Committees of Correspondence Summary
Committees of correspondence were groups created by American colonial legislatures and local governments to communicate with their agents in Britain, or to facilitate communication between other towns and colonies. Early Committees were temporary and dissolved after completing their task. One of the first revolutionary Committees was established in Boston in 1764, to rally opposition to the Currency Act. Soon after, the Sons of Liberty created Committees of Correspondence to coordinate opposition to the Stamp Act. Following the passage of the Townshend Acts, Boston established a permanent Committee and set up a network of Committees in the towns throughout the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In the aftermath of the Gaspee Affair, the Virginia House of Burgesses established a Committee for intercolonial communication and urged the other colonies to do the same. The permanent Committees of Correspondence were an important development in American history because they enabled the colonies to frame a more unified response to grievances regarding British colonial policies. Their formation played a key role in the eventual convening of the First Continental Congress in 1774.
Committee of Correspondence Facts
- Prior to the American Revolution, Committees of Correspondence were used by colonial legislatures for various reasons, including sending letters to their agents in London.
- The Committees were usually temporary and dissolved after their task was completed.
- During the Stamp Act Crisis, the Sons of Liberty in Boston, New York, Charleston, and other cities formed Committees to facilitate communication with each other.
- After British officials considered paying judges with money collected from taxes, Samuel Adams led the formation of a permanent Committee of Correspondence in Boston. This led to the establishment of a network of Committees in the towns throughout Massachusetts.
- Following the Gaspee Affair, the Virginia House of Burgesses established a permanent Committee of Correspondence and invited the other colonies to do the same.
- Pennsylvania was the only colony that did not establish an Intercolonial Committee in response to Virginia, but it did establish one in 1774.
- The Intercolonial Committees were responsible for coordinating the response to the Tea Crisis that developed after the Tea Act was passed.
- The Committees of Correspondence were used to spread propaganda and coordinate efforts to resist British authorities, including non-importation agreements.
- They led to the establishment of Committees of Safety, Provincial Congresses, and the Continental Congress.
- The leaders of the Committees were influential men, such as Samuel Adams and Richard Henry Lee.
The Massachusetts Committees of Correspondence
As part of the Townshend Acts, all tax revenue was collected by the American Board of Customs Commissioners, which was based in Boston. In an effort to gain more control over judges, British officials proposed changing the way their salaries were paid. Instead of paying them from the local taxes, raised by the General Assembly, they would be paid from the tax revenue collected from the Townshend Acts. Bostonians were concerned that if judges were paid from tax revenue, the judges would rule based on the instruction of the British Government, not the facts of each case.
November 2, 1772 — Boston Permanent Committee of Correspondence is Established
On October 14, 1772, the Boston Gazette reported the news about changing how government officials were paid. The article said: “By this Establishment, they are made wholly dependent on the Crown, while the people have not the least check upon them. Such a judiciary constitution, the people of Great-Britain will not suffer; nor is it in our opinion to be tollerated by any free people.”
Responding to the rumors, Boston selectmen met on October 28 to discuss how to respond. After discussing the situation at length, the meeting adjourned and the members agreed to reconvene on November 2. At that meeting, Samuel Adams proposed the organization of a “Committee of Communication & Correspondence.” The selectmen agreed with Adams and voted to establish the Committee, with 21 members, including Adams, James Otis, and Joseph Warren, who were all associated with the Boston Sons of Liberty.
November 20, 1773 — The Boston Pamphlet
The Boston Committee of Correspondence met for the first time on November 3 and started work on a report 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 to Time may be made; also requesting of each Town as a free Communication of their Sentiments on this Subject.”
The Committee established three subcommittees to address the issues. On November 20, the Committee presented three reports at a meeting at Faneuil Hall. John Hancock presided over the meeting, which approved the reports and combined them into the “Boston Pamphlet.” Around 600 copies of the Pamphlet were published and distributed to the towns throughout Massachusetts. It was also sent to every town selectman and pastor in the colony.
Although some towns were hesitant to establish their own Committees of Correspondence, it is estimated that more than 100 of them did. Governor Thomas Hutchinson responded by calling it a “declaration of independency.”
Intercolonial Committees of Correspondence Dates and Timeline
The Gaspee Affair was the event that triggered the establishment of the Intercolonial Committees of Correspondence. In the aftermath of the burning of the HMS Gasepee, British officials set up a commission to investigate the incident. The commissioners were granted the power to extradite people involved in the incident to Great Britain for trial. It meant Americans would not be tried in front of a jury of their peers, which many people felt violated the English Bill of Rights.
March 11, 1773 — Virginians Draft a Resolution
Members of the Virginia House of Burgesses, meeting at Raleigh Tavern in Williamsburg, draft a resolution to ask the assembly to set up a permanent Committee of Correspondence. Some of the men that attended the meeting at the Raleigh Tavern were Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee, and Dabney Carr.
