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Robert Treat Paine

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Title: Robert Treat Paine  
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Subject: Signing of the United States Declaration of Independence, Declaration of Independence (Trumbull), United States Declaration of Independence, Richard Henry Lee, Memorial to the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence
Collection: 1731 Births, 1814 Deaths, American Congregationalists, American People of English Descent, Boston Latin School Alumni, Burials at Granary Burying Ground, Continental Congressmen from Massachusetts, Fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University Alumni, Massachusetts Attorneys General, Massachusetts Lawyers, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Justices, Members of the Colonial Massachusetts House of Representatives, People from Taunton, Massachusetts, People of Colonial Massachusetts, People of Massachusetts in the American Revolution, Signers of the United States Declaration of Independence
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Robert Treat Paine

Robert Treat Paine
Robert Treat Paine
by Edward Savage &
John Coles, Jr. Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston.
Born (1731-03-11)March 11, 1731
Boston, Massachusetts, British America
Died May 11, 1814(1814-05-11) (aged 83)
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
Cause of death Poor health
Resting place Granary Burying Ground, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
Residence Taunton, Massachusetts
Education Harvard College
Occupation Lawyer
Known for Signer of the Declaration of Independence
Religion Unitarianism
Spouse(s) Sally Cobb (m. 1770-1814; his death); she died in 1816
Children 8

Robert Treat Paine (March 11, 1731 – May 11, 1814) was a Massachusetts lawyer and politician, best known as a signer of the Declaration of Independence as a representative of Massachusetts. He served as the state's first attorney general, and served as an associate justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, the state's highest court.


  • Early life and ancestors 1
  • Education 2
  • Legal career 3
  • Family and legacy 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

Early life and ancestors

Robert Treat Paine was born in Boston, Massachusetts, British America on March 11, 1731. He was one of five children of the Rev. Thomas Paine and Eunice (Treat) Paine.[1] His father was pastor of Franklin Road Baptist Church in Weymouth but moved his family to Boston in 1730 and subsequently became a merchant there. His mother was the daughter of Rev. Samuel Treat, one of the principal founders of Newark, New Jersey. The Treat family in particular had a long history in the British colonies dating back to the Mayflower.


Paine attended the Boston Latin School and at the age of fourteen entered Harvard College, from which institution he graduated in 1749 at age 18. He then was engaged in teaching school for several years back at the Boston Latin and at Lunenburg, Massachusetts. He also attempted a merchant career with journeys to the Carolinas, the Azores, and to Spain, as well as a whaling voyage to Greenland. He began the study of law in 1755 with his mother's cousin in Lancaster, Massachusetts. Another cousin, Col. Samuel Willard, raised a regiment to fight in the French and Indian War.

Paine was unsuccessful in gaining an officer's commission in that regiment and so volunteered to serve as chaplain. When he returned from a brief military campaign to Lake George (the Crown Point Expedition), he did some occasional preaching and returned to his legal studies. In 1756 he returned to Boston to continue his legal preparations with Samuel Prat, and he was admitted to the bar in 1757. He first considered establishing his law practice at Portland (then part of Massachusetts but now in Maine), but instead in 1761 moved to Taunton, Massachusetts, then back to Boston in 1780.[2]

Legal career

Statue of Robert Treat Paine (1904), Taunton, Massachusetts.

In 1768 he was a delegate to the provincial convention which was called to meet in Boston and along with Samuel Quincy conducted the prosecution of Captain Thomas Preston and his British soldiers following the Boston Massacre of March 5, 1770. John Adams was opposing counsel, and his arguments won the jury's sway, and most of the troops were let off.

Paine served in the Massachusetts General Court from 1773 to 1774, in the Provincial Congress from 1774 to 1775, and represented Massachusetts at the Continental Congress from 1774 through 1776. In Congress, he signed the final appeal to the king (the Olive Branch Petition of 1775), and helped frame the rules of debate and acquire gunpowder for the coming war, and in 1776 was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.[3]

He returned to Massachusetts at the end of December 1776 and was speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1777, a member of the executive council in 1779, a member of the committee that drafted the state constitution in 1780. He was Massachusetts Attorney General from 1777 to 1790 and prosecuted the treason trials following Shays' Rebellion.[4] In 1780, He was a charter member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[5] He later served as a justice of the state supreme court from 1790 to 1804 when he retired. When he died at the age of 83 in 1814 he was buried in Boston's Granary Burying Ground.[6] A statue to commemorate him was erected in the Church Green area of Taunton.[7]

Robert Treat Paine was a Congregationalist and a devout Christian. When his church, the First Church of Boston, moved into Unitarianism, Paine followed that path.

Family and legacy

Paine married Sally Cobb, the daughter of Thomas and Lydia (née Leonard) Cobb and a sister of General David Cobb, on March 15, 1770. She was born May 15, 1744 and died June 6, 1816.

They were the parents of eight children:

  • Robert Paine, b. May 14, 1770; d. July 28, 1798, died unmarried. Graduate of Harvard College, 1789.
  • Sally Paine, b. March 7, 1772; d. January 26, 1823, died unmarried.
  • Thomas Paine, b. December 9, 1773; name changed by law in 1801 to Robert Treat Paine, Jr.; d. November 13, 1811. Graduate of Harvard College, 1792.
  • Charles Paine, b. August 30, 1775; d. February 15, 1810. Graduate of Harvard College, 1793.
  • Henry Paine, b. October 20, 1777; d. June 8, 1814; m. Olive Lyman, daughter of Theodore Lyman (1755–1839). Issue.
  • Mary Paine, b. February 9, 1780; d. February 27, 1842; m. Rev. Elisha Clap, no issue.
  • Maria Antoinetta Paine, b. December 2, 1782; d. March 26, 1842; m. Deacon Samuel Greele, no issue.
  • Lucretia Paine, b. April 30, 1785; d. Aug. 27, 1823, died unmarried.

Some of his notable descendants include;


  1. ^ Sarah Cushing Paine (1912). Paine Ancestry. The family of Robert Treat Paine, Signer of the Declaration of Independence. Boston, Mass.: Dabid Clapp & Son. p. 317. Retrieved 2009-11-11. 
  2. ^ "A Sense of Honor and Duty: Robert Treat Paine (1731–1814) of Massachusetts and the new nation," by Edward W. Hanson. Ph.D. dissertation, Boston College, 1992.
  3. ^ American National Biography, sub Paine, Robert Treat
  4. ^ "Robert Treat Paine, Attorney General" by Edward W. Hanson, in Massachusetts Legal History 8 (2002):95-123
  5. ^ "Charter of Incorporation of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved July 28, 2014. 
  6. ^ Biographical Sketches of those who attended Harvard College, by Clifford K. Shipton (Boston, 1962), 12:462-482; The Papers of Robert Treat Paine, vols. 1-2 edited by Stephen T. Riley and Edward W. Hanson (Boston, 1992), vol. 3 edited by Edward W. Hanson (Boston, 2005).
  7. ^ frontispiece in Two Men of Taunton in the course of human events, 1731-1829 by Ralph Davol. Taunton, Mass., 1912
  8. ^ Negri, Gloria (September 27, 2006). "Robert Treat Paine Storer Jr., philanthropist". The Boston Globe. 

External links

Legal offices
Title last held by
Jonathan Sewall
as Attorney General of the Province of Massachusetts Bay
Attorney General of Massachusetts
Succeeded by
James Sullivan
Preceded by
David Sewall
Associate Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
Seat ended
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