The Hall Manuscripts, ed. by Moncure Conway

                          THE HALL MANUSCRIPTS

IN 1785, John Hall, an able mechanician and admirable man, emigrated from Leicester, England, to Philadelphia. He carried letters to Paine, who found him a man after his own heart. I am indebted to his relatives, Dr. Dutton Steele of Philadelphia and the Misses Steele, for Hall’s journals, which extend over many years. It will be seen that the papers are of historical importance apart from their records concerning Paine. Hall’s entries of his daily intercourse with Paine, which he never dreamed would see the light, represent a portraiture such as has rarely been secured of any character in history. The extent already reached by this work compels me to omit much that would impress the reader with the excellent work of John Hall himself, who largely advanced ironwork in New Jersey, and whose grave at Flemmington, surrounded by those of the relatives that followed him, and near the library and workshop he left, merits a noble monument.

Philadelphia, August 30, 785.

“I went a day or two past with the Captain and his lady to see the exhibition of patriotic paintings. Paine the author of Common Sense is amongst them. He went from England (had been usher to a school) on board the same vessel that our Captain [Coltman] went in last time; their acquaintance then commenced and has continued ever since. He resides now in Bordentown in the jerseys, and it is probable that I may see him before it be long as when he comes to town the Captain says he is sure to call on him. It is supposed the various States have made his circumstances easy – General Washington, said if they did not provide for him he would himself. I think his services were as useful as the sword.”

“Journal, 1785. Nov. 16th. Received a Letter from Mr. Pain by his Boy, informing us of his coming this day. Between 3 and 4 Mr. Pain, Col. Kerbright [Kirkbride], and another gentleman came to our door in a waggon.

“17th. At dinner Mr. Pain told us a tale of the Indians, he being at a meeting of them with others to settle some affairs in 1776. The Doctor visited Mr. Pain.

“19th. Performed a trifling operation for Mr. Pain.

“22d. A remark of Mr. Pain’s – not to give a deciding opinion between two persons you are in friendship with, lest you lose one by it; whilst doing that between two persons, your supposed enemies, may make one your friend.

“24th. This evening pulled Mr. Pain’s Boy a tooth out.

“Dec. 12. With much pain drawd the Board in at Hanna’s chamber window to work Mr. Pain’s bridge on. I pinned 6 more arches together which makes the whole 9. I sweat at it; Mr. Pain gives me some wine and water as I was very dry. Past 9 o’clock Dr. Hutchinson called in on Mr. Paine.”

“Sunday, Jan. 1st 1786. Mr. Paine went to dine with Dr. Franklin today; staid till after tea in the evening. They tried the burning of our candles by blowing a gentle current through them. It greatly improved the light. The draught of air is prevented by passing through a cold tube of tallow. The tin of the new lamp by internal reflections is heated and causes a constant current. This is the Doctor’s conjecture. [Concerning Paine’s candle see Conway, “The Life of Thomas Paine”, i., p.214.]

“Feb. 25th. Mr. Paine not returned. We sent to all the places we could suppose him to be at and no tidings of him. We became very unhappy fearing his political enemies should have shown him foul play. Went to bed at 10 o.c., and about 2 o.c. a knocking at the door proves Mr. Paine.

“March 10th. Before 7 o.c., a brother saint-maker came with a model of machine to drive boats against stream1. He had communicated his scheme to H. who had made alterations and a company had taken it and refused saint-maker partnership. He would fain have given it to Mr. Paine or me, but I a stranger refused and Mr. Paine had enough hobbys of his own. Mr. Paine pointed out a mode to simplify his apparatus greatly. He gave him 5s. to send him one of his maps.

“April 15th. Mr. Paine asked me to go and see Indian Chiefs of Sennaka Nation, I gladly assented. They have an interpreter. Mr. Paine wished to see him and made himself known to him by past remembrance as Common Sense, and was introduced into the room, addressed them as”brothers” and shook hands cordially Mr. Paine treated them with 2s. bowl of punch.

