Robert Treat Paine, Illustration

Thomas Cushing was friends with Samuel Adams and John Hancock, and served in the First and Second Continental Congress. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Robert Treat Paine

March 11, 1731–May 11, 1814

Robert Treat Paine is a Founding Father who was a delegate from Massachusetts to the First Continental Congress and signed the Articles of Association, which set up the Continental Association. He was also elected to the Second Continental Congress, signed the Olive Branch Petition, and signed the Declaration of Independence.

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Biography of Robert Treat Paine, a Founding Father of the United States

Robert Treat Paine was a politician from Massachusetts who rose to prominence during the American Revolution and became a Founding Father. He led the prosecution in the case against Captain Thomas Preston and his men, who were tried for their actions at the Boston Massacre. Afterward, Paine served in the Massachusetts General Court. When the court was dissolved by the Massachusetts Government Act, Paine was elected to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. He was elected as a delegate to the First Continental Congress and signed the Articles of Association. He returned to the Second Continental Congress and signed the Olive Branch Petition and the Declaration of Independence. In December 1776, he returned to Massachusetts and became involved in state politics. He served in the House of Representatives, helped draft the state constitution, and was elected Attorney General. In the office of the Attorney General, he oversaw the trials of the participants of Shays’ Rebellion. Paine retired in 1804.

The Bloody Massacre, Engraving, Revere

This famous engraving by Paul Revere depicts the Boston Massacre. Paine was the prosecuting attorney in the case. Image Source: Library of Congress.

5 Quick Facts About Robert Treat Paine

  1. Robert Treat Paine was born on March 11, 1731, in Boston, Massachusetts. His parents were Thomas Paine and Eunice Treat.
  2. His father was a minister, and he was expected to follow in the same profession. He studied at the Boston Latin School and Harvard. After he graduated, he worked as a teacher and then went to work as a merchant marine, which took him to the Southern Colonies, Europe, and Britain. When he returned to Massachusetts, he decided to become a lawyer, and eventually served as the associate prosecuting attorney in the Boston Massacre Trials.
  3. In 1779, he played an important role in the passage of the Massachusetts constitution. Paine was a member of the Governor’s Executive Council and a delegate to the state convention that wrote and ratified the constitution.
  4. His son, Thomas, legally changed his name, so he would not be associated with Thomas Paine, the author of “Common Sense.” Robert’s son was born in December 1773 and was named after Robert’s father. However, the son felt the name more associated him with Thomas Paine, the author and deist, with whom the son disagreed on religious views. The son had his name legally changed to Robert Treat Paine, just like his father.
  5. Paine died on May 11, 1814, in Boston. He is buried in the Granary Burying Ground.

Robert Treat Paine and the American Revolution

Signer of the Continental Association

On October 20, 1774, Paine, John Adams, Samuel Adams, and Thomas Cushing were four of the 53 delegates to the First Continental Congress that agreed to impose a trade boycott against British merchants. The colonies put the boycott in an effort to force King George III and Parliament to repeal the Coercive Acts. The delegates signed the Articles of Association, which set up the Continental Association, an organization that was responsible for enforcing compliance with the boycott throughout the colonies. It was the first time that all 13 Original Colonies agreed to a unified boycott against Britain.

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Signer of the Olive Branch Petition

On July 5, 1775, the Second Continental Congress approved a letter written by John Dickinson, a delegate from Pennsylvania who pushed for reconciliation with Britain, not revolution. On July 8, 48 of the delegates, including Paine, signed the letter, which is known as the Olive Branch Petition, and it was sent to London. King George III refused the letter in light of the armed conflict that started on April 19 with the Battle of Lexington. Soon after, the King issued the Proclamation of Rebellion and authorized British officials to “suppress such rebellion, and bring the traitors to justice.”

Signer of the Declaration of Independence

On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee made a motion that Congress should vote on independence. A committee was created, which included Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin, for the purpose of drafting a document. On June 28, the Declaration of Independence was presented to Congress, and the delegates voted to approve it on July 2. After two days of debates and editing, the final draft was adopted and 56 men, including, Paine, signed it.

Significance of Robert Treat Paine, Founding Father

Robert Treat Paine is important to the history of the United States because he is a Founding Father. He helped shape the foundation of the United States by signing the Articles of Association and Declaration of Independence. He also played an important role in the development of the state of Massachusetts.

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Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Robert Treat Paine
  • Coverage March 11, 1731–May 11, 1814
  • Author
  • Keywords Robert Treat Paine, American Revolution, Boston Massacre, Boston Massacre Trials, First Continental Congress, Continental Association, Second Continental Congress, Olive Branch Petition, Declaration of Independence
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date August 19, 2022
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 14, 2022
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