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Patriot Committees of Correspondence and Powder Alarm - American Revolution

Updated on December 15, 2016
Phyllis Doyle profile image

Early American history is of special interest to Phyllis, for it is what shaped our country.

Each colony had their own Committee of Correspondence, thus keeping all colonists informed and prepared for action.

 American Colonies in 1775
American Colonies in 1775 | Source

Committees Of Correspondence

By 1772, colonists in North America were becoming more aware of the actions they had to take to be prepared for any upcoming threats from the British and to be able to communicate effectively between the colonies.

Samuel Adams and Dr. Joseph Warren had set up a committee to address the Gaspee Affair (burning of the HMS Gaspee, a customs schooner that was responsible for enforcing trade relations), and the British decision to pay salaries of the governor and judges appointed by the Crown. Previously, the colonial legislatures had control of the public officials because they paid the salaries. They lost that control when Britain began paying the salaries.

Due to the salary of public officials and other unpopular actions taken by British Parliament, more Committees of Correspondence were formed by leaders of the Patriots, using the committee that Adams and Warren had formed as a model for their own towns.

It became even more apparent in September of 1774 just how important organized communication was. This is when the Powder Alarm set an unexpected rehearsal for the upcoming Battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775.

The forming of Committees of Correspondence in 1772 made it possible for the colonies to communicate on a more formal basis. Communities became more aware of incidents happening outside their general area and therefore more effective actions could be coordinated in a timely manner. By sharing plans, rallying opposition on common causes, coordinating needs or demands between the colonies, and establishing a collective action, responses to Britain were more consistent and carried more credibility. It showed that the colonies were standing together as one force.

Samuel Adams, 1722 - 1803

Portrait of Samuel Adams by John Singleton Copley
Portrait of Samuel Adams by John Singleton Copley | Source

Dr. Joseph Warren, 1741 - 1775

Portrait of Joseph Warren by John Singleton Copley
Portrait of Joseph Warren by John Singleton Copley | Source

Shadow Government

The committees began as shadow governments and by 1773 had displaced the legislature of the colonies and the officials of the British royals. Each colony had their own Committee of Correspondence and one of their most important purposes was to keep all voters informed of common threats to all colonies. They also made sure that all information reached all colonists, whether in the cities or rural outskirts.

The committees promoted patriotism and a more simple way of life by boycotting British imports and supporting home manufactured goods. The American way of life was becoming independent of the British government. Originally, the committees were brought together to resolve a particular issue then disbanded when that issue was resolved. It was the Patriot leaders in Boston who set up the first committee that was not temporary or focused on just one issue. Due to the increase of hostile threats from the British government, they began to set up committees in each colony.

The Committees of Correspondence were very instrumental in bringing together all the colonists with one common goal for the new homeland. Although the leaders who created and served on the committees were seen as radicals, they enabled the colonists to become more aware of threats and to organize defenses in a much quicker manner.

One of the first incidents that proved the Committees of Correspondence were of great benefit to the colonies was the Powder Alarm of 1774.


Powder Alarm - Massachusetts 1774

The formation of the Committees of Correspondence by the Patriot leaders of the American colonies in 1772, had made an impact on the British military as well as the Patriots.

This triggered already tense relations and motivated British authorities to action of imposing restrictions on the militia of the colonies. General Thomas Gage, commander of the British army, gave out orders that spurred the Patriots into action over what is called the Powder Alarm. The Powder Alarm set in motion some repercussions from the colonies and became practice for the Battles of Lexington and Concord which would follow seven months later.

General Gage, wanting to have better control over military supplies which the Patriots knew they needed for their own army, without any restrictive authorization, caused quite a stir in the countryside.

The Old Powder House

The Old Powder House in Somerville, Massachusetts, as it stood in 1935, atop the hill at Nathan Tufts Park overlooking Powder House Square.
The Old Powder House in Somerville, Massachusetts, as it stood in 1935, atop the hill at Nathan Tufts Park overlooking Powder House Square. | Source

General Thomas Gage

General Thomas Gage was appointed the governor of Massachusetts in May of 1774. In response to the Boston Tea Party, General Gage was placed in charge of enforcement of the Intolerable Acts, a series of laws passed by Parliament.

