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I was taught in school that Thomas Paine was so hated that cobblers of the time nailed heels with a T and P (representing his initials, and as a sign of scorn and disrespect).

The Life of Thomas Paine, volume II by Moncure Daniel Conway (1893) makes the unreferenced claim:

A symbol of how they were trampled out is discoverable in the "T. P." shoenails. These nails, with heads so lettered, were in great request among the gentry, who had only to hold up their boot-soles to show how they were trampling on Tom Paine and his principles. This at any rate was accurate.

Graham Dean's poem Come Home Tom Paine repeats the claim in a verse:

A cobbler in London stamped your initials on boot nails

There is even a video of British children doing a "Shoe Nail Dance" (SND) , based on this belief.

In memory of Thomas Paine 200 year anniversary of his death. SND is a legacy of a cobbler that made shoe nails with TP initials in so people could stamp him into the ground.

I can't find any information if it was true or not.

  • Wow Oddthinking! You should answer the question too. :) – JasonR Mar 12 '13 at 15:30
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    @Brightblades: I didn't find any referenced answers, just people repeating variations of the claim. – Oddthinking Mar 12 '13 at 22:12
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From the 23 September 1871 Notes and Queries: A Medium of Intercommunication of Literary Men, General Readers, etc.

Tom Paine Nails. — Wrought-iron shoe-nails, impressed with the letters T. P., were formerly in great request, but have now become quite obsolete, being superseded by other patterns and varieties. But old veterans, followers of St. Crispin, "stuck to their last" in upholding their favourite nails till no more could be obtained for "love or money." In connection with this subject, the following tale is traditionally recorded: It is said that nails so marked first originated through the high feeling of detestation in which Thomas Paine* (author of The Age of Reason &c.) was held by the people...

The 1867 book The History of Merthyr Tydfil says at page 270:

But if Paine had admirers he had also enemies, for at the same time religious men had the nails in their boots arranged to form T. P., that then they might figuratively tread Tom Paine underfoot.

  • But I'm curious as to which school the OP learned that Tom Paine was hated. Perhaps a British one? Certainly in American schools (or at least the one I attended, some time ago) he is one of the heros of the American Revolution. – jamesqf Mar 22 '16 at 5:53

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