24 May 2018

How I Wandered Into Common Sense

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you have seen a few photos of me riding, and a few more with one or more of my bikes.

Now, if you are a truly committed and dedicated reader of this blog (translation:  if you are reading this blog when you should be riding), you might have wondered what I look like when I write these posts.

Well, today I am going to reveal all:

All right, so I don't have an outfit like that.  And if I did, why would I wear it while writing--or riding?

That is actually a figure of Thomas Paine writing "Common Sense".  At least, that's how someone remembers or imagines him writing it.

So, apart from the fact that he wrote one of the most important documents in American--and possibly human--history, why am I showing an image of him?

Well, this afternoon I snuck out for a ride.   I got done what I needed to get done and scarcely a cloud was besmudging the sky.  So, out I went, with no particular destination in mind--although I kinda sorta started on one of my routes to Connecticut.

But I took a couple of turns I wouldn't normally take and found myself pedaling up and down hills in unfamiliar parts of somewhat familiar towns.  After riding up a hill to avoid traffic headed for the Thruway, I came upon this:

Yes, Thomas Paine lived here.  No, he didn't ride that bike.

Thomas Paine lived in this house from 1802 to 1806.  It was originally one of several buildings on a 300-acre farm the State of New York gave him for his service to the state, and the cause of independence.  The State had seized the farm from Frederick DeVeaux to punish him for treason:  He worked as a spy for the Crown during the Revolution.

The house contains a number of artifacts as well as some charts and dioramas describing, among other things, the roles Jews and the descendants of the Huguenot settlers of New Rochelle played in the Revolution.  (The city was founded by Huguenots from La Rochelle, France, who were escaping the wars of religion.)  

One interesting fact I learned is that the Hessians weren't actually mercenaries, at least in the way we define that term today.  They were conscripted into their national armies, and the Landgrave (Prince) could basically use them as he saw fit.  In essence, Landgrave Frederick II of Hesse-Cassel rented those troops to King George III--whose grandfather, George II, just happened to be Frederick's father-in-law.  And Frederick pocketed the money.

Today the house sits in a part of New Rochelle with sprawling houses and lawns.  In addition to the old house, another remnant of the farm remains

one that suggests, if obliquely, one of Thomas Paine's occupations before he became a pamphleteer:

Yes, he was a sailor.  No doubt he guided boats in or out of another stop on my trip this afternoon:

Mamaroneck is just a couple of towns up from New Rochelle on the western end of Long Island Sound.  Not surprisingly, its harbor is a favorite spot for walkers and idlers, as well as a destination for cyclists.  And a wedding party or two has been known to be held there.

I can't help but to wonder whether Thomas Paine was looking out toward that expanse of water when he envisioned a new nation free from the rule of a king on the other side of the ocean.

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