Westchester County Legislature Calls on Attorney General to Keep Thomas Paine Collection in Westchester County

Written By: Robert Cox

Press release from 6DC7B0B1-5817-47BE-9B9B-CCFC09228C46.jpgJim Maisano:

Legislators Maisano and Board of Legislators Request that Thomas Paine Historical Artifacts Remain in Westchester County – Hopefully in New Rochelle

Westchester County Legislator Jim Maisano (R, New Rochelle) announced today that he drafted a letter, signed by every member of the Westchester County Board of Legislators, that was mailed to the New York State Education Department and New York State Museum requesting that all historical artifacts located at the Thomas Paine National Historical Association (“TPNHA”) remain in Westchester – hopefully in New Rochelle (Paine_Ltr.pdfletter is attached).

Legislator Maisano stated, “It is unthinkable that these historically significant Thomas Paine holdings could be relocated outside of Westchester. I brought this issue to my colleagues, and we decided to speak in one voice to the appropriate authorities. We requested that the artifacts remain in our county at or near the Thomas Paine Cottage, a historical treasure in New Rochelle.”

This possible relocation is due to a recent decision by the Charities Bureau of the New York State Attorney General’s office, which is causing the holdings at the TPNHA to be disbursed to other museums. Legislator Maisano and his colleagues were greatly concerned that these holdings could be sent to museums outside of Westchester County or even New York State.

For the past 80 years, many of these historical artifacts have been displayed at the famous Thomas Paine Cottage in New Rochelle, which is maintained by the Huguenot and New Rochelle Historical Association and the group alerted Legislator Maisano about this issue. Legislator Maisano’s letter recommended two excellent locations for the Thomas Paine holdings: Westchester County Historical Society or Iona College.

“We must remain vigilant to protect and promote New Rochelle’s great history, and I hope our letter convinces the decision-makers not to remove the artifacts from our area. They belong where they will always by accessible to the Thomas Paine Cottage – our famous historic site right here in the Queen City of the Sound,” Legislator Maisano said.

MORE HERE: Lawmakers: It’s just common sense, Paine artifacts should stay

12 thoughts on “Westchester County Legislature Calls on Attorney General to Keep Thomas Paine Collection in Westchester County”

  1. Can anyone speak to the actual facts involved here ??
    I am perhaps late to the table on this one, as I only received a copy of the “Talk of the Sound” article as recently as Friday, September 11th. I certainly wish someone had taken the time to at least speak with our organization (The Thomas Paine National Historical Association). Unfortunately by not doing so, Mr. Maisano and the other legislators have misrepresented the status and the history of these artifacts.

    Can anyone related to the article even identify what was moved out of New Rochelle?

    As the Interim Executive Director of the Thomas Paine National Historical Association, and a person central to these decisions, perhaps I can shed some light.

    The items in question are for the most part first edition publications of some of Paine’s books, as well as a handful of letters, records, accounting book entries, etc.

    In his letter, Mr. Maisano states, “For the past 80 years, many of these historical artifacts have been displayed at the famous Thomas Paine Cottage in New Rochelle,” which is maintained by the Huguenot and New Rochelle Historical Association.

    Unfortunately, he has been hoodwinked by people whose interest may be more in line with their own self-promotion, and less interested in the professional storage and care of the archives, themselves. All of these items are the property of the Thomas Paine National Historical Association, not the Huguenot and New Rochelle Historical Association. For the past 80 years they have never been on display in the Cottage. Had they been, this would have destroyed them by now. Such delicate artifacts require very specialized storage and handling appropriate for antiquarian paper archives.

    Contrary to the above statement, for the past 80 years, these items have been sitting in a vault in the back room of the Thomas Paine Memorial Building. They have not been on display either in the Memorial Building or the Cottage. They are far too fragile to even be touched by human hands. The trace oils of human skin are enough to jeopardize them. They are far too sensitive to light and humidity to be stored in the dank, leaking room at the rear of the Memorial Building. The wooden Cottage is an even less appropriate place to store these.

    The Thomas Paine Memorial Building does not have archival facilities. The Cottage has even less. Before moving the items, we approached the city historian, Barbara Davis, to see if the New Rochelle library could help, only to be informed that “There is no archival facility in all of New Rochelle.” This has since changed with the advent of the new facilities at Iona College.

    Immediately upon learning of the facilities at Iona, TPNHA initiated discussions with the College to see if there was any possibility of their storing the artifacts. This decision awaits technical clarification to see if Iona has the proper technology, the capacity, and the desire to store the artifacts. Yes, TPNHA and the New Rochelle community would benefit if Iona chooses to offer support, but this is their private decision to make.

