William Paine, MD: Surgeon-General of the King’s Forces in America

For younger readers, or those just coming to this material for the first time, it might be worth mentioning that not all the colonists, by a long shot, were in favor of independence from Great Britain. Those who refused to swear allegiance to the newly self-declared country, and who wished to remain subjects of George III, were broadly termed Loyalists, or, as they were known in the thirteen former colonies,  Tories.

One such person – in our family –  was Dr. William Paine. Like another of our ancestors, Col. Timothy Bigelow, William Paine was both a natural-born citizen of Worcester, Massachusetts, and a former pupil of John Adams, the patriot and future U.S. president.

As a young adult, Paine travelled to Scotland to study medicine, became a physician, actually met George III, and in the course of the war, after following his conscience and enlisting in the British military, rose up to eventually become “Surgeon-General of the King’s Forces in America.”



William Paine, M.D.

(I actually had to pause to let that sink in when I first read it. Surgeon-General of the King’s Forces in America. I almost want to laugh, not out of disrespect, but out of amazement.)

At any rate, after the war, Paine was granted land in Canada, and lived there for a time, before returning to his homeland, where he was in due course naturalized – or, renaturalized? – as a U.S. citizen.

Before I leave off, a brief word of thanks to my cousin, Elisha F. Lee, who suggested this man might be worth mentioning, and who kindly put me on to the two biographical sketches you will find below.

I’ve also included, as a bulleted list, some other sources from around the web. They’re well worth exploring, and perhaps at some point, I’ll reproduce them – with permission – here.


History of Worcester County, Massachusetts : with biographical sketches of many of its pioneers and prominent men.

by Hurd, Duane Hamilton

Published 1889

Available on the Internet Archive, here, or as part of Google Books, here.



from p. 1556…

1771.— William Paine, M.D., A.B. (Harvard, 1768), eldest son of Hon. Timothy Paine, was born in Worcester June 5, 1750. Graduated at Harvard in 1768, his name standing second in a class of forty, at a time when the names were arranged according to the dignity of families. He studied medicine for four years with the celebrated Dr. Edward A. Holyoke, of Salem, and began practice here in 1772. He opened the same year in a little wooden building on Lincoln Square, the first drug-store in the county. Early identified with the royal cause. Dr. Paine is supposed to have assisted his uncle, Attorney-General Putnam, in drawing up the bold protest of 1774. He soon after went to England to complete his studies, and in 1775 received the degree of M.D. from the University of Aberdeen. Returning in May of that year, he found, on landing at Salem, that the war had begun, that he had been proclaimed as a refugee, and included in an act of banishment, ” to be ” (if he returned) ” transported back to some place within the possession of forces of the King of Great Britain,” and if he should return a second time ” to suffer the pains of death without benefit of clergy.” It was, of course, impossible to go home, and he returned to England. In November of the same year (1775) he received the appointment of surgeon in the British Army, and joined the forces in America. He served in Rhode Island and New York until 1782, when he was appointed ” Surgeon-General of the King’s Forces in America,” and ordered to Halifax. Here he remained until the reduction of the troops in 1783, when he was dismissed on half-pay with the grant . of La Tete Island in Passamaquoddy Bay as a place of residence. He soon removed to St. John, where he entered into practice. He was in 1785 elected to the New Brunswick Assembly, and appointed clerk of that body. The act of banishment having been rescinded in 1787, he returned to his native country, living in Salem until the death of his father, in 1793, when he returned to Worcester, and took possession of the house on Lincoln Street, still standing, and latterly known as “The Oaks.” Here for forty years he lived, practising medicine to some extent, but, in the latter part of his life, distinguished rather as a man of letters than as a physician. He received the halfpay of a British officer until the War of 1812, when, being called on for service, he resigned his commission, petitioned the Legislature of Massachusetts for naturalization as a citizen of the United States, and, on the granting of the petition, took formal possession of his property, hitherto held by his brother, Judge Paine. He died April 19, 1833, at the age of eighty-three. Dr. Paine became a member of the College of Physicians of London in 1781, and in 1790 was made an honorary member of the Massachusetts Medical Society. He was a member of the Society of Northern Antiquities of Copenhagen, of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, of the LinQ;ean, and of the Essex Historical Society. He was one of the founders of the Antiquarian Society, and from 1813-16 its vice-president. He was also one of the incorporators of Worcester Bank, the first bank in the county. He married, September 23, 1773, Lois Orne, daughter of Timothy Orne, of Salem. As a young man of twenty-one, ” Dr. Billy Paine ” was, by the evidence of John Adams, his whilom [not a typo; whilom = former; erstwhile—LSL] schoolmaster, very civil, agreeable and sensible. In his later life he was considered ” to possess extensive and profound learning and a refined literary taste, and was equally respected as physician and as citizen.'”



The Loyalists of Massachusetts and the Other Side of the American Revolution

by Stark,  James Henry

Published 1907

Available on the Internet Archive, here, or as part of Google Books, here.


from p. 385…

William Paine, son of the aforesaid Timothy Paine, was born in Worcester, Mass., June 5, 1750. He graduated at Harvard College in 1768, his name standing second in a class of more than forty, when they Avere arranged in the catalogue according to the dignity of families.

