Robert Paine on manufacturing saltpeter and gunpowder, Philadelphia, 1776


Born in Boston, Robert Treat Paine attended Harvard, worked as a teacher, mastered a ship and eventually studied the law. He briefly had a practice in Portland (then Falmouth), but eventually settled in Boston and later Taunton, Massachusetts.

Paine became involved with the patriot cause after the Stamp Act in 1765, and prosecuted the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre in 1770.

He remained cautious about total separation from Britain and urged for reconciliation, hoping a united colonial approach could convince the Crown to negotiate. Even after the battles of Concord and Lexington, Paine voiced the need for caution and patience.

The King's rejection of the Olive Branch Petition in 1775 finally convinced Paine a peaceful approach to securing their liberties was not an option. By July of 1776, he believed independence was the answer and a declaration of views necessary.

Paine's letter spoke to the importance and urgency of manufacturing saltpeter and gunpowder. No large-scale manufacturing of those two resources existed in the colonies and this manuscript demonstrates the necessity of making those vital products for the war effort.


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