“Bordentown Letter, May 28. Colonel Kirkbride is the gentleman in whose family I am. My patron [Paine] is likewise a boarder and makes his home here I am diligently employed in Saint making, now in Iron that I had before finished in wood, with some improvements, but you may come and see what it is

“Letter, June 4. Skepticism and Credulity are as general here as elsewhere, for what I see. In this town is a Quaker meeting and one of another class – I suppose of the Baptist cast – And a person in town a Tailor by trade that goes about a-soul-mending on Sundays to various places, as most necessary, or I suppose advantageous, to himself; for by one trade or the other he has built himself a very elegant frame house in this town. This man’s way to Heaven is somewhat different to the other. I am informed he makes publick dippings &c. My Employer has Common Sense enough to disbelieve most of the Common Systematic Theories of Divinity but does not seem to establish any for himself. The Colonel [Kirkbride] is as Free as John Coltman.”

[Under date of New York, July 31st, Hall writes an account of a journey with Paine to Morrisania, to visit Gen. Morris, and afterwards to the farm at New Rochelle, of which he gives particulars already known to my reader.]

Letter of Paine to John Hall, at Capt. Coltman’s, in Letitia Court, Market St, between Front and Second St. Philadelphia:

“Bordentown, Sept. 22, 1786. Old Friend: In the first place I have settled with Mr. Gordon for the time he has been in the house – in the second I have put Mrs. Read who, you know has part of our house Col. Kirkbride’s but is at this time at Lancaster, in possession by putting part of her goods into it2. By this means we shall have room at our house (Col. Kirkbride) for carrying on our operations. As Philadelphia is so injurious to your health and as apartments at Win. Foulke’s would not be convenient to you, we can now conveniently make room for you here. Mrs. Kirkbride mentioned this to me herself and it is by the choice of both her and Col. K. that I write it to you. I wish you could come up to-morrow (Sunday) and bring the iron with you. I shall be backward and forward between here and Philadelphia pretty often until the elections are over, but we can make a beginning here and what more iron we may want we can get at the Delaware Works. and if you should want to go to Mount Hope you can more conveniently go from here than from Philadelphia – thus you see I have done your business since I have been up. The enclosed letter is for Mr. Henry who is member for Lancaster County. I do not know where he lodges, but if William will be so good as to give it to the door keeper or Clerk of the Assembly it will be safe. Bring up the walnut strips with you. Your coming here will give an opportunity to Joseph to get acquainted with Col. K. who will very freely give any information in his power. Compts. in the family.

“Your friend and Hbl. servt.”

Undated letter of Paine to John Hall, in Philadelphia:

“Fryday Noon. Old Friend: Inclosed (as the man said by the horse) I send you the battau, as I wish to present it as neat and clean as can be done; I commit it to your care. The sooner it is got on Board the vessel the better. I shall set off from here on Monday and expect to be in New York on Tuesday. I shall take all the tools that are here with me, and wish you would take some with you, that if we should get on a working fit we may have some to work with. Let me hear from you by the Sunday’s boat and send me the name of the vessel and Captain you go with and what owners they belong to at New York, or what merchants they go to. I wrote to you by the last boat, and Peter tells me he gave the letter to Capt. Haines, but Joe says that he enquired for letters and was told there was none – wishing you an agreeable voyage and meeting at New York, I am your friend, and humble servant. Present my compliments to Capt. and Mrs. Coltman and William. Col. and Mrs. Kirkbride’s and Polly’s compt.”

Note of Hall, dated Oct. 3 [1786].

“Dashwood Park, of Captain Roberts: On Thursday morning early Sept. 28th I took the stage wagon for Trenton. Jo had gone up by water the day before to a sale of land and a very capital iron works and nailing with a large corn mill. It was a fair sale there was a forge and rolling and slitting mill upon an extensive scale the man has failed – The works with about 60 or 70 acres of land were sold for .-L-9000 currency. Then was put up about 400 acres of land and sold for -L-2700 currency and I believe a good bargain; and bought by a friend of mine called Common Sense – Who I believe had no idea of purchasing it when he came there. He took Jo to Bordentown with him that night and they came to look at it the next day; then Jo went into the jerseys to find a countryman named Burges but was disappointed. Came back to Bordentown and on Saturday looked all over Mr. Paine’s purchase along with him and believes it bought well worth money.”

