J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Wednesday, July 03, 2024

For and Against the Committee of Correspondence

During Boston’s town meeting session on 27 June 1774, town clerk William Cooper didn’t record who spoke.

But the merchant John Rowe did.

In his diary, Rowe listed the defenders of the standing committee of correspondence as:
Aside from Kent, those names are familiar to Boston 1775 readers. They were most of the town’s most visible Whig leaders. All but Kent had been named to the committee of correspondence back in 1772.

Speaking “against the Behaviour of the Committee” were:
Those men were evidently representing Boston’s merchants, not the friends of the royal government. Most of them weren’t politically active. Only Harrison Gray, Green, and Goldthwait had signed the addresses to the royal governors that spring. Gray and Goldthwait did have major government appointments, but they tried to present themselves as moderate centrists serving both the people and the Crown.

We don’t know what paths Thomas Gray would have chosen when war broke out and when the British military left Boston because he died after a carriage accident in November 1774. But we do known the political choices of all the other men.

Harrison Gray, Amory, and Green left Boston with the redcoats, becoming Loyalists. Amory and Green eventually returned to Massachusetts, however.

Elliot, Barrett, Payne, and Goldthwait stayed in Massachusetts, some serving in civic offices under the new republican order. Barrett appears to have thrown in with the Patriots just a couple of months after this town meeting, participating in the Suffolk County Convention and taking on wartime tasks for the state. In contrast, Goldthwait retired from public life.

The argument of this group was likely that, while it was important to stand up for liberty and protest unjust laws, the Boston committee of correspondence’s methods had been too confrontational and led the town into trouble. It was time to back off, settle accounts for the Tea Party, and reopen for business.

John Rowe himself wrote privately: “the Committee are wrong in the matter. The Merchants have taken up against them, they have in my Opinion exceeded their Power.” But he didn’t speak up in the meeting himself.

COMING UP: Mutual resentments.

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