University of Virginia Library


Page 961


A court of inquiry held in Rhode Island in 1762, with a power to send persons to England
to be tried for offiences committed here, [521] was considered at our session [Virginia House of
Burgesses] of the spring of 1773, as demanding attention. Not thinking our old and leading
members up to the point of forwardness and zeal which the times required, Mr. [Patrick] Henry, Richard Henry Lee, Francis L. Lee, Mr. [Dabney] Carr and myself agreed to meet
in the evening, in a private room of the Raleigh [tavern], to consult on the state of things.
* * * We were all sensible that the most urgent of all measures was that of coming to an
understanding with all the other Colonies to consider the British claims as a common cause
to all, and to produce a unity of action; and, for this purpose, that a Committee of Correspondence
in each Colony would be the best instrument for intercommunication; and that their
first measure would probably be, to propose a meeting of deputies from every Colony, at some
central place, who should be charged with the direction of the measures which should be taken
by all. * * * The consulting members proposed to me to move * * * [the resolutions
agreed upon], but I urged that it should be done by Mr. [Dabney] Carr, my friend and brother-in-law,
then a new member, to whom I wished an opportunity should be given of making known
to the house his great worth and talents. It was so agreed; he moved them, they were agreed
to nem. con., and a Committee of Correspondence appointed, of whom Peyton Randolph, the
Speaker, was chairman. The Governor (then Lord Dunmore) dissolved us, but the Committee
met the next day, prepared a circular letter to the Speakers of the other Colonies, enclosing
to each a copy of the resolutions, and left it in charge with their chairman to forward them
by expresses.—
Autobiography. Washington ed. i, 5. Ford ed., 7. (1821)

The next event which excited our sympathies for Massachusetts, was the Boston port bill,
by which that port was to be shut up on the 1st of June, 1774. This arrived while we [Virginia
House of Burgesses] were in session in the spring of that year. The lead in the House, on
these subjects, being no longer left to the old members, Mr. Henry, R. H. Lee, Francis L.
Lee, three or four other members, whom I do not recollect, and myself, agreeing that we must
boldly take an unequivocal stand in the line with Massachusetts, determined to meet and consult
on the proper measures in the council chamber, for the benefit of the library in that room.
We were under conviction of the necessity of arousing our people from the lethargy into
which they had fallen, as to passing events; and thought that the appointment of a day of
general fasting and prayer would be most likely to call up and alarm their attention. No example
of such a solemnity had existed since the days of our distresses in the war of '55, since
which a new generation had grown up. With the help, therefore, of Rushworth, whom we
rummaged over for the revolutionary precedents and forms of the Puritans of that day, preserved
by him, we cooked up a resolution, somewhat modernizing their phrases, for appointing
the 1st day of June, on which the port bill was to commence, for a day of fasting, humiliation,
and prayer, to implore Heaven to avert from us the evils of civil war, to inspire us with firmness
in support of our rights, and to turn the hearts of the King and Parliament to moderation and
justice. To give greater emphasis to our proposition, we agreed to wait the next morning on
Mr. [Robert Carter] Nicholas, whose grave and religious character was more in unison with
the tone of our resolution, and to solicit him to move it. We accordingly went to him in the
morning. He moved it the same day; the 1st of June was proposed; and it passed without
opposition. The Governor dissolved us as usual. * * * We returned home, and in our
several counties invited the clergy to meet assemblies of the people on the 1st of June, [522] to
perform the ceremonies of the day, and to address to them discourses suited to the occasion.
The people met generally, with anxiety and alarm in their countenances, and the effect of the
day, through the whole colony, was like a shock of electricity, arousing every man, and placing
him erect and solidly on his centre.—
Autobiography. Washington ed. i, 6. Ford ed., i, 9. (1821)

The Governor dissolved us as usual. We retired to the Apollo, agreed to an association,
and instructed the Committee of Correspondence to propose to the corresponding committees of
the other Colonies, to appoint deputies to meet in Congress at such place, annually, as should
be convenient, to direct, from time to time, the measures required by the general interest: and
we declared that an attack on any one Colony, should be considered as an attack on the whole.
This was in May [27, 1774]. We further recommended to the several counties to elect deputies
to meet at Williamsburg, the 1st of August, ensuing, to consider the state of the Colony, and
particularly to appoint delegates to a general Congress, should that measure be acceded to by
the committees of correspondence generally. It was acceded to; Philadelphia was appointed for
the place, and the 5th of September for the time of meeting.—
Autobiography. Washington ed. i, 7. Ford ed., i, 11. (1821)

Respecting the question, whether Committees of Correspondence originated in Virginia or
Massachusetts? * * * You suppose me to have claimed it for Virginia; but certainly I have
never made such a claim. The idea, I suppose, has been taken up from what is said in
Wirt's Life of Patrick Henry, page 87, and from an inexact attention to its precise terms. It
is there said, “this House (of Burgesses, of Virginia) had the merit of originating that powerful
engine of resistance, Corresponding Committees between the Legislatures and the different
”. That the fact, as here expressed is true, your letter bears witness, when it says,
that the resolutions of Virginia, for this purpose, were transmitted to the speakers of the different
assemblies, and by that of Massachusetts, was laid, at the next session, before that body,
who appointed a committee for the specified object: adding, “thus, in Massachusetts, there
were two Committees of Correspondence, one chosen by the people, the other appointed by the
House of Assembly; in the former, Massachusetts preceded Virginia; in the latter, Virginia
preceded Massachusetts”. To the origination of committees for the interior correspondence
between the counties and towns of a State, I know of no claim on the part of Virginia; and [523]


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certainly none was ever made by myself. I perceive, however, one error, into which memory
had led me. Our Committee for national correspondence, was appointed in March, '73, and I
well remember, that going to Williamsburg, in the month of June following, Peyton Randolph,
our chairman, told me that messengers bearing dispatches between the two States, had crossed
each other by the way, that of Virginia carrying our propositions for a committee of national
correspondence, and that of Massachusetts, bringing, as my memory suggested, a similar proposition.
But here I must have misremembered; and the resolutions brought us from Massachusetts,
were probably those you mention of the town-meeting of Boston, on the motion of
Mr. Samuel Adams, appointing a committee “to state the rights of the colonists, and of that
province in particular, and the infringements of them; to communicate them to the several
towns, as the sense of the town of Boston, and to request, of each town, a free communication
of its sentiments on the subject.” I suppose, therefore, that these resolutions were not received,
as you think, while the House of Burgesses was in session in March, 1773, but a few days after
we rose, and were probably what was sent by the messenger, who crossed ours by the way.
They may, however, have been still different. I must, therefore, have been mistaken in supposing,
and stating to Mr. Wirt, that the proposition of a committee for national correspondence
was nearly simultaneous in Virginia and Massachusetts.—To Samuel A. Wells. i, 115. Ford
ed., x, 127. (M., 1819.)


This was the famous “Gaspee” inquiry, the date being a slip for 1772.—Note in Ford edition.


The invitation read June 23d.


The name of a public room in the Raleigh tavern.