“Nov. 21st. Mr. Paine told us an anecdote of a French,.noble’s applying to Dr. Franklin, as the Americans had put away their King, and that nation having formerly chosen a King from Normandy, he offered his service and wished him to lay his letter before Congress. Mr. Paine observed that Britain is the most expensive government in the world. She gives a King a million a year and falls down and worships him. I put on Mr. Paine’s hose yesterday. Last night he brought me in my room a pair of warm cloth overshoes as feel very comfortable this morning. Had a wooden pot stove stand betwixt my feet by Mr. Paine’s desire and found it kept my feet warm.

“November 24. As soon as breakfast was over mounted Button [Paine’s horse] and set off for Philadelphia. I brought Mr. Paine $120 in gold and silver.

“Bordentown 27th, Monday. Day was devoted to rivetting the bars, and punching the upper bar for the bannisters [of the bridge]. Mr. Kirkbride and Polly went to hear a David Jones’ preach a rhodomontade sermon about the Devil, Mary Magdalen, and against Deists, etc.

“December 14. This day employed in raising and putting on the abutments again and fitting them. The smith made the, nuts of screws to go easier. Then set the ribs at proper distance, and after dinner I and Jackaway [?] put on some temporary pieces on the frame of wood to hold it straight, and when Mr. Pain came they then tied it on its wooden frame with strong cords. I then saw that it had bulged full on one side and hollow on the other. I told him of it, and he said it was done by me – I denied that and words rose high. I at length swore by God that it was straight when I left it, he replied as positively the contrary, and I think myself ill used in this affair.

“Philadelphia. Dec. 22nd. Bridge packed and tied on the sled. We arrived in town about 5 o’clock took our bags to Capt. Coltmans, and then went down to Dr. Franklin’s, and helped unload the bridge. Mr. Paine called on me; gave us: an anecdote of Dr. Franklin. On Mr. Paine asking him of the value of any new European publication; he had not been informed of any of importance. There were some religious posthumous anecdotes of Doctor Johnson, of resolves he had made and broken though he had prayed for power and strength to keep them; which showed the Doctor said that he had not much interest there. And such things had better be suppressed as nobody had anything to do betwixt God and man.

“December 26. Went with Glentworth to see the Bridge at Dr. Franklin’s. Coming from thence met Mr. Pain and Mr. Rittenhouse; returned with them and helped move it for all three to stand upon, and then turned it to examine. Mr. Rittenhouse has no doubt of its strength and sufficiency for the Schuylkill, but wished to know what quantity of iron [it would require] as he seemed to think it too expensive.

“December 27. Walk to the State House. The Bank bill called but postponed until tomorrow. Mr. Pain’s letter read, and leave given to exhibit the Bridge at the State House to be viewed by the members. Left the House and met Mr. Pain, who told me Donnalson had been to see and [stand] upon his Bridge, and admitted its strength and powers. Then took a walk beyond Vine street, and passed by the shop where the steamboat apparatus is. Mr. Pain at our house, and talking on the Bank affair brought on a dispute between Mr. Pain and the Captain [Coltman] in which words were very high. A reflection from Captain C. on publications in favour of the Bank having lost them considerable, he [Paine] instantly took that as a reflection on himself, and swore by G-d, let who would, it was a lie. I then left the room and went up stairs. They quarrelled a considerable time, but at length parted tolerably coolly. Dinner being ready I went down; but the Captain continued talking about politics and the Bank, and what he thought the misconduct of Mr. Pain in his being out and in with the several parties. I endeavoured to excuse Mr. Pain in some things relating thereto, by saying it was good sense in changing his ground when any party was going wrong, – and that be seemed to delight in difficulties, in Mechanics particularly, and was pleased in them. The Captain grew warm, and said he knew now he could not eat his dinner. [Here followed a sharp personal quarrel between Hall and Coltman.] In the evening Mr. Paine came in and wished me to be assisting in carrying the model to the State House. We went to Dr. Franklin’s and fetched the Bridge to the Committee Room.

