The Robert Treat Paine Papers
In 1770 Robert Treat Paine (RTP, 1731-1814) stood as counsel for the prosecution in the Boston Massacre trials. Almost two decades later, he prosecuted the Shays’s Rebellion treason trials (1786-1787). While Paine is best remembered for his involvement in these two well-known cases, he was a prominent public figure in Massachusetts for over 30 years. In his long career RTP served all along the legal spectrum of the colony-turned-state: as a lawyer, a jurist, and a delegate to the Continental Congress, where he signed the Declaration of Independence. He contributed to the development of legal form and precedent in the new state when he served as the first attorney general of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (1777-1790), on the Committee for Revising Laws of the state, and as a justice on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (1790-1804).
The MHS is happily maintaining RTP’s legacy by expanding public access to his correspondence and legal papers. With the assistance of a generous grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), the Publications Department completed the fourth volume of the Papers of Robert Treat Paine in spring 2018. With the same funding, we are in the process of completing the last volume of the five-volume edition and developing a digital edition of all five books. A beta edition of the first three digital volumes is now live!
The NHPRC is one of the key supporters of documentary editing projects in the United States. It is the funding affiliate of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), which was created by Congress in 1934 to protect America’s historical records and make them publicly available. Through grants, the NHPRC promotes the preservation, publication, and digitization of significant documentary sources.
Some examples from the forthcoming digital edition
“The other day my fancy took a flight beyond the reach of my bodily Senses, & during this my Præternatural Elevation, my Imagination presented to me such a Scene, so I shall here take the Liberty to relate...The Gods...in Compassion to the giddy Errors of Mankind, have here set up the Curious & long wanted Brain Refining Laboratory”RTP (Boston) to Richard Cranch and Samuel Quincy, 30 October 1754
“It will not be in my Power to support that Friendship for you which I have hitherto done, nor express that Respect & Notice towards you which you may expect; you have hitherto been of my Rank but if you descend below it you cant expect me to follow you. How can I maintain that social JoyRTP to Eunice Paine, 6 May 1759
with a manwhich I have had with you, with a man so unequal to support it.”
“The eyes of the world are upon you. Your desicions will determine the fate of nations. You have therefore need of uncommon wisdom & fortitude.”Joseph Greenleaf (Boston) to RTP (Philadelphia), 27 September 1774
“The Enlivening scenes you have passed thro’, the animating purposes of your meeting, and the importance of your decision which must call forth Every power of the mind, & wake Every humane affection, have by this time I make no doubt rub’d off all the Taunton Rust. I anticipate the pleasure your return will afford Us as your Domesticks.”Eunice Paine (Taunton) to RTP, 8 October 1774
“I have often been alarmed, by Gages behaviour to the town of Boston. Many of his Plans we cant see into. What they will end in, time only can determine. It seems as if fear was his greatest inducement to fortifie it in the manner he has done.”Abigail Greenleaf (Taunton) to RTP, 8 October 1774
“We are all in high spirits & Swear by the departed Spirits of the first Settlers of New-England we will not sheath the sword till our Liberties are fixed upon a firm & stable basis. We shall have our Minute men ready to march by tomorrow day-break”William Baylies (Dighton) to RTP, 22 April 1775
“That you are my Enemy & have been labouring my disgrace I am Satisfyed; that finding yr. self discovered your implacable Temper will urge you on to your ill will I have so much Reason to think that I must necessarily take Care of my Self.”RTP (Philadelphia) to James Warren, draft, 1 January 1776
“I therefore take the Liberty breifly to state the Connection between the execution of this Law & our Political Salvation; to save time I would referr you to the Observation made last Saturday on theRTP (Taunton) to William Baylies, 3 March 1777
destructionEvil attending a depreciating Currency, the Embarrassment it gives to Trade & the Destruction of public Credit, the excitement to Fraud, extortion & even rapine”
I hope Some opportunity will offer for you to Send the flour from milton for their none to be had here. The report is here that you have got a house in Boston I tell them if you have I Suppose you mean to have two Wifes one for Boston the other for taunton.Sally Paine (Taunton) to RTP, 8 March 1780
“he dam'd the Rebells, said he wd. cut em in hunks, broil 'em on the Coals & eat them he wished he had the Key of Hell he would turn all the dam'd Rebells & kick 'em along, he wished all our Soldiers would go to the Regulars wished we could not raise an Army”RTP Trial Notes, Commonwealth vs. James Hewet, October, 1781
“It is with great greif & anxiety of mind that I have observed your Conduct for a long time past & that the notices & remonstrances you have recd. from <me &> yr. mother & my self have produced neither reformation nor explanation; the age for laying deep the foundation of Industrious & virtuous habits is swift stealing away”RTP to Thomas Paine, 12 August 1794
“A little consideration must also satisfy us that every free government is formed and regulated by this fundamental maxim or principle, that the minority in all political transactions must consider the acts of the majority as the acts of the whole body, and conduct themselves accordingly; for a perfect unanimity is never to be expected”RTP Charge to the Grand Jury, May, 1799