Committees of Correspondence

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Committees of Correspondence


Unity. In the 1760s Patriot leaders discovered that the key to resisting imperial policy was unity. Instigating popular outrage proved effective during the controversy surrounding the Stamp Act and Townshend duties. However, by 1770 the nonimportation associations had disbanded, and the only significant grievance to complain about was the tax on tea. Radical leaders such as Samuel Adams of Boston expected Parliament to resume taxing at anytime, especially since it had never surrendered the right to do so. Adams despaired of keeping the quarrel with Britain alive and fresh, but he did not have to wait long for a new crisis to emerge. Tension mounted following the Gaspee incident of 9 June 1772, when inhabitants of Providence, Rhode Island, burnt a customs schooner to its waterline. When royal authorities attempted to apprehend the culprits, propagandists filled the newspapers with cries of oppression. Meanwhile the Boston town meeting unsuccessfully petitioned Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson for a session of the Massachusetts General Assembly to look into the salaries of provincial judges. (Henceforth they would receive their salaries directly from the Crown.)

Function. After Hutchinson refused to comply, Adams on 2 November 1772 proposed an official network of corresponding societies to keep the public notified of political developments. These committees of correspondence would disseminate information and promote unity through formal expressions of support from the various towns in Massachusetts. The objective was to state 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, with the infringements and violations thereof that have been, or from time may be madealso requesting of each town a free communication of their sentiments on this subject. The idea for such committees was not new, having been previously recommended by Adams in 1764 and Richard Henry Lee of Virginia in 1768. In fact, during the Stamp

Act crisis the Sons of Liberty formed correspondence circles among several towns, counties, and provinces. Yet it was through the efforts of Adams that the committees of correspondence became a powerful political weapon for revolutionary action.

Decision to Commit. At first other leading Bostonians gave a lukewarm response to Adamss idea. Thomas Cushing, Samuel Phillips, and John Hancock all declined to serve on the committee because of business obligations. Eventually the Boston town meeting created a committee of twenty-one individuals chaired by James Otis to draft a statement of colonial rights and to list violations. On 20 November the Boston Committee of Correspondence presented a circular to the Massachusetts towns written by Adams, Joseph Warren, and Benjamin Church. It addressed the state of the imperial controversy and invited towns to form their own groups. Fifty-eight towns responded and set up committees on the Boston model. Many wrote their own declarations of colonial rights and printed them in newspapers. By January 1773, according to Hutchinson, more than eighty such organizations existed throughout the province. Special couriers carried dispatches between the various towns. Boston silversmith Paul Revere made approximately twenty rides for the Boston Committee of Correspondence between December 1773 and November 1775.


The following is a compilation of Paul Revered activities as an express rider for a two-year period. All the rides originated and ended in Boston:

Source: David Hackett Fischer, Paul Reveres Ride (New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), pp. 299-301.
17 Dec. 17731,2News of Tea Party
14 May 17741,2,3News of Intolerable Acts
Summer 17741Meetings with Whig leaders for calling a Congress
11 Sept. 17741,2Deliver Suffolk Resolves
29 Sept. 17742Response to British measures
12 Dec. 17744Warning of British attack
26 Jan. 17755Liaison with N.H. assembly
7 Apr. 17757Warning to move stores
16 Apr. 17756Meeting with town leaders
18 Apr. 17756,7Warning of British march; captured in Lincoln
20 Apr. 17758Out of door work for the Committee of Safety
12 Nov. 17752Studying methods for the manufacture of munitions
1-New York City5-Exeter,N.H.
2-Philadelphia6-Lexington, Mass
3-Hartford, Conn.7-Concord, Mass
4-Portsmouth, N.H8-Various Places

Network. By a resolution of the Virginia House of Burgesses on 12 March 1773, the movement to form committees of correspondence became intercolonial. While House members discussed the fallout of the Gaspee incident, Thomas Jefferson remembered that We were all sensible that the most urgent of all measures [was] that of coming to an understanding with all the other colonies, to consider the British claims as a common cause of all, and to produce a unity of action.... As a result the House of Burgesses formed a committee whose business it shall be to obtain the most early and authentic intelligence of all such acts and resolutions of the British Parliament... as may relate to or effect the British colonies in America, and to keep up and maintain a correspondence and communication with our sister colonies. ... A group of eleven then sent copies of this statement to the other colonial legislatures; all but New Jerseys assembly replied favorably. By the end of 1773 committees of correspondence had spread all the way to Charleston, South Carolina.

