In today’s world of nearly instantaneous communication, it’s really easy to forget how arcane things used to be…in the 1990’s. Remember about 1992? Email was in its infancy for the general public. The Internet?…yeah, right. You connected with a 14kbps modem over your phone line to one of about 5 websites and most of us used that one system that always said, “You’ve got mail” when you first logged in. Cell phones were outrageously expensive and weighed 500 pounds, about the same as a laptop computer. Back then, you actually talked on a phone connected to a wall, “text” was still just a noun, and “google” didn’t exist outside of a chemistry class.
Ok, that’s going back 15 years or so. Let’s regress to the most important time in the history of this country. 235 years ago, the United States was being founded, fought over, and freed from foreign control. A Revolution was needed, but how to sway opinions and change minds and keep the Colonists informed? How did they communicate without computers and email groups? They had no cell phones…and no wall-mounted rotary phones, either. But they did have pens and paper, horses, carriages, and ships. And they had the ability to organize. And so they did, by forming the Committees of Correspondence. The purpose of these groups was to act as sort of a “clearing house” for news.
When events took place in one Colony, the committees had to be sure that the news was transmitted to the other Colonies. But more importantly, the news accounts also had to accurately reflect the views of those governing the Colony. What’s more, the committees also had to be sure to get the news to right people. The messages would be crafted, proofed and approved, and then sent via carrier (horse or ship if the distance was long) to the other Colonies or to foreign countries.
The first committees were actually formed in the mid 1760’s, but they were generally temporary groups used to address a particular issue, like the Currency Act of 1764 or the Stamp Act just a year later. But on November 2, 1772, the first permanent Committee of Correspondence was set up in Massachusetts by Samuel Adams (shown above) and Joseph Warren. Within months, dozens of other committees had formed in the Colony and, just a year later, every Colony but Pennsylvania had a network of Committees in action.
And as the tensions between the Colonies and the Crown grew, the Committees played a vital role, passing news and keeping messages consistent. The greatest service they provided was to organize the meeting of the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia.