Committee of correspondence

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The Committees of Correspondence were shadow governments organized by the Patriot leaders of the Thirteen Colonies
Thirteen Colonies
The Thirteen Colonies were English and later British colonies established on the Atlantic coast of North America between 1607 and 1733. They declared their independence in the American Revolution and formed the United States of America...

 on the eve of American Revolution
American Revolution
The American Revolution was the political upheaval during the last half of the 18th century in which thirteen colonies in North America joined together to break free from the British Empire, combining to become the United States of America...

. 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
First Continental Congress
The First Continental Congress was a convention of delegates from twelve of the thirteen North American colonies that met on September 5, 1774, at Carpenters' Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, early in the American Revolution. It was called in response to the passage of the Coercive Acts by the...

, 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.

News


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
Sons of Liberty
The Sons of Liberty were a political group made up of American patriots that originated in the pre-independence North American British colonies. The group was formed to protect the rights of the colonists from the usurpations by the British government after 1766...

 and Stamp Act Congress
Stamp Act Congress
The Stamp Act Congress was a meeting on October 19, 1765 in New York City of representatives from some of the British colonies of North America. They discussed and acted upon the Stamp Act recently passed by the governing Parliament of Great Britain overseas, which did not include any...

 organizations.

History


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
Boston
Boston is the capital of and largest city in Massachusetts, and is one of the oldest cities in the United States. The largest city in New England, Boston is regarded as the unofficial "Capital of New England" for its economic and cultural impact on the entire New England region. The city proper had...

 in 1764 to rally opposition to the Currency Act
Currency Act
The Currency Act is the name of several acts of the Parliament of Great Britain that regulated paper money issued by the colonies of British America. The acts sought to protect British merchants and creditors from being paid in depreciated colonial currency...

 and unpopular reforms imposed on the customs service.

During the Stamp Act
Stamp Act 1765
The Stamp Act 1765 was a direct tax imposed by the British Parliament specifically on the colonies of British America. The act required that many printed materials in the colonies be produced on stamped paper produced in London, carrying an embossed revenue stamp...

 Crisis the following year, New York
Province of New York
The Province of New York was an English and later British crown territory that originally included all of the present U.S. states of New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Vermont, along with inland portions of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Maine, as well as eastern Pennsylvania...

 formed a committee to urge common resistance among its neighbors to the new taxes. The Province of Massachusetts Bay
Province of Massachusetts Bay
The Province of Massachusetts Bay was a crown colony in North America. It was chartered on October 7, 1691 by William and Mary, the joint monarchs of the kingdoms of England and Scotland...

 correspondents responded by urging other colonies to send delegates to the Stamp Act Congress
Stamp Act Congress
The Stamp Act Congress was a meeting on October 19, 1765 in New York City of representatives from some of the British colonies of North America. They discussed and acted upon the Stamp Act recently passed by the governing Parliament of Great Britain overseas, which did not include any...

 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.

Massachusetts


In Massachusetts, in November 1772, Samuel Adams
Samuel Adams
Samuel Adams was an American statesman, political philosopher, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. As a politician in colonial Massachusetts, Adams was a leader of the movement that became the American Revolution, and was one of the architects of the principles of American...

 and Dr. Joseph Warren
Joseph Warren
Dr. Joseph Warren was an American doctor who played a leading role in American Patriot organizations in Boston in early days of the American Revolution, eventually serving as president of the revolutionary Massachusetts Provincial Congress...

 formed a committee in response to the Gaspée Affair
Gaspée Affair
The Gaspée Affair was a significant event in the lead-up to the American Revolution. The HMS Gaspée, a British customs schooner that had been enforcing unpopular trade regulations, ran aground in shallow water on June 9, 1772, near what is now known as Gaspee Point in the city of Warwick, Rhode...

 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".

Virginia


In March 1773, Dabney Carr
Dabney Carr (Virginia assemblyman)
Dabney Carr was a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses and brother-in-law of Thomas Jefferson.Carr was born on October 26, 1743 to John and Barbara Carr at Bear Castle, a large farm in Louisa County, Virginia. He studied law at The College of William & Mary at the same time as his friend,...

 proposed the formation of a permanent Committee of Correspondence before the Virginia
History of Virginia
The history of Virginia began with settlement of the geographic region now known as the Commonwealth of Virginia in the United States thousands of years ago by Native Americans. Permanent European settlement began with the establishment of Jamestown in 1607, by English colonists. As tobacco emerged...

 House of Burgesses
House of Burgesses
The House of Burgesses was the first assembly of elected representatives of English colonists in North America. The House was established by the Virginia Company, who created the body as part of an effort to encourage English craftsmen to settle in North America...

. Virginia's own committee was formed on March 12, 1773 and members consisted of Peyton Randolph
Peyton Randolph
Peyton Randolph was a planter and public official from the Colony of Virginia. He served as speaker of the Virginia House of Burgesses, chairman of the Virginia Conventions, and the first President of the Continental Congress.-Early life:Randolph was born in Tazewell Hall, Williamsburg, Virginia...

, Robert Carter Nicholas, Richard Bland
Richard Bland
Richard Bland , sometimes referred to as Richard Bland II or Richard Bland of Jordan's Point, was an American planter and statesman from Virginia...

, Richard Henry Lee
Richard Henry Lee
Richard Henry Lee was an American statesman from Virginia best known for the motion in the Second Continental Congress calling for the colonies' independence from Great Britain. He was a signatory to the Articles of Confederation and his famous resolution of June 1776 led to the United States...