Worth. Many Loyalists saw the committees as treasonous. Hutchinson called them a contagion while Daniel Leonard of Taunton, Massachusetts, called them the foulest, subtlest, and most venomous serpent ever issued from the eggs of sedition. Following the passage of the Coercive Acts, the committees proved their worth to the Whig cause. When the port of Boston was closed, the Newport, Rhode Island, committee reported in the Newport Mercury that the insult and indignity to Boston ought to be viewed in the same odious light as a direct, hostile, invasion of every province on the continent.

Significance. In late March 1774 Adams confidently wrote that Colony communicates with colony and that the whole continent is now become united in sentiment and in opposition to tyranny. Although his assessment was a bit overoptimistic, Adams correctly identified the value of committees of correspondence in fostering intercolonial solidarity. Many committee members served in their respective colonies elected assemblies, a fact that gave them strong credence when the legislatures appointed delegates to attend the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia. By 1775 the committees of correspondence had been supplanted in importance by the committees of safety, the paramilitary bodies that secured arms and munitions and trained local militia in preparation for hostilities.


Richard D. Brown, Revolutionary Politics in Massachusetts: The Boston Committee of Correspondence and the Towns, 1772-1774 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1970);

John R. Galvin, Three Men of Boston (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1976);

John C. Miller, Origins of the American Revolution (Boston: Little, Brown, 1943);

Francis G. Walett, Patriots, Loyalists, and Printers: Bicentennial Articles on the American Revolution (Worcester, Mass.: American Antiquarian Society, 1976).

Committees of Correspondence

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COMMITTEES OF CORRESPONDENCE were used in eighteenth-century America to maintain contact among institutions and communities. The Massachusetts Assembly established such a committee to deal specifically with the problem of British policy as early as 1764. In 1771 the Boston Town Meeting appointed a committee to rouse fervor elsewhere in Massachusetts. The committee was the idea of Samuel Adams. Relations with Britain were quiescent at the time, but Adams believed Britain's seeming retreat in 1770 by its repeal of four of the five Townshend taxes had only been tactical and that colonials needed to be prepared for another crisis.

Initially the Bostonians met skepticism. Some towns believed the goal was a boycott of British trade for the sake of selling off Boston's own surplus goods. But the committees of Boston and four other towns agreed in November 1773 to resist the importation of East India tea. By mid-1774 a network of committees spanned Massachusetts.

Outside Massachusetts committees developed more slowly. Virginia's House of Burgesses proposed in March 1773 that colonial assemblies appoint committees to exchange information when each house was not sitting. New York City's Committee of Fifty-One was not elected until 19 May 1774, when a tumultuous public meeting debated the punishment Britain imposed on Boston and Massachusetts for the Tea Party. The young aristocrat Gouverneur Morris wrote as he watched that "the mob begin to think and to reason," and he likened its members to "poor reptiles." In Tryon County, on New York's western frontier, a committee also gathered, but its members were self-appointed and they met secretly. The local grandee Sir John Johnson opposed the American movement, and he had support from both his tenants and Mohawk Indians. When Sir John chanced upon a public meeting to elect a militia captain, he broke it up, flailing his horsewhip.

Both Morris, who did become a patriot, and Johnson, who remained a Loyalist, understood the fundamental issue. These committees marked the beginning of the destruction of established political institutions and the creation of a counter government. The very act of sending out express riders like Paul Revere challenged the monopoly of the Crown's official post office and insinuated that postmasters could not be trusted with sensitive messages. The separate riders became an organized Constitutional Post in May 1774.

