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Abolition Of The Slave Trade

You are in: Norfolk > Abolition Of The Slave Trade > A Thetford son's stand against slavery

Thomas Paine.

Thetford's son: Thomas Paine

A Thetford son's stand against slavery

Thomas Paine, one of the instrumental figures in the American and French revolutions, was born in Thetford, Norfolk. A writer and political thinker, he was one of the first to add his voice to the abolition of slavery.

Thomas Paine is Thetford's most famous son, having cemented his reputation through his influence in the American and French revolutions and popularising the use of the term, the United States of America.

As a democratic campaigner and writer, the corset-maker's son was one of the first people to add his voice to the anti-slavery fight while living in America.

Paine's 1775 essay, African Slavery In America, was published in the Pennsylvania Journal. 

The piece paved the way for the country's first anti-slavery society to be set up just a few weeks later, with Paine one of its founders.

Thetford's Thomas Paine statue.

The statue sparked the Thomas Paine Society

The equal rights champion was born in 1737 and left Thetford when he was 19.

Close to 300 years later, the Thomas Paine Society works to keep his memory alive, especially in his birthplace where the inequality of the voting and legal systems helped to shape his radical views.

Thetford tour

Society chairman Chad Goodwin took us on a video tour of the Breckland town, stopping at the statue dedicated to the political free-thinker, who frightened the British establishment with his ideas of democracy and republicanism.

The monument, outside King's House, is not just the starting point for the film but was also the igniting spark for the society in 1963.

The organisation was founded in response to a national headline-hitting row over whether there should be a tribute to a man, who some people in the town still regarded as a traitor.

The second part of the tour also takes in the site of his birth - which is now occupied by the Thomas Paine Hotel - and his school, which still stands today.

Best-selling author

Thomas Paine penned the 18th century's three best-selling books including The Rights Of Man, which sculptor Sir Charles Wheeler set upside down in his Thetford statue to create a talking point.

It was in this work that Paine gave strong support to the French Revolution, before entering the country's parliament - after being hounded out of England - and then prison under the Reign Of Terror.

Thetford Grammar School.

Paine attended Thetford Grammar School

Lucky escape

Sentenced to death, a stroke of luck combined with ingenuity, saved him from the guillotine.

An ill Paine had the door of his shared prison cell open on the morning when the guard was putting a chalk cross on the cells of those to be executed later that day.

After the guard disappeared Paine's fellow inmates shut the door, so the cross couldn't be seen.

Days later, one of the architects of The Terror, Robespierre, fell from position which meant Paine then walked free.

American independence

Having emigrated to America in 1774 on the advice of one of the country's founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, Paine's 1776 pamphlet Common Sense is said to have swung American popular opinion in favour of independence from Britain.

After establishing his position as one of the country's key political thinkers and now unwelcome in Britain, Paine returned to America in 1802. He died just a few years later in 1809 in New York.

Towards the end of his life he was shunned for his ideas, and his funeral was attended by just six people, two of who were believed to be freed slaves.

last updated: 09/04/2008 at 12:29
created: 28/03/2007

You are in: Norfolk > Abolition Of The Slave Trade > A Thetford son's stand against slavery

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