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Fascinating Life of Worcester’s Dr. “Billie” Paine

By Sande P. Bishop, Local Historian

In March 1774, tensions in Worcester between Royalists and Patriots reflected America's revolutionary sentiments. The annual Town Meeting in March laid bare the bitter divisions in the community. A second Town Meeting was called in June, and after angry debate, the Whigs again prevailed. Clark Chandler, the town clerk, copied a harshly worded paper by the Tories into the record - it certainly was not read at the assembly, for it would have had violent repercussions. It is recorded that Worcester citizens first learned of the remonstration when it was reprinted in the Boston press. 52 Tories, including the well-liked Timothy Paine and his son, Dr. William Paine, has signed what is now known as the Worcester Protest.

Another town meeting was called, where it was voted that Town Clerk Chandler "do, in the presence of the town, obliterate, erase, or otherwise deface the said recorded protest, and the names thereto subscribed, so that it may become utterly illegible and unintelligible." Poor Chandler tried to scratch through the offending screed with his quill pen. That, however, being deemed inadequate, the Patriots dipped his fingers in ink and smeared the pages.

William Paine was born in Worcester in 1750. His parents, Timothy Paine and Sarah Chandler Paine, were both descended from prominent, wealthy colonial families. "Billie" Paine appears to have had an uneventful childhood, with little being recorded except that he was taught Latin by John Adams, while the future president was reading law locally. Paine is listed second on the list of graduates from Harvard College in 1768 - at that time names were listed in order of "the dignity of the family."

The first medical school in America started its first full course of lectures that year. But not surprisingly, Paine chose a traditional apprenticeship with a distinguished physician, Dr. Edward A. Holyoke, in Salem rather than travel to distant Philadelphia to attend an untested school. While there, he met Sarah Orne, who became his wife. The engraved silver Paine ordered from Paul Revere for Sarah, Revere's largest single commission, is on display in the Worcester Art Museum.

In 1771, Paine returned to Worcester, presumably expecting to become a leader in the medical profession. He formed a partnership with Levi Shephard, apothecary, and Ebenezer Hunt, Jr., physician of Northampton, as "Traders in the Art, Mystery & Business (of) an apothecary, and of the Practice of Physick." Shephard and Hunt were to practice as apothecaries and Paine as physician.

Neither his medical practice nor his apothecary business was presumably very profitable because of the high political tensions and the coming war. Paine was a committed Tory, and as John Nelson writes in Worcester County. A Narrative History, "Again, and yet again, they (the Tories) were compelled to humiliate themselves publicly in the village Main Street, not only before their fellow towns-people, but before the assembled forces of the county." In August 1774, when smallpox was prevalent, the doctor reapplied, after previous attempts, to establish "a Hospital for Inoculation in said Town and it was Passed in the Negative." Doubtless feeling rejected by his hometown, Dr. Paine sailed for England on September 1.

Paine's travels are difficult to track during the next few years. According to the Massachusetts Spy, May 3, 1775, "Messrs. Chandler and Paine of this town (Worcester) are arrived at Salem from London." Apparently, he prudently did not return home then - "finding the country in most excited state and himself denounced." The Battles of Lexington and Concord had just been fought, and Paine's fervent loyalty to England would have been quite unwelcome in Worcester. In 1779, the Provincial Congress resolved to put Shephard in possession of the apothecary business. It is unclear whether this was an act of confiscation, the result of a lawsuit or another arrangement.

While in Britain, in October 1775, Paine was appointed Apothecary of the Hospital for the Forces in North America. In November, he received an M.D. from Marischal College in Aberdeen. This degree has been the subject of discussion because of the short time involved in receiving it; however, the diploma is among his papers at the American Antiquarian Society. Upon his military appointment, he was stationed in Rhode Island and New York and, during that time, recorded a number of case histories. "The Case of McLoud belonging to the Second Battalion of his Majesty's Second Regiment" begins, "This poor young Creature after repeated retourns (sic) of Hernia and some slight venereal complaints became a Victim to Death thro' carelessness and bad practice like many more unfortunate men under the same persons hand." Paine recounts the bleeding, mercurial pills and course of care for five days.

Another soldier "in His Majesty's Service at Skenectady (sic) was wounded by a sharp pointed instrument" in the knee, which resulted in a "violent inflammation." After 14 days of treatment, the physicians and surgeons "propose (d) the operation to the patient for his relief, which accordingly happened. He objected strongly to it for some hours, nay all that day, but repeated solicitations prevailed over him to consent to be dismembered the following day."

In January 1781, Paine traveled as personal physician to Lord Winchelsea. He kept a daily log of the stormy winter Atlantic crossing. Sea sickness, a "cabin so wet that my Boots are very mouldy (sic) every morning and the bed cloths wet," snow, and hail made the trip a "hazardous Expedition....Never were poor Devils in a worse Situation, we are absolutely lost - The Captain and his Mate differ in their reckonings ten degrees of Longitude." They missed a supply stop at Madeira and were blown to Lisbon instead of landing as planned in England.

Once in London, Paine passed a three-part examination over a period of three months to be elected Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians. A year later, in October 1782, he was commissioned "Physician to His Majesty's Hospitals within the District of North America," the equivalent of Surgeon General. Stationed in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where many Royalists from New England had settled, he fulfilled his duties "active in the management of hospitals, in the purchasing of stores and, to a lesser degree, in the care of sick and wounded soldiers." About the end of October 1783, British troops were withdrawn and his duties ended. He was placed on half pay, retained his rank and received a land grant from the English for his service in the war.

During the 1780s, Paine was spending more and more time in Salem. He joined the Massachusetts Medical Society in 1790 and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1793, when his father died, he returned to Worcester to the family residence, The Oaks.

At the start of the War of 1812, Paine was still a half-pay officer in the British forces and ordered to report for service. Tradition tells us he then resigned his commission and chose to stand with his countrymen. In June 1812, he petitioned the Legislature to become a naturalized citizen of the United States, and it was resolved that this would occur "whenever William Paine shall bring himself within the provisions of the several statutes of the United States which establish a uniform rule of naturalization, and shall make due application to any Court of Record to be admitted as a citizen of the same..." No court record or other document has been found to verify that he did this.

Paine's Worcester journals record in detail the chores of the seasons - picking apples, chopping wood, planting potatoes, etc. He rarely mentions medicine. Paul Bergin, in A History of the Worcester District Medical Society, 1794-1954, writes, "he (Paine) lived forty years in his ancestral home on Lincoln Street, practicing medicine to some extent but distinguished rather as a man of Letters than as a physician." It seems fitting that The Oaks, home to William Paine the Royalist, later William Paine the American, should now be the home of the Timothy Bigelow Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. During the Revolution, many Worcester families, friends and neighbors were divided by their loyalties. Probably few were more intertwined in partisan hostilities than Dr. "Billie" Paine.

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