Whether their members were elected or self-appointed, the committees that towns and communities appointed from 1771 onward signified a new stage in American resistance. They recognized the need for organization both within the separate colonies and across provincial lines. After the Tea Party they helped to establish the point that Boston and Massachusetts needed support. They brought new faces into political affairs. Perhaps most important, they posed the problem of what was to be done, since it was clear that exchanging information was bound to lead to some form of direct action.


Ammerman, David. In the Common Cause: American Response to the Coercive Acts of 1774. New York: Norton, 1975.

Brown, Richard D. Revolutionary Politics in Massachusetts: The Boston Committee of Correspondence and the Towns, 1772–1774. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1970.

Countryman, Edward. A People in Revolution: The American Revolution and Political Society in New York, 1760–1790. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981.

Maier, Pauline. From Resistance to Revolution: Colonial Radicals and the Development of American Opposition to Britain, 1765–1776. New York: Knopf, 1972.

Ryerson, Richard Alan. The Revolution Is Now Begun: The Radical Committees of Philadelphia, 1765–1776. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1978.


See alsoRevolution, American ; Revolutionary Committees .

Committees of Correspondence

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This organization works toward a drug-free America. It is a nonprofit organization that does not accept government funding and is headed by Otto and Connie Moulton, 24 Adams Street, Danvers, Massachusetts 01923, (508) 774-2641. Drug Watch International and its subsidiary, the International Drug Strategy Institute, were founded to expand the information gathering and dissemination efforts of the Committees of Correspondence.

In 1977, Otto had been coaching little-league baseball and youth hockey and was uninformed on the youth drug culture. After four of his players changed in attitude and ability, he discovered the causeMarijuana. The Moultons began learning about the health effects of marijuana, which was not an easy task. PRIDE and The American Council on Marijuana provided research reports and, armed with facts, the Moultons shared them in their local communities, alerting parents and students to marijuana's effects.

At the 1980 PRIDE conference, they joined with other groups to found a grass-roots Parents Movement called The National Federation of Parents for Drug-Free Youth. The Moultons also revived the Committees of Correspondence, an organization originally founded in 1772 by Samuel Adamsto exchange ideas on building colonial unity. The modern version was formed to build national unity by exchanging facts and ideas on drug prevention, with a newsletter and letter campaign to government favoring antidrug legislation.

The Moultons have served Massachusetts state government and the U.S. government as advisors in the 1980s and 1990s. The Committees of Correspondence maintains a large library on drug-culture history, with books, videotapes, and publications to provide information for global requests; it also provides the public, policymakers, and the media with current research data in an ongoing effort to counter drug advocacy.

Otto Moulton

Committees of Correspondence

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Committees of Correspondence

COMMITTEES OF CORRESPONDENCE. It was common for colonial legislatures to create a standing committee to correspond with the colony's agent in London when the legislature was not in session. In response to rumors about the court of inquiry convened to investigate the Gaspee affair of 1772 (in which rebellious American colonists set fire to a British revenue cutter off the Rhode Island coast), the Virginia House of Burgesses voted on 12 March 1773 to establish a standing committee of correspondence "to keep up and maintain a correspondence and communication with our sister colonies" and "to obtain the most early and authentic intelligence of all such acts and resolutions of the British Parliament, or proceedings of administration, as many relate to or affect the British colonies in America." On 28 May, the Massachusetts House of Representatives endorsed the Virginia proposal, established its own committee, and sent a circular letter to the other colonies recommending that they, too, establish such committees. All complied.

SEE ALSO Gaspée Affair; Sons of Liberty.


Jensen, Merrill, ed. English Historical Documents. Volume IX: American Colonial Documents to 1776. David C. Douglas, general editor. New York: Oxford University Press, 1955.

Van Schreeven, William J., comp. Revolutionary Virginia: The Road to Independence. Edited by Robert L. Scribner. Vol. 1: Forming Thunderclouds and the First Convention, 1763–1774, A Documentary Record. Charlottesville, Va: Published for the Virginia Independence Bicentennial Commission by the University Press of Virginia, 1973.

                              revised by Harold E. Selesky

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