“1787. Jan. 1. Our Saint I have assisted in moving to the State House and there placed in their Committee room, as by a letter addressed to this Speaker they admitted. And by the desire of my patron (who is not an early riser), I attended to give any information to inquiries until he came. And then I was present when the Assembly with their Speaker inspected it and many other persons as philosophers, Mechanics Statesmen and even Tailors. I observed their sentiments and opinions of it were as different as their features. The philosopher said it would add new light to the great utility. And the tailor (for it is an absolute truth) remarked it cut a pretty figure. It is yet to be laid (or by the by stand) before the Council of State. Then the Philosophical Society and all the other Learned Bodies in this city. And then to be canonised by an Act of State which is solicited to incorporate a body of men to adopt and realise or Brobdinag this our Lilliputian handywork, that is now 13 feet long on a Scale of one to 24. And then will be added another to the world’s present Wonders.

“January 4. Mr. Pain called in and left me the intended Act of Assembly for a Bridge Company, who are to subscribe $33,330.50, and then are to be put in possession of the present Bridge and premises to answer the interest of their money until they erect a new one; and after they have erected a new one, and the money arising from it amounts to more than pays interest, it is to become a fund to pay off the principal stockholders, and then the Bridge to become free. Mr. Pain called in; I gave him my Bill – told him I had charged one day’s work and a pair of gloves.

“March 15th. Mr. Paine’s boy called on time to [inquire] of the money spent. Mr. Paine called this evening; told me of his being with Dr. Franklin and about the chess player, or Automaton, and that the Dr. had no idea of the mode of communication. Mr. Paine has had several visitors, as Mr. Jowel, Rev. Dr. Logan, &c.

“Sunday April 16th. Prepared to attend Mr. Paine up to Bordentown. Mr. Paine’s horse and chair came, mounted and drove through a barren sandy country arrived at Bordentown at half past one-o’clock for dinner. This is the pleasantest situation I have seen in this country.”

“TRENTON, April 20.

“Sitting in the house saw a chair pass down the street with a red coat on, and going out after it believed it to be Mr. Paine, so followed him up to Collins’s, where he was enquiring where I boarded. I just then called to him, and went with him to Whight’s Tavern, and there he paid me the money I had laid down for him. He is now going for England by way of France in the French packet which sails the 25th instant. He asked me to take a ride, and as the stage was not come in and he going the road I gladly took the opportunity, as I could return on meeting the stage. On the journey he told me of the Committee’s proceedings on Bridges and Sewers; anecdotes of Dr. Franklin, who had sent a letter by him to the president, or some person, to communicate to the Society of Civil Architects, who superintend solely over bridges in France. The model is packed up to go with him. The Doctor, though full of employ from the Vice President being ill, and the numerous visitors on State business, and others that his fame justly procures him, could hardly be supposed to pay great attention to trifles; but as he considers Mr. Paine his adopted political Son he would endeavor to write by him to his friends, though Mr. Paine did not press, for reasons above. In 2 or 3 days he sent him up to Bordentown no less than a dozen letters to his acquaintance in France. He told me many anecdotes of the Doctor, relating to national and political concerns, and observations of many aged and sensible men of his acquaintance in that country. And the treaty that he the Doctor made with the late King of Prussia by adding an article that, should war ever break out, (though never a probability of it) Commerce should be left free. The Doctor said he showed it to the French minister, Vergennes, who said it met his idea, and was such as he would make even with England, though he knew they would not, – they were so fond of robbing and plundering. And the Doctor had gathered a hint from a Du Quesney that no nation could properly expect to gain by endeavoring to suppress his neighbor, for riches were to be gained from amongst the rich and not from poor neighbors; and a National reciprocity was as much necessary as a domestic one, or [inter-]national trade as necessary to be free as amongst the people of a country, Such and many more hints passed in riding 2 or 3 miles, until we met the stage. I then shook hands and wished him a good voyage and parted.”

