Early life and education
Paine was born on January 29, 1736 (
NS February 9, 1737),
[Note 1] the son of Joseph Pain (or Paine) and Frances (
née Cocke), in
Norfolk, England. Joseph was a
Quaker and Frances an
 Born Thomas Pain, despite claims that he changed his family name upon his emigration to America in 1774,
 he was using Paine in 1769, while still in
Thetford Grammar School (1744–49), at a time when there was no compulsory education.
 At the age of 13, he was apprenticed to his stay-maker father. Paine researchers contend his father's occupation has been widely misinterpreted to mean that he made the stays in ladies' corsets, which likely was an insult later invented by his political foes. Actually, the father and apprentice son made the thick rope stays (also called stay ropes) used on sailing ships.
 Thetford historically had maintained a brisk trade with the downriver, then major, port town of King's Lynn.
A connection to shipping and the sea explains why, in late adolescence, Thomas enlisted and briefly served as a
 before returning to Britain in 1759. There, he became a master stay-maker, establishing a shop in
 On September 27, 1759, Thomas Paine married Mary Lambert. His business collapsed soon after. Mary became pregnant; and, after they moved to
Margate, she went into early labor, in which she and their child died.
In July 1761, Paine returned to Thetford to work as a
supernumerary officer. In December 1762, he became an
Excise Officer in
Grantham, Lincolnshire; in August 1764, he was transferred to
Alford, also in Lincolnshire, at a salary of £50 per annum. On August 27, 1765, he was dismissed as an Excise Officer for "claiming to have inspected goods he did not inspect." On July 31, 1766, he requested his reinstatement from the Board of Excise, which they granted the next day, upon vacancy. While awaiting that, he worked as a stay-maker. Again, he was making stay ropes for shipping, not stays for corsets.
Thomas Paine's house in
In 1767, he was appointed to a position in
Grampound, Cornwall. Later he asked to leave this post to await a vacancy, and he became a schoolteacher in London.
On February 19, 1768, he was appointed to
Sussex, a town with a tradition of opposition to the monarchy and pro-republican sentiments since the revolutionary decades of the 17th century.
 Here he lived above the 15th-century Bull House, the tobacco shop of Samuel Ollive and Esther Ollive.
Paine first became involved in civic matters when he was based in Lewes. He appears in the Town Book as a member of the Court Leet, the governing body for the town. He was also a member of the parish
vestry, an influential local church group whose responsibilities for parish business would include collecting taxes and tithes to distribute among the poor. On March 26, 1771, at age 34, he married Elizabeth Ollive, his landlord's daughter.
Plaque at the White Hart Hotel,
, East Sussex, south east England
From 1772 to 1773, Paine joined excise officers asking Parliament for better pay and working conditions, publishing, in summer of 1772, The Case of the Officers of Excise, a 12-page article, and his first political work, spending the London winter distributing the 4,000 copies printed to the Parliament and others. In spring 1774, he was again dismissed from the excise service for being absent from his post without permission; his tobacco shop failed, too. On April 14, to avoid
debtors' prison, he sold his household possessions to pay debts. On June 4, 1774, he formally separated from his wife Elizabeth and moved to London, where, in September, mathematician, Fellow of the Royal Society, and Commissioner of the Excise
George Lewis Scott introduced him to
 who suggested emigration to British colonial America, and gave him a letter of recommendation. In October, Paine emigrated to the American colonies, arriving in
Philadelphia on November 30, 1774.
He barely survived the transatlantic voyage. The ship's water supplies were bad, and
typhoid fever killed five passengers. On arriving at Philadelphia, he was too sick to disembark. Benjamin Franklin's physician, there to welcome Paine to America, had him carried off ship; Paine took six weeks to recover. He became a citizen of Pennsylvania "by taking the oath of allegiance at a very early period."
 In January 1775, he became editor of the Pennsylvania Magazine, a position he conducted with considerable ability.