First Continental Congress — New Hampshire Delegates

1773–1774

New Hampshire participated in the First Continental Congress. The New Hampshire Provincial Congress elected two delegates in July, John Sullivan and Nathaniel Folsom, and they attended the first meeting of the First Continental Congress on September 5, 1774.

First Continental Congress, New Hampshire Delegates

The meetings for the First Continental Congress were held in Carpenters’ Hall in Philadelphia. Image Source: National Park Service.

New Hampshire Delegates to the First Continental Congress

The First Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia on Monday, September 5, 1774. The delegates were introduced in geographical order — north to south — which meant the New Hampshire delegates were the first ones introduced as members of America’s first united government body. The delegates were:

  • John Sullivan — Sullivan was a lawyer and held the rank of Major in the New Hampshire Militia.
  • Nathaniel Folsom — Folsom was a lawyer and held the rank of Colonel in the New Hampshire Militia.
John Sullivan, General, American Revolution, NYPL
John Sullivan. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Their letter of introduction said:

“At a meeting of the deputies appointed by the several towns in this province, held at Exeter, in the county of Rockingham, 21st July, 1774, for the election of delegates, on behalf of this province, to join the General Congress proposed. Present, 85 members.

The Honble. John Wentworth, Esqr., in the chair.

Voted, That Major John Sullivan, and Colo. Nathaniel Folsom, Esqrs., be appointed and impowered as delegates, on the part of this province, to attend and assist in the General Congress of delegates from the other Colonies, at such time and place as may be appointed, to devise, consult, and adopt measures, as may have the most likely tendency to extricate the Colonies from their present difficulties; to secure and perpetuate their rights, liberties, and privileges, and to restore that peace, harmony, & mutual confidence which once happily subsisted between the parent country and her Colonies.

Attested: J. Wentworth, Chairman.”

AHC Note — There were two important men named John Wentworth in New Hamsphire. One of them was John Wentworth the Governor, who remained loyal to Britain. The other supported the Patriot Cause. He also presided over the meetings of the Provincial Congress and signed the introductory letter that was read during the first meeting.

New Hampshire’s Path to the First Continental Congress

The following history of New Hampshire and the First Continental Congress is largely based on The History of New Hampshire, Volume 1, written by Jeremy Belknap and published in 1831. It has been cross-referenced and expanded with histories written by Everett Stackpole and John McClintock.

The Tea Crisis in New Hampshire

The controversy between Great Britain and the American Colonies was drawing to a crisis. By maintaining the tax on tea (see Townshend Revenue Act), Parliament insisted on it as their right to tax their Americans without their consent. Americans responded to the only peaceable action they could take, which was to refuse the importation of tea from Britain.

The plan failed, and the warehouses of the East India Company were filled with tea. The ministry and the company devised a plan, by which it was expected, that Parliament would enforce their claim, and the East India Company would sell its teac.

AHC Note — According to Belknap, the purpose of the 1773 Tea Act was:

  1. To assert Parliament’s authority over the American Colonies.
  2. To help the East India Tea Company sell its inventory of tea.

It was therefore enacted in Parliament, that the duty on the exportation of tea, from Britain, should be taken off; and the East India Company be enabled to send tea to America, subject to a duty only of three pence on the pound; by which means it would come to the colonies, cheaper than before, or than It could be procured by illicit trade.

AHC Note — The Tea Act allowed the East India Company to sell its tea in the colonies at a lower price than other teas. The thought was Americans would be happy to pay less for their tea, however, the plan backfired on Parliament.

New Hampshire Responds to the Tea Act

This measure caused a general alarm in the colonies; and united the interest of the merchants, with the views of the politicians, and the general sense of liberty in the people. The trading towns set the example, which the others followed, of passing resolves, not to permit tea, freighted by the East India Company, to be landed or sold. These resolutions were effective. 

In some places, the consignees were obliged to relinquish their appointments, and the tea was returned, without being unloaded from the tea ships. In other places, it was deposited in stores, until it could be reshipped to Britain. In Boston, Governor Thomas Hutchinson refused to reject the shipments of tea. This drove the people to protest, resulting in the Boston Tea Party. 

