Committee of correspondence

Committee of correspondence

The Committees of Correspondence were shadow governments organized by the Patriot leaders of the Thirteen Colonies on the eve of American Revolution. They coordinated responses to Britain and shared their plans; by 1773 they had emerged as shadow governments, superseding the colonial legislature and royal officials. The Maryland Committee of Correspondence was instrumental in setting up the First Continental Congress, which met in Philadelphia. These served an important role in the Revolution, by disseminating the colonial interpretation of British actions between the colonies and to foreign governments. The committees of correspondence rallied opposition on common causes and established plans for collective action, and so the group of committees was the beginning of what later became a formal political union among the colonies. A total of about 7000 to 8000 Patriots served on these committees at the colonial and local levels, comprising most of the leadership in their communities—the Loyalists were excluded. The committees became the leaders of the American resistance to British actions, and largely determined the war effort at the state and local level. When Congress decided to boycott British products, the colonial and local Committees took charge, examining merchant records and publishing the names of merchants who attempted to defy the boycott by importing British goods. They 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. They set up espionage networks to identify disloyal elements, displaced the royal officials, and helped topple the entire Imperial system in each colony. In late 1774 and early 1775, they supervised the elections of provincial conventions, which took over the actual operation of colonial government.[1]



A major function of the Committees in each colony was to inform the voters of the common threat faced by all the colonies, and to disseminate information from the main cities to the rural hinterlands where most of the colonists lived. As news was typically spread in hand-written letters or printed pamphlets to be carried by couriers on horseback or aboard ships, the committees were responsible for ensuring that this news accurately reflected the views of their parent governmental body on a particular issue and was dispatched to the proper groups. Many correspondents were also members of the colonial legislative assemblies, and were active in the secret Sons of Liberty and Stamp Act Congress organizations.


The earliest Committees of Correspondence were formed temporarily to address a particular problem. Once a resolution was achieved, they were disbanded. The first formal committee, established in Boston in 1764 to rally opposition to the Currency Act and unpopular reforms imposed on the customs service.

During the Stamp Act Crisis the following year, New York formed a committee to urge common resistance among its neighbors to the new taxes. The Province of Massachusetts Bay 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.

Boston, under increasingly hostile threats by the royal government, set up the first 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. Virginia appointed an 11 member committee in March, quickly followed by Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. By February 1774, 11 colonies (excluding North Carolina and Pennsylvania) had set up their Committees.


In Massachusetts, in November 1772, Samuel Adams and Dr. Joseph Warren formed a committee in response to the Gaspée Affair and in relation to the recent British decision to have the salaries of the royal governor and judges be paid by the Crown rather than the colonial assembly, which removed the colony of its means of controlling public officials. In the following months, more than 100 other committees were formed in the towns and villages of Massachusetts. The Massachusetts committee had its headquarters in Boston and under the leadership of Adams became a model for other radical groups. The meeting when establishing the committee gave it the task of stating "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".[2]


In 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 and members consisted of 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.[3]


Among the last to form a committee of correspondence, 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 proposed. That committee of nineteen diversified and grew to forty-three, then to sixty-six and finally to two different groups of one hundred between May 1774 and its dissolution in September 1776. One hundred sixty men participated in one or more of the committees, but only four were regularly elected to all of them: Thomas Barclay, John Cox, Jr., John Dickinson, and Joseph Reed.[4]


According to Hancock (1973), a committee of correspondence was established by Thomas McKean after 10 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 Congress in 1774, the Committees were replaced by elected "Committees of Inspection" with a subcommittee of Correspondence. The new committees specialize in intelligence work, especially the identification of disloyal men. The Committees were in the lead in demanding independence. The Correspondence committees exchanged information with others in Boston and Philadelphia, and elsewhere. Their leadership often was 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 raising of flax and 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 Congress favorable to independence.[5]

