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Thomas Paine Asks for Help with His Tenant Farmer and Encloses an Essay on “Hints” for Establishing a Deistical Church
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THOMAS PAINE. Autograph Letter Signed, to John Fellows, July 9, 1804, New Rochelle, New York. 1 p., 6⅜ x 8 in.

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Complete Transcript

                             New Rochelle July 9th 1804

Fellow Citizen

            As the weather is now getting hot in New-York and the people begin to get out of Town you may as well come up here and help me to settle my accounts with the man who lives on the place. You will be able to do this better than I shall, and in the mean time I can go on with my literary works without having my mind taken off by affairs of a different kind. I have received a packet from Governor Clinton enclosing what I wrote for. If you come up by the stage you will stop at the post office, and they will direct you the way to the farm. It is only a pleasant walk. I send you a piece for the prospect. [Paine contributed 17 essays to The Prospect, or View of the Moral World, a New York newspaper.] If the plan mentioned in it is pursued it will open a way to enlarge and give establishment to the Deistical Church; but of this and some other things we will talk about when you come up, and the sooner the better.

                                                Yours in friendship

                                                Thomas Paine

I have not received any news-papers nor any number of the prospect since I have been here.

bring my bag up with you.

[to] Mr Fellows

Paine seeks John Fellows’ assistance. He also informs Fellows that he had received a packet from New York Governor George Clinton (1739-1812), possibly verification of the title to his New Rochelle farm.

In February 1804, Clinton became the Democratic-Republican candidate for Vice President, to replace the disgraced Aaron Burr. Jefferson won reelection to the Presidency in November, and Clinton became Vice President.

In 1804, Paine joined with Elihu Palmer in founding the Theistic Society. They advocated morals and good deeds, and acknowledged God but rejected revelation, the supernatural doctrines of Christianity and other religions, and church hierarchy. Paine contributed a series of seventeen essays to Palmer’s newspaper, The Prospect, or View of the Moral World, published in New York City. The piece that Paine sent with this letter was likely “Hints toward Forming a Society for Inquiring into the Truth or Falsehood of Ancient History, so far as History is Connected with Systems of Religion Ancient and Modern,” which appeared in The Prospect later that month. It dismissed the Old Testament as “the contrivance of priest-craft” and “the work of the Pharisees of the Second Temple.” The Prospect failed in the spring of 1805, Palmer died a year later, and the movement gradually came to an end.

[Docketing:] Tho’s Paine’s Letter

With July 9, 1804 Handwritten copy of the obituary that appeared in The Evening Post (New York), June 10, 1809, 3:4:] died. June 8. 1809

New York June 10 1809 –

Died, on the 8. Ins. Thos Paine He had a drive to be interred in the Quaker burying-ground; & some days previous to his demise had an interview with some Quaker gentlemen on the subject; but, as he declined a renunciation of his deistical opinions, his anxious wishes were not complied with. He was yesterday interred at New Rochelle, perhaps on his own farm. I am unacquainted with his age; but he had lived long, done some good, and much harm.

[Plus, Endorsement, by Thomas Rickman:]

The hand writing of my old friend Paine (see my life of him) author of Rights of Man, Age of Reason – Common Sense, &c &c &c / 1824 /                                                                                                    Clio Rickman

John Fellows Jr. (1759-1844) was born in Massachusetts. He served in the Revolutionary War in the siege of Boston and Battle of Bunker Hill. He graduated from Yale College in 1783, and became a New York City bookseller and publisher. He supported Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic Republicans and wrote books on freemasonry and the controversy over Israel Putnam’s actions during the Revolution. After Paine returned to the United States, he boarded for a year in the same house with Fellows. Later in life, Fellows was an auctioneer and a constable in the city courts. Fellows compiled Posthumous Pieces by Elihu Palmer, published in London in 1824. He was also a contributor to and occasional editor of The Beacon (1836-1851), a free-thinking newspaper and journal published in New York City.

Elihu Palmer (1764-1806) founded a deist society in New York and began publication of two deist journals, the Temple of Reason, in Philadelphia, and The Prospect, or View of the Moral World, in New York.

Thomas “Clio” Rickman (1760-1834) was born in England. Like Paine, Rickman was a member of the Headstrong Club, a debating society in Lewes. When Rickman married outside the Quaker faith, the Society of Friends expelled him from membership. He moved to London, where in 1783, he established himself as a bookseller, and also wrote political pamphlets, republican songs, and poetry. Paine lived with Rickman’s family in London for a year when completing the second part of The Rights of Man in 1791 and 1792. Rickman published his biography, Life of Paine, in 1819.

Thomas Paine spent the first part of his life in England, unsuccessfully working as a tobacconist and schoolmaster. In London, he met Benjamin Franklin, who wrote letters of introduction describing him as an “ingenious and worthy young man” (LBF V1, 1906 p. 248-249). Paine arrived in Philadelphia in December, 1774, and became editor of the Pennsylvania Magazine. His Common Sense, published in January 1776, inspired many to support the Patriot cause. Paine gave up his editorship and joined the army as an aide to General Nathaniel Greene. While in the army, he wrote the Crisis, beginning, “These are the times that try men’s souls...”. George Washington ordered it read to his army, where it did much to inspire his troops before Trenton.

In April 1777, Paine was appointed secretary of the Congressional committee on foreign affairs. He resigned in January 1779 after a controversy with Silas Deane, the commissioner to France. Soon after, Paine was appointed clerk of the Pennsylvania Legislature. Making an urgent appeal to the people on behalf of the destitute army, Paine pledged his entire salary to that purpose. In 1784, for his services during the Revolution, the impoverished Paine was recognized by Congress for his services, and the state of New York gave him a 320-acre farm, confiscated from a Loyalist, in New Rochelle in Westchester County, New York.

Paine left for Europe in 1787. He was in France in 1789, during that country’s revolution, and spent the next three years between France and England. In 1791-92, Paine published his Rights of Man, which made him a wanted man in England. Returning to France regarded as a hero, he was elected to the National Convention. After he voted against beheading the king, however, the Jacobins turned on him, deciding Paine was not radical enough. In 1793, they expelled him, and he was arrested and committed to Luxembourg prison. After the fall of Robespierre, Paine was released in 1794, through the efforts of James Monroe. He then published his Age of Reason, seen as a bitter attack on religion, and a vehement attack on George Washington, whom he blamed for not working to get him out of prison.

After 15 years in Europe, Paine returned to the United States in October 1802, spending part of the 1803-1804 winter in New York City. When he returned to his farm in the spring, the farmer who had been living there for 17 or 18 years, instead of paying rent, presented Paine with a bill for fencing. This led to a lawsuit, for which Paine had to pay legal expenses. Ultimately, Paine sold sixty acres and give the farmer notice to leave in April 1805. After Paine died in 1809, his remains were exhumed and brought to England by Thomas Corbett, where they were refused burial and scattered across the land.