    In the meantime, to best protect and preserve these valuable artifacts of American History (not New Rochelle History, not Westchester County History, not, quite frankly even New York State History, but rather American History), the Thomas Paine National Historical Association took the correct, brave, and only professional action – to have these items temporarily stored in professional archival facilities at the New-York Historical Society in Manhattan – thereby preserving them for future generations. The Board chose N-YHS instead of the Westchester County Historical Society for a number of very thoughtful and considerate reasons.

    The mission of N-YHS is much more closely aligned with the Association. It is primarily an educational institution. It is known worldwide as an important center for its Revolutionary Era collections and artifacts. It serves educators and students throughout the entire State of New York. It has a budget that is better able to handle the needs of the Thomas Paine collection. They serve over 250,000 visitors per year (as opposed to about 6,000 for the WHS). They regularly conduct special educational programs that focus on early American Revolutionary War era history. They are in the midst of planning a special exhibit on the American, French, and Haitian Revolutions as part of their dedication of their new wing in 2011. Paine played a pivotal role in all 3 revolutions, and will be figured prominently in the exhibit.

    The Charities Bureau of the New York State Attorney General’s office did the right thing by insisting that these items be properly stored (and insisting that the solution be found within the State of New York). The TPNHA Board fully agreed and moved quickly to accommodate the State’s order.

    As for Mr. Burchell, he was at the center of an acrimonious coup while he served on the Board of the TPNHA. He attempted to seize control of the Association by circumventing standard rules and voting procedures. His coups was uncovered; it was rebuffed by a majority of the Board of Directors. He was defeated by a democratic vote. He quit and left in a huff.

    Since the time that his designs on control were thwarted, he has waged a one-man campaign to discredit the Association by spreading misinformation, making false claims, and repeatedly violating one of the most important commandments, “Thou shallt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” Mr. Burchell sees everything from a personal point of view. His dishonest, self-aggrandizing crusade has been waged with complete disregard for the deleterious effect he is having on the Association.

    Want to know the truth of a debate such as this? Consider the source, and the motives, and follow the money. Above all, why not ask both sides of the debate?


    Brad Mulkern
    Interim Executive Director

    1. where were you during all of this?
      Were artifacts sold off as reported ?
      Where were you to clear any of this up during the maelstrom that surrounded the buildings and players ?
      Even I heard about the accusations and ploys .
      Thank you for the perspective and explanations of decisions

    2. Why not ask both sides of the debate?
      Mr. Mulkern,

      How would you propose that someone ask you about anything. At the time we ran our original story the Thomas Paine Museum was locked up, the web site did not provide any working contact information, the only phone number we had was for the former director and that was disconnected, likewise for the former director’s email address.

      I went personally to the museum on FOUR separate occasions, walking all around the building, banging on EVERY door.

      Now, months after the fact you come on this web site and complain that no one asked for YOUR side of the story. It seems to me that as the “Interim Executive Director” of the TPNHA it is YOUR obligation to make yourself accessible which you did not do.

      So, let’s consider YOUR motives.

      Your organization basically goes underground for the past several months and then you pop up here whining about maltreatment. This story has been in the newspaper. It has been on this blog a number of times. If you were paying any attention — monitoring mentions of your organization in the news and on the web — you would know this.

      Now, that said, we do not actually have anyway of knowing who you are only who you claim to be because you did not register for this site with a validated email address. I am more than happy to re-publish your comment above as its own story and then promote that to the front page so that every reader of this site can see it. But you should register for this site and also send me an email so we can talk and we can validate who you are.

      Our contact information is listed above.

  2. Just as long as Paine remains accessible to students of all ages
    I’m a fifth-grade teacher in Colorado, and a crucial part of teaching civics is providing students with our primary sources: the founding documents. This is critical in understanding what “We the People” means. Today, like 230 years ago, those documents instill in students the belief that all voices are important. Every one of our citizens are needed to pursue liberty. Futures do not have to be inevitable and “Little voices” can make dramatic impacts on events. That is Paine’s greatest contribution to our country. His pamphlet, Common Sense, spoke to all the voices in the 13 colonies during a time of great indecision. He gave a vast number of citizens a vision of what each could do, 176 days before the Declaration. A belief that power should radiate from the citizens. That message is still foundational for all our students today.

    Mark Wilensky,
    author of “The Elementary Common Sense of Thomas Paine: An Interactive Adaptation for All Ages”

  3. Thanks Jim
    As usual, while other politicians take cover on issues, you are usually the first one to take a position and it is clear that the mayor got involved only after you organized all the county legislators to sign your letter. You will have my usual support this year and I am a Democrat.

