On April 18, 1775, Paul Revere and William Dawes set out on their famous midnight rides to prevent Samuel Adams and John Hancock from being captured. They also alerted local militias of the approach of British troops so as to protect Colonial arms and supplies that were stored in Concord. That much is fairly common knowledge, but did you ever wonder why Paul Revere came to be chosen to make that famous ride?
Not only was Paul Revere a silversmith, an engraver, and a dentist (stay tuned for more about that), but he was also an express rider for the Boston Committee of Correspondence and the Massachusetts Committee for Safety. He would sometimes ride as far as Philadelphia or New York to deliver messages, information, or copies of resolutions. The news that British troops would soon move toward Lexington was certainly a valuable piece of information. So much so that, in anticipation of troop movement, Revere made arrangements for the now legendary signals in the Old North Church several days before the march began. Those signals, by the way, were not intended for Revere as Longfellow contended in his famous poem “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere”. They actually served as a backup signal for patriots who lived in Charlestown in the event that Revere was unable to ride out of Boston himself. The attached images is of one of those lanterns which is now on display at the Museum of Concord.
What is a committee of correspondence? Committees of correspondence were groups of colonists who initially came together to address or resolve a specific issue. For example, a committee was organized in the province of Massachusetts Bay to urge other colonies to send representatives to the Stamp Act Congress. After the Congress convened, that particular committee of correspondence was disbanded.
As the British Parliament continued to impose increasingly restrictive regulations and hefty taxes on the Colonies, ongoing committees of correspondence were established to communicate with one another and plan a coordinated response. The first such committee of correspondence was established in 1772 by Samuel Adams and Joseph Warren in Massachusetts. On March 12, 1773, an ongoing committee of correspondence was established in Virginia with the specific purpose of obtaining “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.” Pennsylvania was the last colony to establish a committee of correspondence. It did so in May, 1774.
As time passed, the network of committees of correspondence continued to grow throughout the Colonies. local committees were established in small towns and large cities. These groups served as an excellent vehicle of communication with other committees, as well as individuals who lived in rural areas. Membership in committees of correspondence at the township and local level swelled to more than 7000 men at one point. Massachusetts had more than 100 committees of correspondence within the colony itself. Many of the founding members of committees of correspondence which represented an entire colony read like a who’s who list of the men who signed their names on the Declaration of Independence.
Members were often added to a committee after being nominated by current members. The process occurred because loyalists and representatives of the Crown would, no doubt, have disrupted any type of open election. As time progressed, committees began to behave much like unofficial governments. As boycotts were organized, committees monitored merchants and publicly decried those who continued to import products from Britain. They also coordinated efforts and actions with committees of safety. Eventually, provincial conventions were formed. After that transition, members were elected rather than nominated.
Committees of correspondence and committees of safety were ultimately responsible for moving the Colonies toward seeking independence from Britain. For example, the Maryland Committee of Correspondence initiated plans that led to the First Continental Congress. A committee of correspondence was eventually created by the Continental Congresses, itself, to communicate with other governments. Many interesting documents were produced by the committee of correspondence for the various colonies. They will undoubtedly be the subject of future posts.
How did a committee of correspondence impact the events of April 18, 1775? Dr. Joseph Warren obtained information that British troops would begin a march to Lexington with plans to arrest John Hancock and Samuel Adams sometime before dawn. They would then continue on to Concord in search of the Colonial stockpile. Dr. Warren, a member of the Boston Committee of Correspondence, prompted the committee to dispatch Revere and William Dawes to warn of the pending troop movement.
In one final bit of trivia, Joseph Warren was later killed in the Battle of Bunkerhill. Although his body was initially placed in a mass grave by the British, it was later exhumed, identified, and placed in an individual grave. How was it identified? By a prosthetic created by Paul Revere, in his role as dentist, to replace Dr. Warren’s first premolar and upper left canine. The prosthetic was identified by Revere himself.
Tomorrow, I will write about committees of safety and the first intelligence network created by Colonists.
Read the Virginia Resolution Establishing a Committee of Correspondence at: http://www.bingoforpatriots.com/american-history/13-colonies/committees-of-correspondence/virginia-resolutions-establishing-a-committee-of-correspondence/
Read the famous poem, “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere”, at:http://www.bingoforpatriots.com/american-history/founding-fathers/other-notable-founding-figures/paul-revere-2/paul-reveres-ride/
As always, please take a moment to reflect on What IS Right With America!
Susan C. Rempel, Ph.D.