Thomas Paine – from England to America, and Back


by Glynn Burrows

ON BLEND RADIO: Glynn Burrows discusses the life of Thomas Paine and his historic ties between England and America. Thomas Paine was an English-born American political activist, philosopher, political theorist, and revolutionary. He was the author of “Common Sense” and “The American Crisis.” Watch here in the YouTube player or download the podcast on PodBean, or SoundCloud.


Thomas Paine was born on the 29th January 1737, in the town of Thetford, Norfolk.

His parents: Joseph Pain and Frances Cock, were married on 20th June 1734, by license. His father was a Quaker and his mother was not.

Thomas had an education, sufficient for him to read and write, so, at thirteen, he was working with his father in the family business of stay making. This obviously didn’t suit Thomas and he joined the Excise Men, collecting taxes on liquor and tobacco and looking out smugglers. He didn’t earn much for that work, but he tried to better himself as much as he could, by buying books and scientific equipment.

He had two brief marriages and neither of these ended well. The first, was to Mary Lambert, on 27th September 1759, at St. Peter’s Church, Sandwich, Kent. Sadly, Mary died in childbirth, together with the baby.

His second marriage was to Elizabeth Ollive, the daughter of his landlord and this marriage ended in an unusual way for that period. There is a very large document in the East Sussex Record Office, which is the agreement for their separation. It gives details about their unhappy quarrels and the compensation to Paine, due to the amount of property brought into the marriage by Elizabeth, from her father’s estate. Paine was awarded £45, which was a substantial amount of money at that time. The signatures of the parties show that both Thomas and Elizabeth were used to signing their names.

After this event, not only had Pain lost his wife, he had lost his home and business.

He had been fortunate to make the acquaintance of Benjamin Franklin, who was in London and was willing to give him a letter of introduction to people Philadelphia, so Thomas decided to make the voyage across the Atlantic. Despite becoming severely ill with typhus on the voyage, Paine recovered and found his true vocation as a writer for the Pennsylvania Magazine. He soon became quite a vociferous writer advocating for the abolition of slavery and equality for women, both extremely unusual viewpoints for the time.

I will skip the main part of his life in the US and France, because that is so well documented, but I would like to talk a bit about his death and how he was still causing a stir many years after his passing.

He died in relative obscurity, on June 8,1809.

  • Thomas Paine Statue in Thetford UK
    Thomas Paine Statue in Thetford UK

His funeral was a less than spectacular event, according this report in the paper at the time – and one would have thought that that would have been the end of the line, but, as had been the story of Thomas’s life, there was never a simple end to anything.

Just a decade after his death, seeing that his adopted country was not recognizing him for what he had achieved, a certain Mr. Cobbett decided to raise the funds for a memorial in his native country and to take the remains “home” for re-interment.

\The story of the bones is a very complicated and often a very uncertain one. The story, about the man’s remains after his death, which is nearly as interesting and entangled as the story of the man whilst he was living, is a very sad and distressing one. With people trying to gain money and notoriety from the remains, alongside the disrespect and carelessness shown to the person who they were supposedly trying to commemorate, is something which shows the world was the same then as it is today and as it has always been.

I won’t go into the details here, as there is so much written about the bones, suffice to say, that nobody appears to know for certain, what has become of the body of Thomas Pain. It is said that there are parts all over the world and it would actually be quite good if they could all be sent to Thetford, to be buried in the churchyard of the place where he was baptized.

Glynn provides customized, private tours and also helps his clients trace their English family history. Past guests have visited and experienced stately houses and gardens, castles and churches, ruins and villages, birding and wildlife, World War II airfields, and general area taster tours too. Accommodations can be in all types of establishment, from character buildings such as windmills, thatched cottages and castles, self-catering or five star luxury –  just say what you want and it can be arranged. Nothing is too much trouble for Glynn! Visit


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Glynn provides customized, private tours and also helps his clients trace their English family history.

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