Thomas Paine

H-ton NHD Project Finds Home at Tom Paine Cottage

Thomas Paine was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.

May 9, 2017

What happens to them? Where do all the creative projects developed by Huntington High School students for National History Day go? One of this year’s best is headed to the Thomas Paine Cottage Museum in New Rochelle.

“Making Sense of Reason: Disseminating Thomas Paine’s Ideas in a Revolutionary Time” was created by freshmen Abigail Holmes, Madelyn Kye and Gabriel Medina-Jaudes. It captured third place in the Long Island regional finals at Hofstra University in the senior group exhibit category. It showcases and details the life and work of one of the great patriots in American history.

The three teenagers traveled to New Rochelle last November 20 to interview John R. Wright, the executive director of the Thomas Paine Cottage Museum. Born in England in 1737, Mr. Paine came to Philadelphia on November 30, 1774 and became an editor, essay writer and famous pamphleteer.

One of the Founding Fathers of the United States, Mr. Paine’s 50 page pamphlet called “Common Sense,” which was published on January 10, 1776, provided a convincing argument to revolt against British colonial rule. It has been said that more than any other publication, it “paved the way” for the Declaration of Independence. Within months it sold 500,000 copies. His other writings were equally persuasive and often controversial. Although he had very little formal education, he was also an engineer and inventor.

Abigail Holmes, Gabriel Medina-Jaudes and Madelyn Kye
Abigail Holmes, Gabriel Medina-Jaudes and Madelyn Kye
at the Tom Paine Cottage Museum.

Mr. Paine lived in the cottage in New Rochelle for several years. It was given to him by New York State for his services during the struggle for independence from the British crown. It was the last home that he owned in this country. The cottage is surrounded by the last two acres of what was a 300 acre farm given to Mr. Paine. The site also includes the Sophia Brewester one-room schoolhouse; the oldest free-standing school in New Rochelle.

“Our assignment was to create a project that encompassed the theme of individuals or groups who have ‘Taken a Stand’ in history,” Ms. Holmes said. “We chose to center our project on Thomas Paine; the risks he took and the repercussions he faced by taking a stand through his various publications. Our project follows ‘Common Sense,’ the pamphlet that resulted in his great fame and popularity, as well as “The Age of Reason,” the pamphlet that ultimately led to his downfall. Roughly five and a half feet in height, our interactive exhibit addresses the highs and lows of Paine’s career and how his legacy was altered by his choices.”

With the end of the school year in sight, the three Huntington freshmen realized they have no further use for their highly regarded research exhibit. So Ms. Holmes reached out to Mr. Wright at the Thomas Paine Cottage Museum and asked if he would like them to bring the exhibit there.

“You were incredibly helpful to us and gave us invaluable insight that undoubtedly contributed to the development of our project,” wrote Ms. Holmes. “We were so thankful for your willingness to help us and the time and effort that you put into our visit. The information that you provided us with proved to be beneficial, as our project was a success.”

It didn’t take long for a response to come from the folks at the Paine Cottage. “Yes, we would love to have and display your project,” wrote Mr. Wright in response to Ms. Holmes’ message. “However, we won’t set it up under the cover of darkness. We will want to celebrate it with you three and your parents for a ‘grand opening’ at the cottage, with a small reception with light refreshments and hopefully press coverage.”

The Huntington research trio believes the project “may serve as a valuable source of information for the cottage’s visitors as well as an example of the impact Paine still has on people today,” Ms. Holmes said.

Tom Paine Cottage Museum
Huntington students inspect the Tom Paine group exhibit project. (Darin Reed photo.)
Tom Paine Cottage Museum
The project on Thomas Paine was one of Long Island's top group exhibits. (Darin Reed photo.)
Tom Paine Cottage Museum
The Huntington research trio at the LI regional finals at Hofstra University.
Tom Paine Cottage Museum
The Huntington trio visited the Thomas Paine Cottage Museum while researching for their project.
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