National Geographic : 1974 Jul
print shop near Market and Front Streets; Paine lived in several lodging houses in the neighborhood. They and the print shop have all disappeared. He delighted in the taverns near the wharves that had been filled with political and book talk since the days of Wil liam Penn. His two favorites, the London Cof fee House and the Indian Queen, have long since vanished, and much of the area is sched uled for demolition to make way for Interstate 95. He spent whole days in the two rooms of the Library Company of Philadelphia, on the second floor of Carpenters' Hall; the Library Company moved in 1790. Tom Paine's Philadelphia, a beehive of printing houses, taverns, bookstores, and shops with bright signs of red, yellow, and blue swaying outside, is now a dingy collec tion of wholesalers, eateries, discount houses, and mottled stores, with no emanation of the 18th century. Genius Forged by Adversity "You'll have to get Tom Paine in Philadel phia by historical osmosis," a newspaperman friend assured us, and that you do. After all, you know that somewhere nearby he wrote those spectacular 79 pages, Common Sense. The pamphlet was Patrick Henry on paper. Five hundred thousand colonists-propor tionate to 45,000,000 Americans today in terms of total population-bought it. The grave George Washington, who had been decidedly reserved toward talk of inde pendence, spoke for thousands when he pronounced Common Sense "sound doctrine and unanswerable reasoning." The pamphlet was that rarest of writings: words that dem onstrably changed minds wholesale. Whence came this bombshell human be ing? His life had seemed just another drab story of the poor in 18th-century England. Paine started as an apprentice corset maker, ran away to sea, tried his hand as teacher, exciseman, tobacconist, groceryman, and rarely was far from debtor's prison. He haunted bookshops and lecture halls; people shrugged at his yearnings. A young widower, he married again only to have the union end in separation. With a hapless middle age approaching, he did what so many other down-on-their-luck Englishmen were doing-scrounged together enough money to sail for the Colonies. In tran sit, a "putrid fever" struck; at Philadelphia he was carried off the ship half dead. Joining ranks: A drummer (above) from Colonial Williamsburg's militia of today falls in beside his girl after the town muster (below), where the cloudy breath of "Brown Bess"