Letter from Flemmington, N. J., May 16, 1788, to John Coltman, Leicester, England:


“Tell that disbelieving sceptical Infidel thy Father that he has wounded my honor, What! Bought the Coat at a rag shop – does he think I would palm such a falsity both upon Gray and Green heads! Did not I send you word it was General Washington’s. And does he think I shall slanderously brook such a slanderous indignity – No! I tell him the first Ink that meanders from my pen, which shall be instantly on my setting foot on Britains Isle, shall be to call him to account. I’ll haul out his Callous Leaden soul with its brother!

“In the late revolution the provincial army lying near Princeton New Jersey one Sunday General Washington and Common Sense each in their chairs rode down there to Meeting. Common Sense put up his at a friend’s one Mrs. Morgan’s and pulling off his great coat put it in the care of a servant man, and as I remember he was of the pure Irish Extraction; he walked then to meeting and then slipped off with said great coat and some plate of Mr. Morgan. On their return they found what had been done in their absence and relating it to the General his answer was it was necessary to watch as well as pray – but told him he had two and would lend or give him one – and that is the Coat I sent and the fact as related to me and others in public by said [Common Sense]. Nor do I believe that Rome or the whole Romish Church has a better attested miracle in her whole Catalogue than the above though I don’t wish to deem it a miracle, nor do I believe there is any miracle upon record for these 18 hundred years so true as that being General Washington’s great coat. – I, labouring hard for said Common Sense at Bordentown, the said coat was hung up to keep snow out of the room. I often told him I should expect that for my pains, but he never would say I should; but having a chest there I took care and locked it up when I had finished my work, and sent it to you. So far are these historical facts – Maybe sometime hence I may collect dates and periods to them – But why should they be disputed? Has not the world adopted as true a-many affairs without date and of less moment than this, and even pay what is called a holy regard to them?

“If you communicate this to your Father and he feels a compunction for the above crime and will signify the same by letter, he will find I strictly adhere to the precepts of Christianity and shall forgive. – If not –

“My best wishes to you all.

      "JOHN HALL"

Letter of Paine, London, Nov. 25, 1791, to “Mr. John Hall, at Mr. John Coltman’s, Shambles Lane, Leicester, England.”


“I am very happy to see a letter from you, and to hear that our Friends on the other side the water are well. The Bridge has been put up, but being on wood butments they yielded, and it is now taken down. The first rib as an experiment was erected between two steel furnaces which supported it firmly; it contained not quite three tons of iron, was ninety feet span, height of the arch five feet; it was loaded with six tons of iron, which remained upon it a twelve month. At present I am engaged on my political Bridge. I shall bring out a new work (Second part of The Rights of Man ) soon after New Year. It will produce something one way or other. I see the tide is yet the wrong way, but there is a change of sentiment beginning. I have so far got the ear of John Bull that he will read what I write which is more than ever was done before to the same extent. Rights of Man has had the greatest run of anything ever published in this country, at least of late years – almost sixteen thousand has gone off – and in Ireland above forty thousand – besides the above numbers one thousand printed cheap are now gone to Scotland by desire from some of the [friends] there. I have been applied to from Birmingham for leave to print ten thousand copies, but I intend, after the next work has had its run among those who will have handsome printed books and fine paper, to print an hundred thousand copies of each work and distribute them at sixpence a-piece; but this I do not at present talk of, because it will alarm the wise mad folks at St. James’s. I have received a letter from Mr. Jefferson who mentioned the great run it has had there. It has been attacked by John Adams, who has brought an host about his ears from all parts of the Continent. Mr. Jefferson has sent me twenty five different answers to Adams who wrote under the signature of Publicola. A letter is somewhere in the city for me from Mr. Laurens of S. Carolina. I hope to receive it in a few days. I shall be glad at all times to see, or hear from you. Write to me (under cover) to Gordon, Booksellers N: 166 Fleet Street, before you leave Leicester. How far is it from thence to Rotherham?