, Benjamin Harrison
Benjamin Harrison V
Benjamin Harrison V was an American planter and revolutionary leader from Charles City County, Virginia. He earned his higher education at the College of William and Mary, and he was perhaps the first figure in the Harrison family to gain national attention...

, Edmund Pendleton
Edmund Pendleton
Edmund Pendleton was a Virginia politician, lawyer and judge, active in the American Revolutionary War. -Early years:...

, Patrick Henry
Patrick Henry
Patrick Henry was an orator and politician who led the movement for independence in Virginia in the 1770s. A Founding Father, he served as the first and sixth post-colonial Governor of Virginia from 1776 to 1779 and subsequently, from 1784 to 1786...

, Dudley Digges
Dudley Digges
Sir Dudley Digges , of Chilham Castle, Kent , was a Member of Parliament, elected to the Parliament of 1614 and that of 1621, and also a "Virginia adventurer," an investor who ventured his capital in the Virginia Company of London...

, Dabney Carr
Dabney Carr (Virginia assemblyman)
Dabney Carr was a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses and brother-in-law of Thomas Jefferson.Carr was born on October 26, 1743 to John and Barbara Carr at Bear Castle, a large farm in Louisa County, Virginia. He studied law at The College of William & Mary at the same time as his friend,...

, Archibald Cary
Archibald Cary
Archibald Cary was a public figure from the colony of Virginia.-Life:Cary was a member of the House of Burgesses from 1756 to 1776...

, and Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom , the third President of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia...

.

Pennsylvania


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
Thomas Barclay (diplomat)
Thomas Barclay was a Philadelphia merchant, America’s first consul in France and the American diplomat who negotiated America’s first treaty with the sultan of Morocco in 1786...

, John Cox, Jr., John Dickinson
John Dickinson (delegate)
John Dickinson was an American lawyer and politician from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Wilmington, Delaware. He was a militia officer during the American Revolution, a Continental Congressman from Pennsylvania and Delaware, a delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Convention of 1787, President of...

, and Joseph Reed
Joseph Reed (jurist)
Joseph Reed was a Pennsylvania lawyer, military officer, and statesman of the Revolutionary Era. He served as a delegate to the Continental Congress and, while in Congress, signed the Articles of Confederation...

.

Delaware


According to Hancock (1973), a committee of correspondence was established by Thomas McKean
Thomas McKean
Thomas McKean was an American lawyer and politician from New Castle, in New Castle County, Delaware and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. During the American Revolution he was a delegate to the Continental Congress where he signed the United States Declaration of Independence and the Articles of...

 after 10 years of agitation centered in New Castle County. In neighboring Kent County Caesar Rodney
Caesar Rodney
Caesar Rodney was an American lawyer and politician from St. Jones Neck in Dover Hundred, Kent County, Delaware, east of Dover...

 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.

North Carolina


By 1773 the political situation had deteriorated. There was concern about the courts. Massachusetts' young and ardent Boston patriot, Josiah Quincy, Jr. visited North Carolina staying 5 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 Josiah Quincy, Jr, dubbed Harnett the "Samuel Adams of North Carolina.",

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

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.

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.,

"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."


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.

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."

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

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. 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.

Other colonies


By July 1773 Rhode Island
Rhode Island
The state of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, more commonly referred to as Rhode Island , is a state in the New England region of the United States. It is the smallest U.S. state by area...

, Connecticut
Connecticut
Connecticut is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States. It is bordered by Rhode Island to the east, Massachusetts to the north, and the state of New York to the west and the south .Connecticut is named for the Connecticut River, the major U.S. river that approximately...

, New Hampshire
New Hampshire
New Hampshire is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States of America. The state was named after the southern English county of Hampshire. It is bordered by Massachusetts to the south, Vermont to the west, Maine and the Atlantic Ocean to the east, and the Canadian...

, and South Carolina
South Carolina
South Carolina is a state in the Deep South of the United States that borders Georgia to the south, North Carolina to the north, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. Originally part of the Province of Carolina, the Province of South Carolina was one of the 13 colonies that declared independence...

 had also formed committees.

With Pennsylvania’s action in May 1774 all of the colonies had such committees.

They organized common resistance to the Tea Act
Tea Act
The Tea Act was an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain. Its principal overt objective was to reduce the massive surplus of tea held by the financially troubled British East India Company in its London warehouses. A related objective was to undercut the price of tea smuggled into Britain's...

 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
First Continental Congress
The First Continental Congress was a convention of delegates from twelve of the thirteen North American colonies that met on September 5, 1774, at Carpenters' Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, early in the American Revolution. It was called in response to the passage of the Coercive Acts by the...

, 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
John Lamb
John Lamb may refer to:*John Lamb , United States Congressman from Virginia*John Lamb , American football coach for Emporia State University*John Lamb , U.S...

and others in New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

 formed the last New York
Province of New York
The Province of New York was an English and later British crown territory that originally included all of the present U.S. states of New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Vermont, along with inland portions of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Maine, as well as eastern Pennsylvania...

 committee. This committee included Isaac Sears
Isaac Sears
Isaac Sears was an American merchant, sailor, Freemason, and political figure who played an important role in the American Revolution....

, Alexander McDougall
Alexander McDougall
Alexander McDougall was an American seaman, merchant, a Sons of Liberty leader from New York City before and during the American Revolution, and a military leader during the Revolutionary War. He served as a major general in the Continental Army, and as a delegate to the Continental Congress...

, 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 Congress
Provincial Congress
"Provincial Congress" can refer to one of several extra-legal legislative bodies established in some of the Thirteen Colonies early in the American Revolution...

es.

By 1780, committees of correspondence had been formed in England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 and Ireland
Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

.