13. Thomas Paine, one of the most influential political writers of the late-18th century, had his bones stolen after death and sold off to the highest bidders.
Thomas Paine, author of Rights of Man and Common Sense – the best-selling book in American history relative to population size – remains one of the most influential of the Founding Fathers. One of the core instigators behind widespread popular support for radical politics during the 18th century, with John Adams claiming that without Common Sense the American Revolution would have stood no chance, in later life Paine became increasingly ostracized due to his unrepentant deism and opposition to organized Christianity. Dying on June 8, 1809, in New York City, the Englishman-in-exile’s funeral was attended by just six people.
Despite the absence of grief on the level that was garnered by the passing of, for example, Benjamin Franklin, Paine remained a figure of interest. Refused burial at New Rochelle by the Quakers for his attacks on organized religion, Paine was instead interred under a walnut tree on his modest farm. In 1819, journalist William Cobbett dug up his bones with the intent of providing a proper burial in Paine’s native England. Dying twenty years later with the bones still in his possession, they were subsequently auctioned off by Cobbett’s relatives. In the years since, various claims have been made concerning the location and ownership of the remains, including that Paine’s head resides somewhere in Australia.