Thomas Paine died 200 years ago this year on Grove Street in New York City. He was a famous author, speaker, revolutionary. He made a lot of friends and enemies on his journey of life. His writing of Common Sense made such an impact on the 13 colonies during the early days of the American revolution.
His was a life of great of ups and downs. His life was one of great unrest where ever he seemed to be.
His thoughts on religion brought great attacks on him. Even Theodore Roosevelt called Paine “a dirty little atheist”. Perhaps no one put it better than Thomas Edison, who wrote of Roosevelt’s remark saying..”This shows that Roosevelt never read Paine”
Well in his day if you were for him or against him, and there were many in both camps he was loved and hated. He was the butt of comments by many. It was said that many of the great leaders of the early days of America avoided him.
He was critical of George Washington, and by doing so was very well regarded by Thomas Jefferson who had little liking for Washington, specially Washington’s political philosophy.
By the time of his death in 1809 he was pretty much left out of the thoughts and good wishes of his contemporaries. Only six people attended his funeral. A death mask was hastily made causing the nose to look crooked. He was then buried in New Rochell, New York and forgotten.
But even in death Paine would have no rest.
A great fan and devoted follower of Paine, William Cobbett of England, came to the United States and exhumed and stole Paine’s partially decomposed body from its grave. His idea was to bring Paine’s body to England to make a grand memorial to him.
In 1819 he returned to England with the body of his hero in a large box. But he found that England was not at all pleased with honoring the man who helped bring about the American Revolution. Therefore the body remained with Cobbett, who seemed to have no idea what to do with it. Therefore he put the body of the dead revolutionary in his attic. He seemed to be rather obsessed with the body of Paine. He even made another death mask of the badly decomposed body .
In fact the bones were still in Cobbett’s attic when he himself died in 1835.
Here the story comes to a rather bizarre and macabre ending. Cobbett’s son who had no desire to keep the bones of Paine in the attic, decided to get rid of them. But no one is quite sure how? There have been comments that many people claim to have bits and pieces of Paine. Some say he sold parts and even auctioned off parts of the great mans skeleton. In the 19th century one man claimed to have the skull and right hand of Paine. His femur bone was made into buttons. In New York parts of his spinal cord and hair are said to reside. Once again who knows? I guess it would take DNA testing. Till that time the body of Paine is lost in a sea of confusion. In many ways like his life.
Thomas Paine 1737-1809
The book that started it all for Paine and the death mask of a then forgotten man.
by Jack Stanley.
Uncle Sam's New York.