A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.


Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine (1694-1757), a native of Barnstable, Mass., graduated from Harvard College in 1717. He worked as an itinerant preacher until 1719, when he was ordained as the minister of Weymouth. In 1721 he married Eunice Treat of Boston, daughter of Rev. Samuel Treat of Eastham and granddaughter of Rev. Samuel Willard of the Old South Church, Boston. Paine left the ministry in 1734 and embarked on a career as a merchant in Boston, often suffering from the vagaries of trade in the 1740s. In 1754 he moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia, but he became ill and returned to Boston in 1756. He died the following year in Braintree at the home of his daughter Abigail Greenleaf.

Thomas and Eunice’s surviving children were Abigail (1725-1809), who married Joseph Greenleaf; Robert Treat Paine (RTP, 1731-1814); and Eunice Paine (1733-1803).

Robert Treat Paine (RTP)

Robert Treat Paine (1731-1814), son of Thomas Paine (1694-1757), was born in Boston, attended the Boston Latin School, and graduated from Harvard College in 1749. A setback in his father’s fortunes led young Robert to explore a variety of career paths in the next decade before he ultimately committed to learning the law. For one year he taught school in Lunenburg, Mass., and then worked as a merchant, traveling the world with stops in the southern colonies, the Azores, and Spain, followed by a short-lived (one voyage) whaling career in Greenland. In 1755 he served as chaplain for the Crown Point campaign in the French and Indian War.

RTP returned to Boston in 1756 to continue his law studies, which he had begun informally two years earlier in Lancaster, Mass. He studied under Benjamin Prat and in 1757 was admitted to the bar. IN 1761 RTP moved to Taunton, where he developed his legal practice and followed the circuit of courts through Massachusetts and the province of Maine. He developed a reputation in Taunton and was appointed a justice of the peace in 1763 and later served on the local committee of correspondence.

RTP’s involvement in provincial politics began in 1770, when the town of Boston asked him to assist in the prosecution of the Boston Massacre trials alongside his old friend—and future Loyalist—Samuel Quincy. From 1773 he represented Taunton in the Massachusetts legislature and served from 1774 to 1776 as a member of the Massachusetts delegation to the First Continental Congress. In Philadelphia he chaired the ordnance committee and was among the signers of the Declaration of Independence. He represented Taunton in the three Provincial Congresses and returned to the state legislature in 1777, when he was chosen Speaker pro tempore. Elected attorney general that same year, Paine supervised the condemnation of Loyalist estates, prosecuted the insurgents of Shays’s Rebellion, participated in the Commonwealth’s Constitutional Convention, and served on the Committee to Revise the Laws. In 1790 he was appointed an associate justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts and served on the bench until his retirement in 1804. He died in Boston in 1814, aged 80.

Sally Cobb Paine

RTP married Sally Cobb of Taunton (1744-1816) in 1770. She was a sister of Gen. David Cobb. Less educated than the Paine sisters, Sally nevertheless wrote numerous feisty letters to her often-absent husband. Unlike some delegates’ wives, Sally remained in Massachusetts with their growing brood of children while RTP traveled repeatedly to Philadelphia from 1774 to 1776 and when he began the court circuit as attorney general in 1777. Sally often teased him about his absence; in the same July 1776 letter in which she thanked him for sending a copy of the Declaration of Independence, she wrote that “I belive we Shall both walk with Cains before” they would see each other again.

Sally and RTP had eight children survive to adulthood: Robert (1770-1798), Sally (1772-1823), Thomas (who, in 1801, changed his name to Robert Treat Paine, Jr.) (1773-1811), Charles (1775-1810), Henry (1777-1814), Mary (1780-1842), Maria Antoinette (1782-1842), and Lucretia (1785-1823).

Eunice Paine

Eunice Paine (1733-1803), daughter of Thomas and Eunice Paine and younger sister of RTP, was a frequent and opinionated correspondent in the Paine family network. Despite several proposals early in life, she never married and often suffered from ill health. She and RTP were particularly close and she never hesitated to offer her thoughts—on romance, family, business, or politics. Although they remained close throughout her life, Robert and Eunice’s relationship lost much of its playfulness later in life, as she became increasingly dependent on him for financial support and he grew less sympathetic to her life as an aging unwed woman.

Abigail Paine Greenleaf

Abigail Paine (1724-1809), daughter of Thomas and Eunice Paine and elder sister of RTP, married Joseph Greenleaf (1720-1810) in October 1749. She and Joseph eventually had seven children and moved to Germantown in Braintree and then Abington before returning to live in Boston in 1771. She corresponded regularly with her brother and revealed much about family life. She often served as a domestic rock for her family, housing her sister on several occasions and caring for their declining father at the end of his life.