North Carolina

By 1773 the political situation had deteriorated. There was concern about the courts. Massachusetts' young and ardent Boston patriot, Josiah Quincy, Jr.[6] visited North Carolina staying 5 days. He spent the night of March 26, 1773 at Cornelius Harnett's home near Wilmington, North Carolina.[7] 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 Josiah Quincy, Jr, dubbed Harnett the "Samuel Adams of North Carolina.",[8][9]

Perhaps characteristic of Committees of Correspondence members, Harnett was celebrated, distinguished, scholarly and possessed of unflinching integrity[6] Harnett’s father [also named Cornelius Harnett] is Sheriff of Albemarle, an area covering about 11 (2009) north eastern North Carolina counties.,[8][10]

The Correspondence Committee forms the next year at Wilmington, NC, although Harnett is absent, he is made chairman of the Correspondence Committee. Harnett spends the next year in northern states carrying out correspondence committee responsibilities.[11]

Harnett is first known in public affairs by Opposition to the Stamp Act and related measures. He represents the borough of Wilmington in the 1770–1771 provincial assembly and is chairman of the body's more important committees.,[12]

"In April of 1770, Parliament repealed all taxes except the one on tea ....As head of the Sons of Liberty, Cornelius Harnett called a meeting on June 2 of that year. The group agreed to keep strictly to a non importation agreement. They would have no dealings with merchants who imported goods from England."[13]

Harnett is the Revolution's master spirit throughout the Cape Fear region. He is president of the provincial council and actual Governor of North Carolina. He is "...a member of the Provincial congress at Halifax, North Carolina, in the spring of 1776... as chairman of a committee to consider the usurpations of the home government..." he informs North Carolina Continental Congress delegates to support a declaration of independence.[12]

When the Congress creates a provisional government, Cornelius Harnett of New Hanover is made head. "This cultivated and wealthy citizen... was ... Governor Burrington's Council as early as 1730... He was a stern and devoted patriot, and was to seal his faith with his blood."[14]

Soon afterward Sir Henry Clinton, with a British fleet, appears in Cape Fear River. Clinton honors Harnett and Robert Howe by excepting them from his offer of a general pardon to those who should return to their allegiance the Crown. When, on 22 July, the Declaration of Independence arrives at Halifax, Harnett reads it to a great concourse of citizens and soldiers, who take him on their shoulders and bear him in triumph through the town. In the autumn of the same year he assists in drafting a state constitution and bill of rights, and to his liberal spirit the citizens are indebted for the clause securing" religious liberty. Under the new constitution Harnett becomes one of the council, and in 1778, is elected to fill Governor Caswell's seat in congress. His name is to be found signed to the "articles of confederation and perpetual union."

The Price of Harnett's Leadership[15]

Before the British surrendered to Washington, Cornelius Harnett paid the ultimate price for his leadership. He was viewed as a primary leader of the independence movement in North Carolina. In May of 1776 General Henry Clinton issued a proclamation to pardon North Carolinians who would lay down arms and submit to British law. Harnett and Robert Howe were the two exceptions from that proclamation. This made Cornelius Harnett a British outlaw. Earlier, in 1774, Samuel Adams and John Hancock had been excepted in similar fashion from the Amnesty Proclamation of General Thomas Gage in Boston.[9] Harnett was captured by soldiers under Major James Craig, bound hand and foot, and thrown over the back of a horse like a sack of meal and paraded down the streets of Wilmington. He was imprisoned in a roofless blockhouse in Wilmington by order of Major Craig. Exposure over a period of three months to the weather weakened the 58-year-old revolutionary. Both loyalists and supporters of the revolution signed a petition which induced the British occupants of Wilmington to free Harnett. He died April 28, 1781 [his grave marker incorrectly states April 20], shortly after being freed.[16]

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 had such committees.[17]

They organized common resistance to the Tea Act and even recruited physicians who wrote 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.

On December 17, 1774 John Lamb[disambiguation needed ] and others in New York City formed the last New York committee. This committee included Isaac Sears, Alexander McDougall, and others.

