Thomas Paine

James Watson (c. 1740–1790), after Charles Willson Peale
Mezzotint, 1783

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

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In 1779 Henry Laurens commissioned Charles Willson Peale to paint a portrait of Thomas Paine that he intended to take with him as he sailed to Holland to raise money for the Continental Congress. Laurens was captured by a British ship on the high seas and the Peale portrait was confiscated. Eventually finding its way into the hands of a Paine admirer, it was engraved in 1783. “A portrait of Common Sense may be had . . . by sending to the printshops in London,” a sharp-eyed Marylander reported, “but they have put a wrong name to it, his being Thomas.”

The original oil painting has dropped from sight, as has the duplicate that Peale added to his collection of likenesses of those who had played major roles in the American Revolution.

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