Biography of Thomas Paine

Portrait of Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine was an eighteenth century political reformer.

When and Where was he Born?

29th January 1737, Thetford, Norfolk, England.

Family Background:

Tom Paine was the son of a Quaker small holder and corset maker.


Local Grammar school until the age of thirteen.

Timeline of Thomas Paine:

1750: Paine takes up corset making in Kent. He then gets work as a sailor and a school teacher.

1768: He moves to Lewes in Sussex where he is employed as an Excise Officer. He becomes active in local politics, serving on the local Council and starts a debating society in a local public House. He is dismissed by his employers as an agitator for asking for a pay rise for himself and colleagues. He then moves to London.

1774: Paine meets Benjamin Franklin who helps him to emigrate to America. He settles in Philadelphia and takes up work as a radical journalist. He has several articles published in the “Pennsylvan Magazine” including one urging the abolition of slavery.

1776: He publishes a pamphlet called “Common Sense” which attacks the British Monarchy and argues for American Independence. During the American War of Independence Paine writes many articles enthusing the superiority of republican democracy over the monarchical system and also serves in the armies of George Washington.

1777: He becomes Secretary to the Congress Committee on Foreign affairs.

1781: He goes to France on a fund raising trip for the American cause.

1787: Paine returns to England.

1791: He publishes “The Rights of Man” as a reply to Edmund Burke’s “Reflection’s on the French Revolution”. In it he supports both the French and an overthrow of the British Monarchy. Not surprisingly he is indicted for treason by the British but manages to escape to Paris before he could be arrested. (This is a seminal work in British History as it also argues for votes for all men over 21, an increase in the power of the House of Commons, the decline of the House of Lords, the introduction of progressive taxation based on the ability to pay, family allowances, old age pensions and maternity grants. The book was banned by the British Authorities but over 200,000 people in Britain still managed to buy a copy).

1792: He is made a French citizen and becomes a member of the National Convention as Deputy for Pas-de-Calais. As a supporter of the Girondins he speaks out against the execution of King Louis the Sixteenth and thus upsets Robespierre who has him arrested. Robespierre takes away his French citizenship and said he was being charged as an enemy Englishman.

1794: During his time in prison Thomas Paine completes his work “The Age of Reason”. After the “Terror” he was released on the grounds that he was a United States citizen, after a plea by the American minister James Munroe.

1796: Publication of “The Age of Reason”, which is an attack on accepted religion. (Again this work made him many enemies and alienates him from his friends including George Washington). Thus he remains in Paris.

1802: He returns to the United States but now he is ostracised as an atheist and a free thinker, very different to his reception during the War of Independence. Unable to return to Britain, however, he dies alone and in poverty on a farm in New York State even though by now over a million and a half copies of “The Rights of Man” had been sold in Europe.

When and Where did he Die?

8th June 1809, New York City, United States of America of unknown causes.

Age at Death:


Written Works:

1768: “The Case of Officers of Excise.”
1776: “Common Sense.” “The American Crisis.”
1786: “Dissertations on Government.”
1787: “Prospects on the Rubicon.”
1791: “The Rights of Man.” (Parts 1 and 2).
1794: “The Age of Reason.”
1795: “First Principles of Government.”
1796: “The Age of Reason.” (Part Two).


  1. Married a servant girl at the age of twenty-two who died the following year.
  2. Elizabeth Olive, daughter of a shopkeeper. (separated when they got into debt).

Site of Grave:

Thomas Paine National Museum, New Rochelle, Westchester County, New York. Despite his earlier fame only six people attended his funeral.

Places of Interest:




Ancient House Museum, White Hart Street, Thetford, IP24 1AA.