March 12, 1773 — Virginia Establishes the First Intercolonial Committee of Correspondence
Dabney Carr introduced the resolution to the House of Burgesses, which says the “minds of his Majesty’s faithful subjects in this colony have been much disturbed by various rumours and reports of proceedings tending to deprive them of their ancient, legal, and constitutional rights.”
The assembly adopts the resolution and “resolved, that a standing committee of correspondence and inquiry be appointed to consist of eleven persons, to wit: the Honourable Peyton Randolph, Esquire; Robert Carter Nicholas, Richard Bland, Richard Henry Lee, Benjamin Harrison, Edmund Pendleton, Patrick Henry, Dudley Digges, Dabney Carr, Archibald Cary, and Thomas Jefferson, Esquires, any six of whom to be 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, or proceedings of administration, as may relate to or affect the British colonies in America, and to keep up and maintain a correspondence and communication with our sister colonies, respecting these important considerations; and the result of such their proceedings, from time to time, to lay before this House.”
The House of Burgesses also decided to send copies of the resolutions to “different assemblies of the British colonies on the continent” and “request them to appoint some person or persons of their respective bodies” to establish their own Intercolonial Committee of Correspondence.
Colonies Respond to Virginia’s Call for Intercolonial Committees of Correspondence
- May 15, 1773 — Rhode Island, including Stephen Hopkins and Metcalf Bowler.
- May 21, 1773 — Connecticut, including Silas Deane and Israel Putnam.
- May 27, 1773 — New Hampshire.
- May 28, 1773 — Massachusetts, including Samuel Adams and Joseph Warren.
- July 8, 1773 — South Carolina.
- September 10, 1773 — Georgia.
- October 15, 1773 — Maryland.
- October 23, 1773 — Delaware.
- December 18, 1773 — North Carolina.
- January 20, 1774 — New York.
- February 8, 1774 — New Jersey.
Pennsylvania did not form an Intercolonial Committee of Correspondence in response to Virginia. However, it did establish a Committee on May 20, 1774. Prominent members were John Dickinson, Joseph Reed, and Thomas Barclay.
Committees of Correspondence Frequently Asked Questions
The two main purposes of the Committees of Correspondence were: 1) gather and share information and 2) coordinate responses to British policies. Permanent Committees were first established in Boston in 1772 to share information between towns in Massachusetts. In 1773, Virginia created a permanent Committee to communicate with the other colonies. 12 colonies followed Virginia’s lead. After the Intolerable Acts were passed to punish Massachusetts for the Boston Tea Party, the Committees of Correspondence played a key role in organizing the First Continental Congress.
The result of the Committee of Correspondence was the establishment of a formal system of intercolonial communication. Before 1773, Colonial Legislatures rarely communicated directly with each other. After the Gaspee Affair, Virginia called for each colony to set up a Committee of Correspondence. All but Pennsylvania agreed to join Virginia. By setting up an intercolonial network, the colonies were able to organize resistance to British policies, leading to the First Continental Congress in 1774.
The accomplishments of the Committees of Correspondence were 1) the creation of an intercolonial communication network 2) the coordination of opposition to British policies 3) the organization of the First Continental Congress. The Committees also led to the establishment of Provincial Congresses in some colonies, along with Committees of Inspection and Committees of Safety, which organized military forces and spy networks in the aftermath of the 1774 Powder Alarm.
The leaders of the Committees of Correspondence were often closely associated with the Sons of Liberty. One of the most important leaders was Samual Adams. Other prominent leaders throughout the colonies were Joseph Warren, Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Silas Deane, Stephen Hopkins, Thomas McKean, Caesar Rodney, and John Ashe — many of whom went on to become Founding Fathers.
Committees of Correspondence Significance
The Committees of Correspondence are important to United States history because of the role they played in establishing intercolonial communication during the American Revolution. The Committees were responsible for sharing information and coordinating colonial efforts in opposition to British colonial policies. They were also instrumental in the organization of the First Continental Congress.
Committees of Correspondence AP US History (APUSH) Study Guide
Use the following links and videos to study the Committees of Correspondence, Sons of Liberty, and the First Continental Congress for the AP US History Exam.
Committees of Correspondence APUSH Definition
The Committees of Correspondence was a network of communication established throughout the American Colonies to provide for rapid communication between colonial governments. The committees were formed in response to British policies that threatened colonists’ rights and liberties and were instrumental in organizing resistance to British rule leading up to the American Revolution, including the establishment of the First Continental Congress.
American History Central Resources and Related Topics
- Sons of Liberty
- Stamp Act — History and Overview
- Townshend Acts
- Tea Act
- Boston Tea Party
- Intolerable Acts
- First Continental Congress — History and Overview
Committees of Correspondence Video — the Influence of Samuel Adams on the Creation of the Network
In this video from the Journal of the American Revolution, historian Robert J. Allison discusses the impact of Samuel Adams on the origins of both the Massachusetts Committees of Correspondence and the Intercolonial Committees of Correspondence.
