J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Thursday, October 30, 2014

This Season’s New Paine Claim

Last month, on 24 September, someone signed in to Wikipedia as “Jkfkauia” in order to revise the Thomas Paine entry. He or she explained the editing this way:
(I am correcting a widely repeated piece of insulting misinformation about Thomas Paine. He was involved in youth with making rope stays used on sailing ships, NOT the stays used in corsets. This lie about his life story was invented by his foes.)
Wikipedia records four other edits by “Jkfkauia” in 2012 and 2013, none having to do with eighteenth-century history.

The section on Paine’s early life now reads in part:
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.[citation needed] Actually, the father and apprentice son made the thick rope stays (also called stay ropes) used on sailing ships.[10][better source needed] Thetford historically had maintained a brisk trade with the downriver port city of Yarmouth.[11][not in citation given]
Those “citation needed” variants were added later on that same day by “Tedickey,” an active Wikipedia editor who’s worked on entries about the Articles of Confederation and Connecticut Compromise.

“Jkfkauia” did not cite or name the “Paine researchers [who] contend his father’s occupation has been widely misinterpreted.” As far as I can tell, no biographers from the 1790s, when Paine became prominent as a political writer in Britain, to the last decade identified him or his father as making stays for ships. And, despite the complaints of his fans, Paine has not been neglected by biographers.

It’s true that Paine’s political enemies in the 1790s made fun of his early work as a staymaker. In 2011 the Two Nerdy History Girls analyzed two political cartoons (one above) that showed “Thomas Pain / Stay Maker” squeezing Britannia into stays that were too strait for her.

But “Jkfkauia” wrote that Paine had never made stays, only ropes for ships.

TOMORROW: Does that make any sense?


Peter Ansoff said...

I'm certainly no expert, but I have done considerable reading about sailing ship rigging. I have never heard the terms "rope stay" or "stay rope" in any contemporary or modern usage. A stay is just called a stay, usually modified by its specific function on the ship (e.g., fore topgallant stay, mizzen topsail stay, etc.) Also, I don't think I've ever heard of a rope maker that specialized in stays, as opposed to shrouds, halyards, buntlines or whatever.

G. Lovely said...

I don't know much about stays, those for sails or corsets, but I can read a map and know a little bit about 18th century transportation. It seem to me if I were in the business of making components for sailing vessels I wouldn't set up shop in a town located on a small barely navigable tributary river sixty miles from the nearest open ocean, and nowhere near a major port.

J. L. Bell said...

Both excellent points.

Byron DeLear said...

I'm curious to see when, if no citation is provided by “Jkfkauia,” will wiki will revert? I've done some editing for wiki but am not too familiar with all of their operating procedures and/or policy.