The Boston Committee of Correspondence, which usually gathered at the Liberty Tree in Boston Common

The committees of correspondence were a collection of American political organizations that sought to coordinate opposition to British Parliament and, later, support for American independence during the American Revolution. The brainchild of Samuel Adams, a Patriot from Boston, the committees sought to establish, through the writing of letters, an underground network of communication among Patriot leaders in the Thirteen Colonies. The committees were instrumental in setting up the First Continental Congress, which convened in Philadelphia in September and October 1774.


The function of the committees was to alert the residents of a given colony of the actions taken by the British Crown, and to disseminate information from cities to the countryside. The news was typically spread via hand-written letters or printed pamphlets, which would be carried by couriers on horseback or aboard ships. The committees were responsible for ensuring that this news accurately reflected the views of Patriots, and was dispatched to the proper receiving groups. Many correspondents were members of colonial legislative assemblies, and others were also active in the Sons of Liberty and Stamp Act Congress.[1]

A total of about 7,000 to 8,000 Patriots served on these committees at the colonial and local levels, comprising most of the leadership in their communities; Loyalists were naturally excluded. The committees became the leaders of the American resistance to Great Britain, and largely directed the Revolutionary War effort at the state and local level.

The committees promoted patriotism and home manufacturing, advising Americans to avoid luxuries, and lead a more simple life. The committees gradually extended their power over many aspects of American public life. In late 1774 and early 1775, they supervised the elections of provincial conventions, which began the operation of a true colonial government.[2]


Further information: Currency Act and Stamp Act of 1765

This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (September 2021)

The first committees of correspondence were established in Boston in 1764 to rally opposition to the Currency Act and unpopular reforms imposed on the customs service.[3]

During the Stamp Act crisis the following year, the Province of New York formed a committee to urge common resistance among its neighbors to the new taxes. The Province of Massachusetts Bay's correspondents responded by urging other colonies to send delegates to the Stamp Act Congress that fall. The resulting committees disbanded after the crisis was over.

Pro-revolutionary Patriot leaders in Boston, believing they were confronting increasingly hostile threats by the British royal government, established the first long-standing committee with the approval of a town meeting in late 1772. By spring 1773, Patriots decided to follow the Massachusetts system and began to set up their own committees in each colony. The Colony of Virginia appointed an eleven-member committee in March, quickly followed by the colonies of Rhode Island, Connecticut, the Province of New Hampshire, and the Province of South Carolina. By February 1774, 11 colonies had set up their own committees; of the thirteen colonies that eventually rebelled, only the provinces of North Carolina and Pennsylvania did not.


Further information: Delaware Colony

In Delaware Colony, a committee of correspondence was established by Thomas McKean after ten years of agitation centered in New Castle County. In neighboring Kent County, Caesar Rodney set up a second committee, followed by Sussex County. Following the recommendation of the First Continental Congress in 1774, the committees were replaced by elected "committees of inspection" with a subcommittee of correspondence. The new committees specialized in intelligence work, especially the identification of men opposed to the Patriot cause. The committees were a driving force in popularizing the demand for independence.

The correspondence committees exchanged information with others in Boston, Philadelphia, and elsewhere. Their leadership was often drawn upon to provide Delaware with executive leaders. The committees of inspection used publicity as weapons to suppress disaffection and encourage patriotism. With imports from Britain cut off, the committees sought to make America self-sufficient, so they encouraged the cultivation of flax and the raising of sheep for wool. The committees helped organize local militia in the hundreds and later in the counties and all of Delaware. With their encouragement, the Delaware Assembly elected delegates to Continental Congress favorable to independence.[4]


Further information: Province of Massachusetts Bay

In November 1772 in the Province of Massachusetts Bay, Samuel Adams, Joseph Warren, and Mercy Otis Warren formed a committee in response to the Gaspée Affair and to the recent British decision to have the salaries of the royal governor and judges be paid by the British Crown rather than the colonial assembly, a measure which effectively stripped the colony of its means of holding public officials accountable to their constituents.

In the following months, more than one hundred other committees were formed in towns and villages throughout Massachusetts. The Massachusetts committee's headquarters, based in Boston and led by Adams, became a model for other Patriot groups. The meeting establishing the committee set its purpose, outlining "the rights of the colonists, and of this province in particular, as men, as Christians, and as subjects; to communicate and publish the same to the several towns in this province and to the world as the sense of this town."[5]

New York

Main article: Committee of Sixty § Committee of Fifty-one

Further information: Province of New York

Fraunces Tavern in Lower Manhattan, the meeting place of the Committee of Fifty on May 16, 1774

In response to the news that the Port of Boston would be closed under the Boston Port Act, an advertisement was posted at the coffee house on Wall Street in New York City, a noted place of resort for shipmasters and merchants, inviting merchants to meet on May 16, 1774, at the Fraunces Tavern "in order to consult on measures proper to be pursued on the present critical and important situation."[6] At the meeting, chaired by Isaac Low, the committee resolved to nominate a 50-member committee of correspondence to be submitted to the public. On May 17, 1774, they published a notice calling on the public to meet at the coffee house on May 19 at 1 p.m. to approve the committee and appoint others as they may see fit.[7] At the meeting on May 19, Francis Lewis was also nominated and the entire Committee of Fifty-one was confirmed.[8]

