In honour of the fourth of July, PHM would like to share with our wonderful readers a few objects relating to Thomas Paine, eighteenth century radical and huge proponent of the American Revolution.
First up, we have a desk belonging to the man himself. One of the highlights of PHM’s collection, this is the very desk on which Tom Paine wrote the second part of the Rights of Man, a book which restored a large amount of credit to the American and French revolutions. In it, he argued that all men over 21 should have the right to vote- not exactly radical by today’s standards- but at the time, the book outraged many including the government, who immediately banned it.
Following this, in 1792, Paine fled England for France, eventually settling in America, before his death in 1809.
The second and rather macabre object relating to Paine is his death mask which is displayed in the museum next to his desk. A very strange story surrounds his remains after Paine’s death…ten years after his burial in America William Cobbett retrieved the body, intending to bring it home to England. This is the last that was seen of it…
One story states that Cobbett lost it on the journey from America (he may have left it in a pub). Another has it that Cobbett left the bones in his attic and they were sold by Cobbett’s son after his father’s death. In the 1930s a woman claimed she had Paine’s jawbone and in the 1980s an Australian businessman claimed to have his skull. Spooky!
If you would like to find out more about Thomas Paine, or view more objects relating to him, visit the museum or search the museum collection online.
Our current changing exhibition, ‘Hidden by Red Saunders’ exhibits a re-imagined photographic tableau of Paine. With the past often dominated by Kings, Queens and military battles, the aim of the Hidden project was to recreate the historic scenes often hidden from history involving dissenters, revolutionaries, radicals and non-conformists- of which there is no denying Thomas Paine belonged!