to his troops: “These are the times that try men’s souls…”

Washington reading Thomas Paine to his troops

Washington reading Thomas Paine to his troops

Paine’s career continued not only as an author but as a military aide, statesman–negotiating France’s involvement with America; helping to organize the Bank of North America, and political activist in general. When the American Revolution was over, he moved to France and penned Rights of Man, another political tract encouraging the French in their own revolt. Paine was even an inventor, receiving a British patent for an iron bridge design, developed a smokeless candle, and worked with John Fitch in developing steam engines. Because of his intensely radical nature, which even deepened over time, Paine was not on everybody’s friendship list. While in France, he even attacked President George Washington as an incompetent commander and wrote to him personally: “the world will be puzzled to decide whether you are an apostate or an impostor; whether you have abandoned good principles or whether you ever had any.” He returned to America to no great welcome and finally passed away in 1809. Only six mourners attended his funeral. His obituary read simply: “He lived long, did some good and much harm.” His house in Bordentown is now a dentist’s office.