Description

    Thomas Paine Autograph Letter Signed. One page, 8" x 13". [Philadelphia], addressed to Philadelphia merchant Thomas Willing with the attached integral address leaf. Willing, president of the first national bank, the Bank of North America, an institution passionately defended by Paine throughout the Pennsylvania bank controversy of 1785-6. Here Paine intercedes on behalf of the man he considered his closest friend, Colonel Joseph Kirkbride. He writes: "Dear Sir, A very intimate friend of mine Col. Kirkbride, has a Bond of Mr. Rich[ar]d Perm for about £1000 - he has a present occasion for 400, for 6 or 7 month - His landed Estate is in Pennsylvania - He called on me this morning and mentioned these with other circumstances to me, accompanied with a wish, that if it was convenient for me whether I could accommodate him with that sum for that time, I acquainted him with the manner in which what money I had would be desposed [sic] of, which puts it out of my power to oblige him. // My desire to serve him on any occasion induces me to mention this circumstance to you - I believe it is not regularly within the line of business done in the Bank - but as he can deposit real security to a great deal more amount, it would give me much pleasure to be the means of promoting his convenience -1 intended waiting on you this Evening on this occasion, but as I cannot I must defer it until the morning. I am Dear Sir your obedt. Humble Servant..."

    The lives of the three men brought together in this letter by Thomas Paine intersected in remarkable ways against the tumult and struggle of America's revolutionary beginnings. With a British invasion threatening Philadelphia in 1777, Thomas Paine urged the terrified population to stand and fight, but in late September, with over a third of the city evacuated, he was also forced to flee, wandering for the next nine months, alternately serving as an aide-de-camp to General Greene, meeting with General Washington, and acting as an intelligence officer for beleaguered American forces. Finally, in November, he took refuge for two weeks at Bellevue Farm, the Bucks County home of his close friend Joseph Kirkbride. Here, Paine knew he would be "welcomed, well fed and generally pampered... Kirkbride greatly admired Paine, and their lifelong friendship (Paine considered him his closest friend) was cemented by remarkably similar experiences and ideas... Kirkbride had played an active role locally in the events leading up to the Declaration of Independence and was a member of the convention that had drawn up and agreed to Pennsylvania's new state constitution. At the time of Paine's visit, during the first half of November 1777, Kirkbride was an elected member of the Assembly, colonel of the First Battalion of Bucks County Associators, and in charge of recruiting soldiers and raising arms and general supplies in a county exposed to British invasion." Later, in 1783, poverty compelled Paine to "leave his Second Street lodgings [in Philadelphia] and move in with the Kirkbride family in Bordentown," where the family resided after the British burned down their Bucks County farm (Keane, 162-4, 243). Paine was able to accept an offer from Washington to visit him only after recovering from scarlet fever at the Kirkbrides, and returned to his friend's home in late December, where he bought a plot of land near the Colonel's farm, wintering there until he learned of an honorarium awarding him a farm outside New York City. In 1785, Paine again stayed with the Kirkbrides, enlisting help for a plan that expressed Paine's ongoing fascination with bridges-this time with hopes of building a wrought-iron bridge across Philadelphia's Schuylkill River. Throughout the summer of 1786, Colonel Kirkbride's farm served as the base for Paine's attempts to perfect his plan, one finally frustrated by a dubious Pennsylvania legislature. Paine continued to rely on Colonel Kirkbride throughout his life, knowing his oldest friend would support him, like a brother, in times of illness, poverty and controversy, and was devastated in the winter of 1803-4 when he "heard news from Bordentown that two of his dearest friends had died. The deaths of Samuel Adams and Colonel Kirkbride in October deeply upset him" (Fruchtman, 408). Testimony of their friendship is evident in this letter.

    The recipient of Paine's letter, Thomas Willing, was an early and influential leader in Colonial Pennsylvania. During the early 1770s Willing spoke strongly in favor of colonial rights and in 1774 was named president of the first Provincial Congress of Pennsylvania. He served on the Second Continental Congress, where he notably voted against the resolution for independence on July 1, 1776. He didn't believe the Colonies were prepared for war; but supported the effort once war began. After the close of the war, he served as president of the Bank of North America, the first national bank. Foldlines for three panels, addressed in the center panel of the rear page, "Thomas Willing Esquire, Third Street near Walnut Street," with "Autograph Thomas Paine" written on the upper right of third panel. Trace of red wax seal, lightest toning of fold lines to rear page, signatures bold and fine. An impressive letter, ideal for display.


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    April, 2007
    16th-17th Monday-Tuesday
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