Colonial Hall -- Biographies of America's Founding Fathers

-Signers of the Declaration
-Signers of the A. O. C.
-Signers of the U. S. Constitution
-Wives of the Signers
-Other Founders

Follow colonialhall on Twitter

Page 1

Sarah Cobb Paine


Wife of Robert Treat Paine

Sally Cobb Paine, wife of Robert Treat Paine, one of the signers, was born and reared in Taunton, Mass., where her father, Captain Thomas Cobb, was a prominent citizen, magistrate, and member of the legislature, who in 1754 had commanded a Taunton company in the French and Indian War. Her mother was Lydia Leonard, whose father and grandfather, both, of whom were called Captain James Leonard, had been prom-inent in the early history of Bristol County. Her brother, Gen. David Cobb, served all through the Revolution, three years of that time being an aide on the staff of Washington.

Her early life and education did not differ from that of other daughters of well-to-do and church-going citizens of the commonwealth. Robert Treat Paine, on his maternal side, a grandson of Governor Robert Treat of Con-necticut, was born in Boston. After graduating from Harvard College, he studied for the ministry but afterward changed his mind and read law in the office of Benjamin Pratt, later Chief Justice of the Colony of New York. After being ad-mitted to the bar, Paine removed to Taunton where he practiced his profession for many years. He was married to Sally Cobb about 1770. They had eight children, four sons and four daughters. The oldest sons, Robert Treat, Thomas, and Charles were educated for the law and Henry the youngest for commercial business. Robert Treat Paine, Jr., died of yellow fever in 1798, unmarried, and Thomas the second son, by an act of the legislature, had his name changed to Robert Treat Paine, Jr.

This young man brought great disappoint-ment and unhappiness into the lives of his par-ents. Though educated for the law, he neglected it and turned to writing in a desultory way. He had marked ability but a temperament that revolted from the strait-laced and somewhat narrow life of a New England practitioner. In February, 1795, he married Eliza Baker, daugh-ter of an English actor and his wife, who were touring the country. She seems to have been a most worthy young woman, educated, refined, and good principled, but at that time prejudice against theatrical persons was very strong, es-pecially among New England people, and the elder Paine, on the day of his son's marriage, drove him from his house. A friend of the family, Major Wallach, gave shelter to the young man and his wife and they remained inmates of his family for fifteen months. It is said that Mr. Paine offered "liberal remuner-ation'' but that his host would "only accept one hundred dollars, and that reluctantly." Robert Treat Paine, Jr., once remarked: "When I lost a father I gained a wife and found a friend.''8 The brilliant but erratic young man grew dissipated, lost, by some unfortunate theatrical ventures, what money he had, and finally, when broken in health and fortune and dying of consumption, became reconciled to his family and breathed his last in his father's home, cared for by his mother and sister. It is need-less to say that while he had been driven from his father's house he had never gone out of his moth-er's heart. After the death of his son, which was a greater blow to the father than most people realised, he brought the young widow and the three children of Robert Treat Paine, Jr., into his own home, where they afterward lived.

Robert Treat Paine, Jr., wrote the famous political song Adams and Liberty, in 1798, when relations between the United States and both England and France were strained to the point of breaking and war, especially with France, seemed inevitable. The opening stanza of the song was as follows:

Ye sons of Columbia, who bravely have fought
For those rights which unstained from your sires have descended,
May you long taste the blessings your valor has bought
And your sons reap the soil which their fathers defended.
'Mid the reign of mild peace,
May your nation increase,
With the glory of Rome and the wisdom of Greece;
And ne'er shall the sons of Columbia be slaves,
While the earth bears a plant or the sea rolls its waves.

Source: Wives of the Signers: The Women Behind the Declaration of Independence, by Harry Clinton Green and Mary Wolcott Green, A.B. (Aledo, TX: Wallbuilder Press, 1997). Orignaly Published in 1912 as volume 3 of The Pioneer Mothers of America: A Record of the More Notable Women of the Early Days of the Country, and Particularly of the Colonial and Revolutionary Periods (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons). Pages 80-83. (Some minor spelling changes may have been made.)

*[pgs. 150] From sketch accompanying Works of Robert Treat Paine, Jr., Esq., by Charles Prentiss, of Boston, printed and published by J. Belcher in 1812.


Designed and Edited by John Vinci
Last modified January 5, 2004