Robert Treat Paine (March
11, 1731 – May 11, 1814) was a signer of the Declaration of
Independence as a representative of Massachusetts.
Statue of Robert Treat Paine (1904),
born in Boston,
Massachusetts, a descendant of Richard
Treat (or Trott) (1731-1814) who was an early New England
settler and a Patentee of the Royal Charter of Connecticut,
1662. Paine attended the Boston Latin
School, graduated from Harvard College in 1749, and then taught school and studied
theology. He became a merchant and traveled to the
southern colonies, Spain, the
Azores and England.
returned home and was admitted to the bar of Massachusetts in 1757
or 1759, practicing in Portland (then part
of Massachusetts but now in Maine), and later in Taunton,
In 1768 he was a delegate to the provincial convention which was
called to meet in Boston and conducted the prosecution of Captain
and his British soldiers following the Boston Massacre
of March 5, 1770; John Adams
was opposing counsel. Although Paine was a great orator, Adam's
"appeal for justice" won the judge's sway, and all the troops were
let off, save for two who were branded on their right thumbs for
He served in the Massachusetts General Court
1773 to 1774, in the Provincial Congress
1774 to 1775, and represented Massachusetts at the Continental Congress
from 1774 through
1778. 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.
He was speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives in
1777, a member of the executive council
a member of the committee that drafted the constitution of 1780,
Massachusetts Attorney General from 1777 to 1790 and 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 the Granary Burying
Ground in Boston, Massachusetts. A statue to commemorate him was erected in
the Church Green area of Taunton.
Robert Treat Paine was a Congregationalist and a devout Christian.
He worked as a full-time Congregationalist clergyman, among other
occupations, prior to signing the Declaration of Independence.
Later he left Congregationalism and Calvinism and embraced
Unitarianism, which during that era was an alternative denomination
within Protestant Christianity.
Paine is featured in the 2008 miniseries John Adams
episode one, Paine prosecutes the British soldiers involved in the
Boston Massacre. After losing in court, Paine and some colleagues
visit Adams at home and attempt to enlist his support and use his
credibility as an impartial party in taking a stand against the
British. Paine admires Adams's ability to be impartial even while
he detests the British stationed in Boston.