Thomas Paine’s historic ‘The American Crisis’ discovered in Mt. Pleasant
Extremely rare Revolutionary War era pamphlet authenticated by East Coast auction house
By Robert Stevens
Mar. 1, 2018
MT. PLEASANT—One of the last remaining copies of one of the American Revolution’s most influential documents was discovered in a box of forgotten papers in Mt. Pleasant.
The document, which was confirmed as authentic last week, is an extremely rare, first-edition copy of Thomas Paine’s “The American Crisis”—one of only five copies known to exist.
The document begins with these famous, unforgettable lines, “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it NOW, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”
The document continues: “Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered, yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the tri
umph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly.”
Paine had already written another famous piece called “Common Sense,” which called for the war to ignite so the American colonies could have their freedom.
But breaking free from British rule was a monumental task.
Paine wrote “The American Crisis” to stir the passions of embattled colonial troops who were suffering from rock-bottom morale during their fight for liberty.
Part one of the pamphlet appeared on Dec. 19, 1776, in the newspaper called “Philadelphia Journal.”
The full pamphlet with three parts was issued on Dec. 23, 1776, and was distributed to commanders, officers and soldiers in the colonial army, including General George Washington.
Just two days after its distribution, Washington, stirred by Paine’s words, famously slipped across the Delaware River under the cover of night with his men to attack British troops the next day.
How did such a rare and significant document find its way to Mt. Pleasant?
It likely came to Utah by wagon train in 1853.
Lynn and Joan Varah of Mt. Pleasant found it in 2015 while cleaning their garage.
In the corner of the garage, they were drawn to a box full of forgotten letters and papers that had stacked up over many years, originally gathered by their brother-in-law, Don Drake, who had been dead for 25 years.
Lynn said the r
are pamphlet probably sat in that box for more than half a century before its discovery.
They gave the whole box to their friend, David Foster, who had some experience in genealogy and historical research, for the purpose of seeing if anything inside was of importance.
Lynn said Foster told him after he had found out the rare pamphlet was in the collection of old dusty pages, he considered keeping it to himself, realizing the value of the discovery, but he just couldn’t do that to his friends.
“I admire a man for his honesty,” Lynn said. “It’s what defines him, his word, his truths.”
Lynn said Paine was a man who spoke truth, sometimes in a confrontational or unpopular way—even referring to reluctant defenders of truth as “summer soldiers” or “sunshine patriots.”
Foster said since sharing the tale of discovery with the couple, he has put forth the legwork required to see that the artifact’s auction is handled properly.
When Lynn and Joan heard what Foster had discovered in his research, they admit they were shocked.
Joan said she was practical about it and of the mind they should sell it.
Lynn agreed with Joan but said they both came to realize that keeping the historic prize would have been foolish because they were not equipped to store and preserve a valuable document of such historical significance.
For a document of that age, value and significance, preservation methods such as climate control and tight security would have been a must, and they had no desire at their age to go to those lengths to hang on to a historical trophy piece.
Foster said he felt his friends should sell the document since they were not collectors of historical documents, so they might as well get something out of it.
The friends decided they would send the historical document to the Americana auction at Swann Galleries.
Rick Stattler, the gallery’s Americana department director, estimates it could bring in as much as $75,000, if not more, when it is auctioned off on April 12.
A copy of the same document with all three parts sold in 2014 for $125,000.
The document the Varahs own has only two parts and is in poorer condition.
Lynn said he plans on splitting the takings from the auction with Foster for his help in the research and for his honesty about what they had on their hands.
As to how the historic pamphlet arrived in Sanpete, the complete answer is muddled, but Foster and the couple were able to piece together some likely answers.
The document has the name of Thomas Wallin written on the cover. Wallin was a postmaster in New Egypt, N.J., and eventually died in 1835, according to Foster.
Wallin’s family had ties to the still-young The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Lynn and Foster believe the pamphlet was brought west during the Mormon exodus with relatives of Wallin.
“Back then they valued things like books, letters and correspondence,” Lynn said. “It does not surprise me that something like this, which may have once belonged to a relative, made the trip to Utah with Mormon pioneers.”
According to Lynn, the pamphlet was discovered with hundreds of letters belonging to Wallin’s daughter and granddaughter, Sarah Wallin (married Anthony Ivins) and Margaret Ivins (married Washington McKean), respectively.
This fact is what Foster said leads him to believe the pamphlet made its way west as part of the Mormon pioneer migration in 1853.
Foster tracked down descendants of Sarah and Margaret, now living in Draper, and gifted the McKean family correspondence to them.
As to how the box got to Mt. Pleasant specifically, Lynn believes it was acquired during one of many different property purchases made by his brother-in-law. Drake moved from Salt Lake to Sanpete more than 50 years ago and built a home on part of the Varahs’ property. He lived there until he died 25 years ago.
It wasn’t until 2015 that the box containing the famous pamphlet was brought out of the garage during a cleaning effort by Lynn and Joan and then given to Foster to do some research.
Foster said it took him quite a while to realize what was really in the box, along with its rarity and value. His method was entirely self-directed internet research at an admittedly slow pace over the first few months.
“After I recognized its value, I bought a pair of white cloth gloves to handle it and barely touched the thing,” Foster said.
Lynn said he regularly gets asked what he plans to do with the money from the auction. He said it’s really meant for his progeny, but he likes to answer that he’ll buy a fishing pole.
“I like to give that answer because I think it’s funny,” he said. “The funny part is without that document’s role in history, it’s very possible none of us would have ever had the right to buy that pole and use it to fish. That pamphlet is part of why we have the freedoms we have, and our country.”
Lynn added that there are actually some obvious parallels between Paine and the current president of the U.S.
“Neither one cares if people don’t like what they have to say,” he said. “And they knew how to get themselves into some trouble too.”