He then began the study of medicine with a very distinguished physician. Dr. Edward A. Holyoke, of Salem, while here he made the acquaintance of the lady whom he married a few years later.

One of his earliest instructors was John Adams, who was then reading law in the office of Hon. James Putnam, at Worcester. He began the practice of medicine in Worcester in 1771. That year Mr. Adams revisited Worcester, after an absence of sixteen years, and notes the impression of his former pupils as follows : “Here I saw many young gentlemen who were my scholars and pupils, John Chandler, Esq., of Petersham, Rufus Chandler, the lawyer, and Dr. William Paine, who now studies physics with Dr. Holyoke of Salem, and others, most of whom beean to learn Latin with me.”

In 1771, after about three years of study, he returned to Worcester, with every prospect of becoming a leader in the medical profession. In 1773 he entered into partnership with two other physicians or “Traders in the Art, Mystery, and Business of an Apothecary and the practice of Physick.” This interest was confiscated in 1779.

In 1773 Dr. Paine was married to Miss Lois Orne of Salem, with a fortune of 3,000 pounds sterlng. Six children were born from this union.

For the purpose of facilitating his business abroad and of perfecting his medical education, Dr. Paine in Sept. 1774, sailed for England, and the following winter was passed in the study of medicine. During his visit there he was presented to the King, and Queen Charlotte, wearing the court dress prescribed for medical men, which was a gray cloth coat with silver buttons, a white satin waistcoat, satin small clothes, silk hose and wearing a sword, and a fall of lace from cravat or collar, and lace in the sleeves. It is interesting to read some of his letters written as he was about leaving England. In one of them he writes “The Colonists had better lay down their arms at once, for we are coming over with an overwhelming force to destroy them.” His wife and children seemed to have remained with his father and mother while he was in England, but finding their position in Worcester unpleasant on account of their unpopular political opinions, she left and went to Rhode Island.

Dr. Paine returned to America in 1775, shortly after hostilities commenced, and while there was apparently no legal impediment to his return to Worcester, it was doubtless a very prudent decision of Dr. Paine not to make the attempt. His feeling of personal loyalty to the government was too strong to allow him even to appear to yield to the Revolutionists, then dominating his native town, and he wisely returned to England. His study of medicine there must have been pursued with unusual zeal and success, for Nov. 1775, he received from Marischal College, Aberdeen, the degree of M.D.

Soon after obtaining this distinction, he received an appointment as Apothecary to the British forces in America, and served in Rhode Island and New York till 1781, when he returned to England, in company with his patient, Lord Winchelsea. While, in England, in 1782, he is said to have been made Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians of London.

October 23, 1782, he was commissioned Physician to His Majesty’s Hospitals within the district of North America, commanded by Sir Guy Carleton, and he reported for duty at Halifax, N. S. Letters which have been preserved show that during this year at Halifax he had won the respect, friendship and confidence, not only of bis immediate medical superior, Dr. Nooth, but also of Lord Wentworth, Governor of the Province.

In the summer of 1784, Dr. Paine took possession of La Tete, an island in Passamaquoddy Bay, granted him by the British Government, for his services in the war. He remained there less than one year, and then made his residence in St. John, N. B., where he took up the practice of his profession. The cause of the removal from the island was the protest of his wife that the children could not receive a proper education in that isolated spot.

He was elected member of the Assembly of New Brunswick from the county of Charlotte, and was appointed Clerk of the House. He was commissioned as a justice for the county of Sunbury. There is abundant evidence of the high estimate placed on his character and ability in the numerous offices which he held during his residence here.

July 29, 1786, he wrote to a friend: “I do a great deal of Business in my Profession, but I get very little for it. The truth is we are all very poor, and the most industrious and economical gets only a bare subsistence. However, it will soon be better as the Province is daily filling with stock of all kinds.”

In 1787 Dr. Paine made application for leave to visit and reside in New England while remaining on half pay, and a permit to that effect was issued by the War Office.

In Salem he devoted himself to the practice of medicine in the town where he had been known as a student of the famous Dr. Holyoke, and where his wife had spent her early life.

In 1793 his father died, and he removed to Worcester, and for the remaining forty years of his life he resided in the paternal mansion. His father’s property was large, and as he was not an absentee, it was not confiscated. By his will it was equally divided between his children, the farm and homestead covered 1230 acres. Dr. Paine bought the shares of his brothers, and sisters in same for 2,000 pounds sterling, but the deeds were given to Nathaniel Paine in trust for William, for the doctor was as yet, but an alien in his native state. The year 1812 was a critical one, bringing a most important question for him to decide, for war arose between Great Britain and the United States, and he was still a half-pay officer in Plis Majesty’s service. He therefore resigned from the British service, and in 1812 petitioned the Legislature for its consent to his being a naturalized citizen of the United States.

William Paine was one of the founders of the American Antiquarian Society of Worcester. His name was omitted from the act of incorporation because he was an alien. The next year, 1813, he was elected Vice President of same.

He occupied the old paternal mansion on Lincoln Street in a quiet, very dignified and almost luxurious manner as befitted a country gentleman. Here he died at the ripe age of 83, March 19, 1833.




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