On May 23, 1774, the committee met at the coffee house and appointed Isaac Low as permanent chairman and John Alsop as deputy chairman.[9] The committee then formed a subcommittee, which produced a letter in response to the letters from Boston, calling for a "Congress of Deputies from the Colonies" to be assembled, which became known as the First Continental Congress and was approved by the committee.[10]

On May 30, 1774, the Committee formed a subcommittee to write a letter to the supervisors of New York's counties to exhort them to also form similar committees of correspondence, which was adopted in a meeting of the Committee on May 31.[11]

On July 4, 1774, a resolution was approved to appoint five delegates contingent upon their confirmation by the freeholders of the City and County of New York, and to request that the other counties also send delegates.[12] Isaac Low, John Alsop, James Duane, Philip Livingston, and John Jay were then appointed, and the public of the City and County was invited to attend City Hall and approve the appointments on July 7.[13] This caused friction with the more radical Sons of Liberty, known as the Committee of Mechanics faction, who held a meeting in the fields on July 6.[14] Three counties, Westchester, Duchess, and Albany acquiesced to the five delegates, while three counties, Kings, Suffolk, and Orange, sent delegates of their own.[15]

North Carolina

Further information: Province of North Carolina

By 1773, the political situation had deteriorated. There was concern about the courts. Massachusetts' young and ardent Boston patriot, Josiah Quincy Jr.,[16] visited North Carolina for five days. He spent the night of March 26, 1773, at Cornelius Harnett's home near Wilmington, North Carolina. The two discussed and drew up plans for a Committee of Correspondence. The committee's purpose: communicate circumstances and revolutionary sentiment among the colonies. It was after this meeting that Quincy dubbed Harnett the "Samuel Adams of North Carolina."[17][18]

In December 1773, the North Carolina Committee of Correspondence formed in Wilmington. Although Harnett was absent, he was made chairman of the committee. Other members included John Harvey, Robert Howe, Richard Caswell, Edward Vail, John Ashe, Joseph Hewes, Samuel Johnston, and William Hooper.[19][20]


Further information: Province of Pennsylvania

Among the last to form a committee of correspondence, the Province of Pennsylvania did so at a meeting in Philadelphia on May 20, 1774. In a compromise between the more radical and more conservative factions of political activists, the committee was formed by combining the lists each faction proposed. That committee of 19 diversified and grew to 43, then to 66, and finally to two different groups of 100 between May 1774 and its dissolution in September 1776. Ultimately, 160 men from Pennsylvania participated in one or more of the committees, though only four were regularly elected to all of them: Thomas Barclay, John Cox Jr., John Dickinson, and Joseph Reed.[21]


Further information: Colony of Virginia

In early March 1773, Dabney Carr proposed the formation of a permanent Committee of Correspondence before the Virginia House of Burgesses. Virginia's own committee was formed on March 12, 1773. Its members were Peyton Randolph, Robert Carter Nicholas, Richard Bland, Richard Henry Lee, Benjamin Harrison, Edmund Pendleton, Patrick Henry, Dudley Digges, Dabney Carr, Archibald Cary, and Thomas Jefferson.[22]

Other colonies

By July 1773, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and South Carolina had also formed committees.

With Pennsylvania's action in May 1774, all of the colonies that eventually rebelled had established such committees.[23]

The colonial committees successfully organized common resistance to the Tea Act and even recruited physicians who would write that drinking tea would make Americans "weak, effeminate, and valetudinarian for life."

These permanent committees performed the important planning necessary for the First Continental Congress, which convened in September 1774. The Second Congress created its own committee of correspondence to communicate the American interpretation of events to foreign nations.

These committees were replaced during the revolution with Provincial Congresses.

By 1780, committees of correspondence had also been formed in Great Britain and Ireland.[24]

See also


  1. ^ Albert Bushnell Hart (1897). Formation of the Union. p. 49. ISBN 9781406816990.
  2. ^ Norton & Blight (2001), pp. 144–145.
  3. ^ Richard D. Brown, Revolutionary Politics in Massachusetts: The Boston Committee of Correspondence and the Towns, 1772–1774 (1976) ch 1
  4. ^ Hancock (1973)
  5. ^ Smith (1976), p. 368.
  6. ^ Dawson 1886, pp. 7–8.
  7. ^ Dawson 1886, pp. 9–10.
  8. ^ Dawson 1886, p. 10.
  9. ^ Dawson 1886, p. 16.
  10. ^ Dawson 1886, p. 17.
  11. ^ Dawson 1886, p. 20.
  12. ^ Dawson 1886, p. 24.
  13. ^ Dawson 1886, p. 25.
  14. ^ Dawson 1886, pp. 24–25.
  15. ^ Dawson 1886, p. 29.
  16. ^ Lossing (1855), p. 83.
  17. ^ Wells (1865), p. 421.
  18. ^ Maier (1978), pp. 6–7.
  19. ^ Daniels (1986), p. 5.
  20. ^ Smith, Carmen Miner (2006). "Committees of Correspondence (North Carolina)". Retrieved October 31, 2019.
  21. ^ Ryerson (1978), pp. 39–42, 49–52, 94–100, 128–131, 156–159, 275–281.
  22. ^ Van Schreeven & Schribner (1976)
  23. ^ Ketchum (2002), p. 245.
  24. ^ Puls (2006), p. 206.


Primary sources[edit]

  • Revolutionary Virginia: The Road to Independence. Vol. 2, The Committees and the Second Convention, 1773–1775: A Documentary Record edited by William J. Van Schreeven and Robert L. Schribner, (1974)[ISBN missing]

Further reading