Scope and arrangement
The Boston Committee of Correspondence records, dated 1772-1784, document the Committee’s initiatives in colonial political action in Massachusetts under the leadership of Samuel Adams and others, from the writing of the Boston Pamphlet in November 1772 through the early months of war with Great Britain in 1775, as well as the Committee’s contact with other colonies. The records also document its continued work as the Committee of Correspondence, Inspection and Safety, 1777-1784, largely concerned with investigating suspected enemies of the American cause. Materials consist of the Committee’s meeting minutes, correspondence with town and provincial committees of correspondence and transcripts of their proceedings, miscellaneous letters and documents, and legal communications regarding suspects and records of their interrogation.
Minutes, 1772-1774, 1777-1784 and index are mainly in the hand of William Cooper, the Committee’s clerk. In addition to meeting minutes, the volumes transcribe certain incoming and outgoing letters and proceedings of towns and other bodies designated for recording. Date spans for volumes 1-12 identify the first and last entry in the volume; due to the nature of the content, interior dates may precede or even follow those dates.
The bulk of the collection consists of correspondence and transcripts of proceedings sent to the Boston Committee from Massachusetts towns and other colonies, notably Connecticut, along with copies of the Committee’s outgoing correspondence to them. Massachusetts towns include communities now part of Maine. For the period 1772-1775, the collection documents the Committee’s efforts to connect patriot leadership in Boston to town governments in Massachusetts and committees in other colonies, in order to advise them of the impact of British imperial policies on Boston’s citizens and the actions of the British military force stationed there, and to learn of political and other developments in their area. Records from 1777 to 1784 for the Committee chiefly concern its role of monitoring and investigating suspected enemies, many of them Loyalists returning to Massachusetts from Halifax and other points, contrary to law. Communications with towns generally concern public safety issues, with committees advising of suspect activities and requesting advice. Other matters discussed include the state’s 1777 Act to Prevent Monopoly and Oppression, establishing a system of price controls, and the use of legal means to prevent the return of Loyalist refugees at the end of the war.
Miscellaneous letters and documents, 1772-1783, in chronological order, are closely related to the correspondence with town and other committees. Materials consist of the Committee’s circular letters addressed to more than one town, advising of the state of affairs or calling for attendance at a meeting; letters sent or drafted, resolutions, and other documents written by Committee members not pertaining to individual towns; copies of documents created by other Massachusetts bodies, such as the Provincial Congress or House of Representatives; and incoming letters addressed to individual members of the Committee, including Samuel Adams, James Otis and others, or to the Committee at large. A copied letter dated 1776 May 2 from the committee of Salem to the Massachusetts House of Representatives concerns the sighting of a British troop transport at sea, and 1783 letters are correspondence between private individuals, possibly held for evidence. Notable content includes records of the Boston Town Hall Meeting of November 20, 1772, especially its rough minutes, and the Committee’s manuscript report drafted by multiple authors, forming the substance of the Boston Pamphlet.
The remaining folders in the collection concern the Committee’s public safety duties. These contain minutes documenting the examination (interrogation) of suspects or persons providing information about them, and legal communications with Massachusetts state government and local authorities requesting the apprehension, holding or prosecution of suspects. Documents include warrants, complaints, evidence and correspondence, as well as a few letters and statements from individuals concerning their own actions or the disloyal behavior of others.