Booklicious: Lost Thomas Paine Deed Discovered in 18th Century Novel

December 01, 2009


A piece of torn paper that literally fell out of an 18th century book has turned out to be a legal document concerning Thomas Paine. Last seen in 1892, the document served as the divorce papers between Paine and his wife, Elizabeth, and awarded him £45 in cash, which he used to buy his ticket to America. The rest is history.


The deed officially separated Thomas and Elizabeth, "whereas certain unhappy Quarrels and dissensions have arisen," and ruled that Elizabeth should keep the money she inherited from her father, but hand over £45 she had in cash – in return stipulating that Paine "shall not nor wil at any time hereafter slander or defame his said wife."

The document had been framed and hung by a pair of brothers who found the document in an 18th century novel by Tobias Smollett. Lewes, the town where Paine worked as a customs official, held its first Thomas Paine festival this summer, reviving local interest in the pamphleteer and prompting the brothers to take a closer look at the paper. After being examined and vetted by experts, the document was auctioned off for nearly £13,500 to the East Sussex records office and the Lewes town council.


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