Mercy Otis Warren’s Account of the Origins of the Committees of Correspondence
Mercy Otis Warren came from a family that advocated for colonial rights, and her brother, James Otis Jr., was well-known for his arguments against writs of assistance and the Stamp Act. When she married James Warren, it put her in the middle of many of the most important events in Boston and Massachusetts during the American Revolution.
She was well-known for her writing and carried on correspondence with many of the most prominent patriots, including John and Abigail Adams, Samuel Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington. She was an Anti-Federalist and an outspoken critic of the Constitution. She was also the first woman to write a history of the American Revolution — History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution — which was published in 1805.
The following is her account of the formation of Boston’s permanent Committee of Correspondence. Section headings and notes have been added to help explain the context of her account.
The Importance of the Committees of Correspondence
“By the frequent dissolution of the general assemblies, all public debate had been precluded, and the usual regular intercourse between the colonies cut off. The modes of legislative communication thus obstructed, at a period when the necessity of harmony and concert was obvious to every eye, no systematical opposition to gubernatorial intrigues, supported by the king and parliament of Great Britain, was to be expected without the utmost concord, confidence, and union of all the colonies. Perhaps no single step contributed so much to cement the union of the colonies, and the final acquisition of independence, as the establishment of committees of correspondence. This supported a chain of communication from New Hampshire to Georgia, that produced unanimity and energy throughout the continent.”
- Warren says Colonial Governors — who were under the authority of the British Government — had a habit of dissolving the Colonial Legislatures during times of crisis.
- British officials saw it as a way to reduce tensions, but Americans increasingly saw it as a limitation of their right to speak their minds.
- In her opinion, the Committees of Correspondence might have played the most important role in helping to establish the unity that led to the independent United States of America.
The Role of James Warren
“At an early period of the contest, when the public mind was agitated by unexpected events, and remarkably pervaded with perplexity and anxiety, James Warren, Esq. of Plymouth first proposed this institution to a private friend, on a visit at his own house. Mr. Warren had been an active and influential member of the general assembly from the beginning of the troubles in America, which commenced soon after the demise of George the Second. The principles and firmness of this gentleman were well known, and the uprightness of his character had sufficient weight to recommend the measure. As soon as the proposal was communicated to a number of gentlemen in Boston, it was adopted with zeal, and spread with the rapidity of enthusiasm, from town to town, and from province to province. Thus an intercourse was established, by which a similarity of opinion, a connexion of interest, and a union of action appeared, that set opposition at defiance, and defeated the machinations of their enemies through all the colonies.”
- Warren gives credit to her husband, James, for the idea of forming the permanent Committees of Correspondence among the towns in Massachusetts.
- She identifies the “beginning of the troubles” as starting soon after the death of King George II.
- She says her husband shared the idea with “gentlemen in Boston,” which likely included Samuel Adams.
- On November 4, 1772, Adams wrote a letter to James Warren, and said, “In order to ascertain the Sense of the People of the province a Committee is appointed, of which our Patriot Otis is Chairman, to open a free Communication with every town.”
The Process to Form a Committee of Correspondence
“The plan suggested was clear and methodical; it proposed that a public meeting should be called in every town; that a number of persons should be selected by a plurality of voices; that they should be men of respectable characters, whose attachment to the great cause of America had been uniform; that they should be vested by a majority of suffrages with power to take cognizance of the state of commerce, of the intrigues of toryism, of litigious ruptures that might create disturbances, and every thing else that might be thought to militate with the rights of the people, and to promote every thing that tended to general utility.”
According to Warren, the steps to create a committee were:
- A public meeting was to be held in each town.
- The people would elect members of the Committee by popular vote.
- The members needed to be men with good character who were respected in the town and were committed to the Patriot Cause.
Democracy Replaces Despotism in America
“The business was not tardily executed. Committees were every where chosen, who were directed to keep up a regular correspondence with each other, and to give information of all intelligence received, relative to the proceedings of administration, so far as they affected the interest of the British colonies throughout America. The truth was faithfully and diligently discharged, and when afterwards all legislative authority was suspended, the courts of justice shut up, and the last traits of British government annihilated in the colonies, this new institution became a kind of juridical tribunal. Its injunctions were influential beyond the hopes of its most sanguine friends, and the recommendations of committees of correspondence had the force of law. Thus, as despotism frequently springs from anarchy, a regular democracy sometimes arises from the severe encroachments of despotism.”
- Warren says the towns wasted no time in setting up their Committees.
- The Committees were instructed to correspond with each other on a frequent basis.
- After the Colonial Legislatures were shut down by the British Government, the Committees continued to operate independently and acted as local governments, and helped establish democracy.