Portsmouth Tea Resolutions

In New Hampshire, Governor John Wentworth and the magistrates listened to the people, and the tea was sent away without any damage, and with little controversy. The town of Portsmouth publicly declared its opinions on the Tea Act during a meeting that was held on December 16, 1773. The town resolved:

  • It is the natural right of British subjects to have the power to determine how their money is spent, on their own or through a representative.
  • Every freeman should oppose attempts by the Ministry to enslave America.
  • The power given to the East India Company is part of a scheme by the Ministry.
  • Every method will be used to prevent the tea from being landed or sold in Portsmouth.
  • Anyone involved with the landing, distribution, or purchase of the tea is an “enemy to America.”
  • A Committee of Inspection will be established to enforce the resolutions.

Other towns in New Hampshire passed similar resolutions. With the help of the people, who supported the boycott of East India Tea, the Committees of Inspection were successful.

First Shipment of Tea

On June 25, 1774, the first cargo of tea, consisting of 27 chests, was unloaded and stored at the customs house in Portsmouth, before any people could assemble to keep it from being removed from the ship. A Town Meeting was called, and a proposal was made to Edward Parry, the East India Company’s Tea Consignee, to reship it.

Parry agreed to send the tea to Halifax, and a guard was appointed to keep watch on the custom house. Parry also agreed to pay the taxes on the tea, which was required by law, since it had been unloaded from the ship.

Governor Wentworth convened the council and kept the magistrates and peace officers ready to suppress any riot or protest, but there was no need. The tea was loaded onto a ship and sent to Halifax, without incident.

Second Shipment of Tea

A second shipment of tea was met with more controversy. 30 chests of tea arrived and were unloaded in Portsmouth. On September 8, the windows of Edward Parry’s house were broken. 

After Parry appealed to Governor Wentworth for protection, Parry was asked to ship the tea to Halifax. He paid the taxes and the tea was reloaded and shipped away.

Go To Halifax

According to historian Everett S. Stackpole, so much tea was sent to Halifax, and so many Loyalists went there that “…that it may have given rise to the exclamation still sometimes heard, ‘Go to Halifax,’ a softened mode of telling disagreeable persons where to go.”

Parliament Punishes Massachusetts with the Intolerable Acts

The Tea Crisis escalated with the Boston Tea Party. Parliament responded with the full force of its legislative powers by punishing Boston and Massachusetts with the Intolerable Acts.

The Boston Port Act shut down the port, and Boston Harbor was guarded by ships of war. The colony’s commerce was stopped; its workers were without employment; and its poor were without food. 

The Massachusetts Government Act placed a military governor, General Thomas Gage, in control. Further, the best British troops from every part of the colonies were prepared to coerce Americans to comply with British policies through the use of force — if the Ministry believed it was necessary.

Colonies Unite to Support Boston and Ensure Their Safety

Americans were sympathetic to the plight of people in Boston. They raised contributions for the relief of the numerous poor in Boston, who were regarded as suffering in the common cause.

However, to guard against similar measures being taken against other cities, a union of the colonies was proposed as necessary. Similar measures had been taken before when the colonies were threatened by a common issue.

Opponents of the Patriot Cause argued the measure was unprecedented, illegal, and dangerous. However, to Americans, it was viewed as a means of ensuring the safety and protection of the colonies.

The New England Confederation

Although a meeting of colonial representatives was not supported by any written law, it was founded on the first law of nature — self-preservation. Further, the idea that it was unprecedented, is incorrect. 

From the middle of the 17th Century, the United Colonies of New England, held annual, or semiannual meetings of commissioners, regarding common issues, for more than 40 years. From the reign of Queen Anne to that of George II, governors, and delegates from councils and assemblies, occasionally held conferences to discuss the operations of war, or treaties with Native American Indian tribes.

AHC Note — Great Britain viewed unauthorized meetings between colonial officials as illegal. The meetings of the United Colonies of New England and the 1754 Albany Congress were done with the permission of British officials or colonial governors. The 1765 Stamp Act Congress was largely viewed as an illegal congress of colonial officials.

Rochester Responds to Taxation Without Representation

On January 24, 1774, the town of Rochester, New Hampshire passed resolutions that identified Taxation Without Representation as the cause of the friction between Great Britain and the American Colonies. The preamble said:

“In Consequence of the General Uneasiness in the opulent Towns on the Continent of North America, and a Letter from the Committee of Correspondence, led us in these bye Parts to consider seriously the Cause of it; and we find Taxation without Representation…is the Cause of it.”

The Rochester Town Meeting’s resolutions were:

“Voted unanimously that it is our deliberate Opinion that we are freeborn, and loyal Subjects of the Crown of Great-Britain, and as such depend on Protection, and not Slavery.