They were brought forth in 1773 and their proposal was eagerly wanted by the other colonies. Three Hundred towns had been drawn into the network by 1774. These committees were replaced during the revolution with Provincial Congresses.

By 1780, committees of correspondence had been formed in England and Ireland.[18]

See also

Further reading

  • Maier, Pauline R. (1972). From Resistance to Revolution: Colonial Radicals and the Development of American Opposition to Written, 1765–1776. 
  • Maier, Pauline R. (1980). The Old Revolutionaries: Political Lies in the Age of Samuel Adams. 


  1. ^ Norton & Blight (2001), pp. 144–145.
  2. ^ Smith (1976), p. 368.
  3. ^ Van Schreeven & Schribner (1976)
  4. ^ Ryerson (1978), pp. 39–42, 49–52, 94–100, 128–131, 156–159, 275–281.
  5. ^ Hancock (1973)
  6. ^ a b Lossing (1855), p. 83.
  7. ^ McCormick (2007)
  8. ^ a b Wells (1865), p. 421.
  9. ^ a b Maier (1978), pp. 6–7.
  10. ^ Ripley (1859)
  11. ^ Daniels (1986), p. 5.
  12. ^ a b "Edited Appletons Encyclopedia", Copyright © 2001 Virtualology TM,
  13. ^ Daniels (1986), pp. 1-2.
  14. ^ Moore (1880), p. 197.
  15. ^ McCormick (2007), p. 8.
  16. ^ Daniels (1986), p. 10.
  17. ^ Ketchum (2002), p. 245.
  18. ^ Puls (2006), p. 206.



Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Игры ⚽ Нужно решить контрольную?

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Committee Of Correspondence — Le committee of correspondence ou comité de correspondance était un corps organisé par chacun des gouvernements locaux des colonies américaines dans le but de coordonner les communications écrites entre les colonies. Les comités de correspondance …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Committee of correspondence — bezeichnet: eine Organisation der Amerikanischen Revolution für die Unabhängigkeit der Vereinigten Staaten, siehe Committee of correspondence (Amerikanische Revolution) den Gründungsnamen der Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Committee of correspondence — Le committee of correspondence ou comité de correspondance était un corps organisé par chacun des gouvernements locaux des colonies américaines dans le but de coordonner les communications écrites entre les colonies. Les comités de correspondance …   Wikipédia en Français

  • committee of correspondence — a body established by various towns or assemblies of the American colonies to exchange information with each other, mold public opinion, and take joint action against the British * * * Amer. Hist. 1. an intercolonial committee organized 1772 by… …   Useful english dictionary

  • Committee of correspondence (disambiguation) — Committee of correspondence may refer to: Committee of correspondence, a body organized by the local governments of the American colonies for the purposes of coordinating written communication outside of the colony. Committees of Correspondence… …   Wikipedia

  • Committee of Correspondence — Amer. Hist. 1. an intercolonial committee organized 1772 by Samuel Adams in Massachusetts to keep colonists informed of British anticolonial actions and to plan colonial resistance or countermeasures. 2. (sometimes l.c.) any of various similar… …   Universalium

  • The Committee of Correspondence Newsletter — later known as The Correspondent , was a publication of the Committee of Correspondence from 1961 through 1965.HistoryIn late 1959, toward the end of the Eisenhower Republican administration, some American intellectuals, mostly academics or soci …   Wikipedia

  • Virginia committee of correspondence — The Virginia committee of correspondence was the committee Virginia used to communicated with other colony s Committee of correspondence to deal with issues they had …   Wikipedia

  • Committee of Sixty — The Committee of Sixty was an extra legal group formed in New York City, in 1775, by rebels to enforce the Continental Association, a boycott of British goods enacted by the First Continental Congress. It was the successor to the Committee of… …   Wikipedia

  • Committee of Secret Correspondence — The Committee of Secret Correspondence was a Revolutionary American council dedicated to attaining European support for the war for independence. The CSC s most notable success was convincing the French government to support the colonials cause.… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”