“Yours Sincerely.

“P. S. I have done you the compliment of answering your favor the inst. I rec’d. it which is more than I have done by any other – were I to ans. all the letters I receive – I should require half a dozen clerks.”

Extracts from John Hall’s letters from London, England:

“LONDON, January 1792

“Burke’s publication has produced one way or other near 50 different answers and publications. Nothing of late ever has been so read as Paine’s answer. Sometime shortly he will publish a second part of The Rights of Man. His first part was scrutinized by the Privy Council held on purpose and through fear of making him more popular deemed too contemptible for Government notice. The sale of it for a day or two was rather retarded or not publickly disposed of until it was known by the printers that it would not be noticed by Government.”

John Hall to a friend in England:

“LONDON, Nov. 6, 1792.

“I dined yesterday with the Revolution Society at the London Tavern. A very large company assembled and after dinner many truly noble and patriotic toasts were drank. The most prominent were The Rights of Man – with 3 times &c. – The Revolution of France – The Revolution of the World – May, all the armies of tyrants learn the Brunswick March – May the tree of Liberty be planted in every tyrant city, and may it be an evergreen. The utmost unanimity prevailed through the company, and several very excellent songs in favor of Liberty were sung. Every bosom felt the divine glow of patriotism and love of universal freedom. I wish you had been there. For my part I was transported at the scene. It happened that a company of Aristocratic French and Spanish merchants were met in the very room under, and Horne Tooke got up and sarcastically requested the company not to wound the tender feelings of the gentlemen by too much festivity. This sarcasm was followed by such a burst of applause as I never before heard.”

From J. Redman, London, Tuesday Dec. 18, 5 p.m. to John Hall, Leicester, England:

“Mr. Paine’s trial is this instant over. Erskine shone like the morning-star. Johnson was there. The instant Erskine closed his speech the venal jury interrupted the Attorney General, who was about to make a reply, and without waiting for any answer, or any summing up by the Judge, pronounced him guilty. Such an instance of infernal corruption is scarcely upon record. I have not time to express my indignant feelings on this occasion. At this moment, while I write, the mob is drawing Erskine’s carriage home, he riding in triumph – his horses led by another party. Riots at Cambridge, Manchester, Bridport Dorset &c. &c. O England, how art thou fallen! I am just now told that press warrants are issued today. February, make haste. Mrs. R’s respects and mine.

“Yours truly.”

[John Hall’s London journal (1792) records frequent meetings there with Paine.

“March 5. Met Mr. Paine going to dress on an invitation to dine with the Athenians. He leaves town for a few days to see his aunt.

“April 20. Mr. Paine goes out of town tomorrow to compose what I call Burke’s Funeral Sermon.

“Aug. 5. Mr. Paine looking well and in high spirits.

“Sept. 6. Mr. Paine called in a short time. Does not seem to talk much, rather on a reserve, of the prospect of political affairs. He had a letter from G. Washington and Jefferson by the ambassador [Pinckney].” The majority of entries merely mention meeting Paine, whose name, by the way, after the prosecution was instituted, Hall prudently writes P__n. [He also tells the story of Burke’s pension.]

“April 19, 1803. Had a ride to Bordentown to see Mr. Paine at Mr. Kirkbride’s. He was well and appeared jollyer than I had ever known him. He is full of whims and schemes and mechanical inventions, and is to build a place or shop to carry them into execution, and wants my help.”


  1. Hall calls inventions "saints." This saint-maker is John Fitch, the

    H.”being Henry of Lancaster.” This entry is of much interest. (See Conway, “The Life of Thomas Paine”, ii., p.281.) The first steamer seems to have gone begging!

  2. Mrs. Read was thus transferred to Paine's own house. Her husband

    died next year and Paine declined to receive any rent.