In hopes of trying to keep peace and not letting tensions escalate, Gage decided on a secret mission to obtain any gunpowder that was stored in the colonies. This was not the wisest thing to do, for little did he know that information would leak out. Most of the stockpiled supplies were under the control of British garrisons, but, he knew some was the property of individual towns. He contacted William Brattle, whom the governor had appointed in charge of a storehouse in Charlestown near Boston. Brattle sent a letter to Gage on August 27 to say that the King's powder was the only thing in the storehouse. Gage ordered that the powder be removed and transferred to Boston, then out to Castle Island, where it would be safe under his own watch.

Gage sent David Phips, sheriff of Middlesex County, with orders to get the key from Brattle and remove the powder. British troops were ordered to prepare for action the following day. Not only did local town people notice that something was amiss, but, somehow the letter from Brattle to Gage had gone missing.


General Thomas Gage

Thomas Gage, Portrait by John Singleton Copley, circa 1768
Thomas Gage, Portrait by John Singleton Copley, circa 1768 | Source

Secret Mission Exposed

On September 1, in the early morning hours, the 4th Regiment of British regulars, about 260 troops, were taken up the Mystic River to Winter Hill, which is now Somerville. After landing they marched on foot to the Powder House about a mile from shore. This is where the largest supply of gunpowder in Massachusetts was held.

The troops removed all the gunpowder and returned to Boston. A part of the regiment marched to Cambridge and took two field pieces and returned to Boston by foot. The gunpowder and field pieces were then taken to Castle Island. Fortified Castle Island was used by the British as their main base for safekeeping of military weaponry and supplies.

Now, all this activity was supposedly to be done in secrecy, yet rumours began to spread rapidly throughout all the colonies. As rumours go, they were exaggerated and by the time they got out to all colonies, there was now "a war on, people had been killed, the British were on the march, and Boston was under attack from British warships."

In very short time, Patriots were armed and on the move, sending out messages to every town to ready for battle -- a cry went out that "the war had started."

Castle Williams on Castle Island

Landward view of Castle Williams, 2008
Landward view of Castle Williams, 2008 | Source

Run, Brattle, Run

Eventually the actual facts of the "secret mission" spread to the Patriots and they all returned home. Brattle told the returning Patriots that he had nothing to do with the mission and never gave the key to Phipps or anyone.

When the missing letter from Brattle to Gage was published in the newspapers the next day, William Brattle went missing and left for Boston to be under the protection of Gage, thinking the Patriots would be after him.

There was no battle and no one had been killed. The Powder Alarm, though, had shown the Patriot militia just how quickly they could communicate and be prepared for battle -- which they now knew they would be ready for when the time came for real.

~ ~ ~ ~

The powder was critical to the patriots, they could not shoot their muskets without it.

Several steps were involved in loading the musket . The young man in the video says he could get one shot off per minute.

Do you think you could fire the musket fast enough in battle?

See results

© 2013 Phyllis Doyle Burns

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    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
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      Phyllis Doyle Burns 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Hello Ed - how great to hear from you. Wow ! It must be very interesting researching your family history during those times - must be a lot of work, too. I would love to read your history and hope you publish a hub on it.

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting on this hub. I love researching and writing on the Rev War and early American history. Thanks again, Ed.

    • ahorseback profile image

      ahorseback 2 years ago

      Phyllis, Hi , great info ! I have been busy lately researching my family genealogy , right through the heart of the revolutionary war , the French and Indian war too ! , All so very interesting of course , One of my ancestors was in a group of soldiers in the capture of a British Major Prescott by rebelling troops in Rhode Island ! Thank you for this !.........Ed

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
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      Phyllis Doyle Burns 4 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Hi Nell. Thank you for the visit, I appreciate it. I love reading and writing about history and I find myself delving into it more every day. Thanks for the votes and encouragement.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

      Hi Phyllis, I had no idea what it meant either, so this was fascinating. I love reading all about History, and love to learn something new, voted up and shared! nell

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
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      Phyllis Doyle Burns 4 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      dahoglund, thank you for stopping by and reading. The committees of correspondence was very instrumental in bringing the colonies together as one defense system and fighting force. Events of the Revolution and the Revolutionary War have always been of great interest to me. I am glad you enjoyed this hub. Thanks again.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 4 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I've heard the term "committees of correspondence " before but did not know what it meant. Thanks for informing me. We are so over whelmed with Civil War history that the Revolutionary War seems forgotten. Good work. sharing