That the present King George the Third is our lawful Sovereign; and the Heirs of his Body, in the Protestant Line are so to remain; and as such promise to pay him all lawful obedience, agreeable to our happy Constitution, and that we will so render Tribute to him as his Due.

That as such freeborn Subjects, we will to our utmost be on our Watch that no artful designing Men of any Rank soever, may deprive us of our Privileges by creeping in at unawares, to undermine us of this Jewel Liberty, by setting up their Placemen to pray and sport with the same.

Voted that the Hon. John Plummer, John McDuffee, Ebenezer Tebbits, Esqrs; and Daniel Wingate, be a Committee to correspond with their Brethren Committees, in the neighboring Towns or any Three of them.

Voted that a Copy of this be sent to the Committee of Correspondence at Portsmouth, assuring them that our Hearts are Knit with theirs in the noble Cause of Freedom.”

New Hampshire Committee of Correspondence

On May 10, 1774, the New Hampshire House of Representatives appointed a Committee of Correspondence. Governor Wentworth opposed the measure and adjourned the Assembly, hoping it would keep it from electing delegates to the proposed Continental Congress and communicating with the other colonies. However, the Committee issued a summons to the Assembly and asked the members to convene at the State House in Portsmouth on July 6.

New Hampshire Provincial Congress

The Assembly convened on July 6. Governor Wentworth, accompanied by the county sheriff, entered the chamber and declared the meeting illegal. A proclamation was read, ordering the members to disperse and to keep the “king’s peace.”

When Wentworth left the building, the members of the Assembly took their seats but then decided to leave and meet in another location. From there, the Assemly composed letters to send to the towns in New Hampshire that:

  1. Asked them to send delegates for a convention, to be held at Exeter, where they would elect representatives to the Continental Congress.
  2. Requested they pay money to help cover the expenses of the delegates.
  3. Recommended that July 14 be observed as a day of fasting and prayer, “on account of the gloomy appearance of public affairs.”

New Hampshire Elects Delegates to the First Continental Congress

85 delegates from New Hampshire met at Exeter on July 14, 1774. A week later, on July 21, they selected Colonel Nathaniel Folsom of Exeter and Major John Sullivan of Durham to attend the proposed congress, which was to be held:

“…at such time and place as may be appointed, to devise, consult and adopt such measures as may have the most likely tendency to extricate the Colonies from their present Difficulties, to secure and perpetuate their Rights, Liberties and Privileges and to restore that Peace, Harmony and mutual Confidence, which once happily subsisted between the Parent Country and her Colonies.”

The Assembly also provided Folsom and Sullivan with £200 to cover their expenses.

A committee was formed to communicate with the delegates while they were at Congress. The members of the committee were:

  • John Wentworth
  • Meschech Weare
  • Josiah Bartlett
  • Christopher Toppan
  • John Pickering Jr.

Support for Boston

The Provincial Congress also voted unanimously “to recommend it to their respective Towns to take into Consideration the distressed unhappy Condition of the Town of Boston, and liberally to contribute towards the Relief of the Poor of that Town, according to the noble and laudable Example of their Sister Colonies.”

Portsmouth raised £200 and Exeter raised £100 to be sent to aid the people in Boston. Other towns also raised money and many of them sent letters expressing their sympathy and support. 

The town of Durham sent a letter, written by Reverend John Adams, that said:

“We taken pleasure in transmitting to you…a few cattle, with a small sum of money, which a number of persons in this place, tenderly sympathizing with our suffering brethren in Boston, have contributed towards their support. With this, or soon after, you will receive the donations of a number in Lee, a parish lately set off from this town, and in a few days those of Dover, Newmarket & other adjacent towns.

…This is considered by us, not as a gift, or an act of charity, but of justice, as a small part of what we are in duty bound to communicate to those truly noble & patriotic advocates of American freedom, who are bravely standing in the gap between us & slavery, defending the common interests of a whole continent and gloriously struggling in the cause of liberty.”

Governor Wentworth Responds

On August 29, 1774, Governor John Wentworth wrote a letter to Wills Hill, Lord Dartmouth, who was the head of the Board of Trade, informing him that New Hampshire had elected delegates for the Continental Congress.

“… the Convention…met at Exeter, and elected Colonel Folsom and Major Sullivan, to be Delegates for this Province, at the Congress to be held in Philadelphia, on the first day of September next…I am informed that this Convention…about one hundred and twenty guineas…to defray the expense incurred by the Delegates…who set off on their journey to Philadelphia, on the 10th instant.”