  4. late isn’t the word
    Where was Maisano when the museum’s holdings were being pawned?

    1. More importantly , where was Mayor Bramson ?
      Just about all of the players in this little soap opera are part of the circle of friends , political supporters , and backers of Mr Bramson . Can a man so in touch with this city not have known about any of this ? The story breaks on this site , from a guy who doesnnow lives in Idaho , gets picked up by the Journal News , the county legislator has the time to rally all county legislators to put together a bi-partisan (how long does THAT take? ) letter , before the mayor realizes he has to say something . All of which sounds cookie cutter written and more about self preservation than historic preservation . What can we make of all of this ?

    2. Are you kidding me to criticize Maisano???
      He is the only one to do anything. What a cheap shot. It appears the folks at Thomas Paine Cottage starting asking for help a few weeks ago and Maisano is the only one that did anything and got every county legislator from both parties to support him — all this before any other elected official representing NR has said a word. I don’t know what Jim was doing when you claim the items were “pawned” but not sure there was anything he could do, but it appears that when he was asked for help, he took action.

      1. The issue goes back 8 years
        Problems at the Museum came to the surface in 2001-2002 when most the board resigned in protest over what was going on over there.

        In 2005 the story about the museum selling off some of its most important pieces in its collection was in The New York Times.

        Between 2005 and 2009 there has been a VERY slow moving investigation by the Attorney General’s office.

        All during that time the person I interviewed for the original piece — Ken Burchell a former board member — was regularly seeking help from the local media and local elected officials and got zip from them.

        The difference-maker, quite frankly, was this web site. Now the Journal News ran the story and that in turn prompted a response from Maisano and then Bramson.

        All of this is a “day late and a dollar short” because the museum’s collection has been boxed up and spirited away. I have some thoughts on what SHOULD be done with the museum, the statue and the cottage but simply moving the documents and artifacts to Iona College is not it. More on that later.

      2. Never contacted me

        Just to set the record straight and I do note that I am glad you have given this issue such good coverage, but this Ken Burchell never contacted me directly in the past (the first time I remember seeing his name was in your post). A few weeks I went to a ceremony at Thomas Paine Cottage and learned about the moving of the artifacts, and my staff and I researched the issue and drafted the letter that was signed by all of my colleagues on County legislature. I was just trying to intervene here, and hopefully keep the artifacts near New Rochelle.

        Jim Maisano
        County Legislator

      3. Correction noted
        I can see your letter was dated June 22nd, 2009 so I agree that our story did not motivate your letter. How about the press release?

        It is all really besides the point. The issues with the Thomas Paine National Historical Association go back many years and were the subject of media coverage in 2005. Whether or not Ken Burchell contacted any particular person is entirely besides the point. The effort to sell off parts of the TPNHA collection between 2001 and 2005 was reported in The New York Times and elsewhere. The time for action was back in 2001-02 or, at the very least, in 2005, after the sale of parts of the collection became widely known.

        I will let me Mr. Burchell describe his own efforts to contact local media and elected officials. It is of no concern to me. All I know is that people now taking action in 2009 knew or should have known about this for the past four years and did nothing about it. So, why the sudden concern?

        I think the concern for New Rochelle’s history expressed by Mayor Bramson is perhaps among the most cynical and opportunistic responses yet. As I recall, Mayor Bramson is the same person who suggested honoring New Rochelle’s history with the Armory by taking pictures as the building is torn down. This suggests the rather obvious solution in the case of what to do with a First Edition of Common Sense — just scan it and upload a PDF doc to the City web site and then tear down the museum and put in some nice townhouses.

      4. papers, etc should be in a national collection
        No problem with the cottage staying open with artefacts, but the papers, books etc should have been either in the Library of Congress or the NYHS years ago, where they’d be more accessible for national and international scholars to study, and conserved professionally.

        I was a member of the TPNHS in the mid-90s when this issue was bubbling up. I couldn’t believe there’s no national collection of papers on the order of what other founding fathers are honoured with, and that the TPNHS wasn’t lobbying for this, since it was very apparent at that time that they didn’t have the facilities or expertise to look after what they had properly. There isn’t much left, since most of Paine’s personal papers were destroyed in a fire in 1825 – which makes the TPNHS sale all the more disturbing.

        The closest to a proper ‘Thomas Paine Library’ is the Gimbel Collection in Philadelphia’s American Philosophical Society – maybe they should go there?

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