Top 9 Documents from the Boston Committee of Correspondence Records

By Mark Boonshoft
November 30, 2015
Stephen A. Schwarzman Building

Two-hundred and forty-three years ago today, November 30, 1772, the Boston Committee of Correspondence (BCC) undertook a major step (#2 on this list) in organizing resistance to British policies. The record of that decision exists on a page or two of the thousands of pages in the Boston Committee of Correspondence records, which were recently digitized by NYPL. The BCC records is an important resource for understanding the American Revolution. But it is also a massive and unwieldy one. To make things easier, I've put together a list of nine important and representative documents from the BCC records, which, taken together, offer a rough outline of the BCC's activities and functions during the 1770s and 1780s, as well as a sense of the Committee's place in the larger story of the American Revolution.

1. Meeting of the Boston Committee of Correspondence, Nov. 3, 1772

The first meeting of the Boston Committee of Correspondence took place at the “Representatives Chambers” on November 3, 1772.

2. Minutes of the Boston Committee of Correspondence, Nov. 30, 1772

On Nov. 30, 1772 the BCC settled on a plan to disseminate the “Boston Pamphlet” to representatives of the other Massachusetts Towns. The BCC had approved the text of the Pamphlet—which explained the colonists’ view of their rights, expressed their grievances against British policies up to that point in the Imperial Crisis, and included a letter to other towns—at a prior meeting.

3. Letter from BCC to Marblehead, MA, Dec. 2, 1772

As they began soliciting support from other towns, the BCC sent this letter to the leaders of Marblehead, Massachusetts. It contains a concise statement of the policies and events that “gave rise to the appointment of this committee.” The BCC mentioned, in particular, a British plan to pay salaries of colonial judges that had long been paid by the colonists themselves. The change would have made the judges independent from the very people they were supposed to govern: the citizens of Massachusetts. This “improper connexion” between the judges and the Crown, they argued, was a threat to “life liberty and property.”

4. BCC meeting, April 9, 1773

At a meeting on April 9, 1773, the BCC acknowledged receipt of the resolves of the Virginia House of Burgesses. The Boston Committee’s correspondence network would continue to grow more inter-colonial in emphasis during 1773 and into 1774.

5. Nov. 22, 1773, Joint Meeting of Boston, Brookline, Roxbury, Dorchester, and Cambridge Committees of Correspondence

On Nov. 22, 1773, the BCC met with representatives of neighboring towns and agreed, unanimously, “to use their joint influence to prevent the Landing and sale of the Teas expected from the East India Company.” The Boston Tea Party took place less than a month later, on December 16.

6. Dec. 13, 1773, Alexander McDougall (New York) to Boston Committee of Correspondence

A mere three days before the Boston Tea Party, the BCC received a letter from New York City—signed by Alexander McDougall, a leading Son of Liberty—which noted that “the people has been rising to oppose the landing of the tea” in New York.

7. Boston Committee of Correspondence, March 30, 1775

In these minutes of the March 30, 1775 BCC meeting, they took note of “The alarming manouvere of a large detachment of the army…” This just a few weeks before the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

8. May 12, 1777, Minutes of the “Comm[e] of Correspondence, Inspection & Safety"

Over time, especially after the advent of the Continental Congress, the BCC’s focus changed from coordinating resistance between towns and colonies. During the War, the BCC operated not only as a committee of correspondence, but also as a committee of “Inspection and Safety,” which attended to matters of public safety and monitored known and suspected loyalists in and around Boston. These are meeting minutes from that later committee, dated May 12, 1777.

9. Town of Roxbury Committee of Correspondence to Boston Committee of Correspondence, June 2, 1783

With the war won, one of the main challenges that former revolutionaries faced was what to do about erstwhile loyalists. Should these people be “reintegrated”? And if so, on what terms? In this letter, the Town of Roxbury writes to the BCC to express their agreement with Boston’s decision “that the Absentees and conspirators ought never to be suffered to return” to their town.

About the Early American Manuscripts Project

With support from the The Polonsky Foundation, The New York Public Library is currently digitizing upwards of 50,000 pages of historic early American manuscript material. The Early American Manuscripts Project will allow students, researchers, and the general public to revisit major political events of the era from new perspectives and to explore currents of everyday social, cultural, and economic life in the colonial, revolutionary, and early national periods. The project will present on-line for the first time high quality facsimiles of key documents from America’s Founding, including the papers of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. Drawing on the full breadth of the Library’s manuscript collections, it will also make widely available less well-known manuscript sources, including business papers of Atlantic merchants, diaries of people ranging from elite New York women to Christian Indian preachers, and organizational records of voluntary associations and philanthropic organizations. Over the next two years, this trove of manuscript sources, previously available only at the Library, will be made freely available through nypl.org.