John Wentworth, Governor, New Hampshire, NYPL
Governor John Wentworth. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Wentworth also explained the Committee of Correspondence sent a non-importation and non-consumption agreement to the towns. In his opinion, “Some…towns generally subscribed, many others totally rejected it.”

Despite the election of delegates, Wentworth was confident support for the Patriot Cause was limited in New Hampshire, saying: “I think this Province is much more moderate than any other to the Southward, although the spirit of enthusiasm is spread, and requires the utmost vigilance and prudence to restrain it from violent excess…”

Wentworth Hires Carpenters for Boston

Meanwhile, General Thomas Gage needed barracks for British troops in Boston (known as the Boston Garrison). Gage needed them built before winter, but carpenters and builders in Boston were unavailable because they refused to perform work for the British while the Boston Port Act was in effect.

General Gage asked the governors of the neighboring colonies, including Governor John Wentworth, if they could assist. Governor Wentworth decided to help and hired Nicholas Austen of Middleton to find carpenters to go to Boston. Wentworth did this without asking the Governor’s Council.

Word of what he had done quickly spread, and was met with outrage. In Portsmouth, a committee of 45 men was formed, led by the Governor’s uncle, Hunking Wentworth. The committee issued a proclamation that accused Governor Wentworth of being “an enemy to the community”’ and Austen and the carpenters, as “unworthy of society.”

Austen was forced to admit to his actions by the Rochester Committee of Correspondence and ask for forgiveness — while on his knees. This admission likely kept any harm from being done to him or his property.

The Rochester Gazette reported that on November 8, 1774:

“To show that we in these Parts of the Province are as warm Defenders of our civil Liberties as those in the Capital, and are as much on their Watch against aiding and assisting arbitrary Men in forging Chains to promote their Country’s Ruin, according to their Ability :

Therefore when Fame sounded the Report in our Borders that a number of Artificers were gone..to Boston, on the Errand of erecting Barracks for the soldiery there, we were much alarmed here, and at a Muster of the Companies of Militia here last Week it being suspected that Nicholas Austin of Middletown was an Accomplice or Agent somehow in sending them, our Sons of Liberty here would have marched directly to have paid him a Visit: but we fearing what might be the issue of the justly enraged People in such an Undertaking; Numbers of the most considerate warmly withstood it and proposed to send for him to meet us at some Time and Place that might be agreed on.

Therefore the Committee of Correspondence here wrote to him to meet us at the House of Stephen Wentworth Innholder in Rochester, on Tuesday, the 8th…at which Time and Place he attended, and before a Number of the Inhabitants of this and the neighboring Towns, met to hear his Defense, by Examination on his solemn Affirmation before John Plumer, Esq; that he only spoke to four of the Men, and gave them orders to go to the Governor, and speak to him, and that he did not let the Men Know that they were to go to Boston, but had a mistrust they were, by what the Governor said to him at his return; he further says the Gov told him that the People would be dissatisfied when they came to know it, but he thought it would be for the best, and further declares he told the Men that the General of the Army would pay them their Wages

And then on his Knees, when nothing less would satisfy, he made the following Confession.

‘Before this Company I confess I have been aiding and assisting in sending Men to Boston to build Barracks for the Soldiers to live in. at which you have Reason justly to be offended, which I am sorry for, and humbly ask your Forgiveness, and I do affirm that for the future I never will be aiding or assisting in any Wise whatever in Act or Deed contrary to the Constitution of the Country, as Witness my hand.’

Bibliography and Suggested Reading

  • Belknap, Jeremy. The History of New Hampshire, Volume 1.
  • Brewster, Charles. Rambles About Portsmouth: Sketches of Persons, Localities, and Incidents of Two Centuries.
  • McClintock, John. Colony, Province, State, 1623–1888. History of New Hampshire.
  • McDufee, Franklin and Hayward, Silvanus. History of the Town of Rochester, New Hampshire, from 1722 to 1890.
  • Stackpole, Everett. History of New Hampshire, Volume 2.

First Continental Congress on American History Central

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  • Article Title First Continental Congress — New Hampshire Delegates
  • Date 1773–1774
  • Author
  • Keywords First Continental Congress, New Hampshire Delegates, John Sullivan, Nathaniel Folsom
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date May 30, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update May 15, 2024

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