The Committee of Correspondence

Stefan Bielinski

The Albany Committee of Correspondence, Safety, and Protection was formed over the winter of 1774-1775 to mobilize local opposition to the so-called Intolerable Acts. Within a year, it would take over for an increasingly inadequate Albany Corporation which had governed the city since 1686. Although city-based, over the next two and a half years, the Albany Committee extended its authority and influence throughout Albany County and beyond.

Although some business was transacted during the latter half of 1774, the committee's first public meeting was held at Cartwright's Tavern on January 24, 1775. Abraham Yates, Jr. was unanimously elected chairman. Members were named from each of the city's three wards, from Rensselaerswyck, and from some of the other districts of greater Albany County. Almost from the beginning, the Schenectady committee met separately but under the general county umbrella. Overall, a structure for extra-legal resistance was created in the most populous county in the colony.

The next meeting seems to have taken place on March 1. By the end of the month, the committee had selected delegates to attend a Provincial Congress in New York City which in turn appointed delegates to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia.

Beginning in April, the committee met much more frequently. Its principal activities concerned transmitting information on "the Rights and Liberties of America" to the outlying districts, to New York, and beyond. By early May, the committee was meeting in the Albany City Hall. However, it also met at Widow Vernor's tavern.

As its function evolved in response to a deteoriated relationship between colonies and crown, the committee became the political arm of a growing revolutionary movement for huge Albany County. Its general direction was shaped by the enactments of the Continental and Provincial congresses. But its actual operations were left to the committment of American "patriots" on the local level. The committee was composed of delegates representing each of the county's seventeen diverse and far-flung districts. However, virtually all of its leaders were prominent patriots who resided in the city of Albany.

The colonial city council met increasingly infrequently during 1775 and not after March 25, 1776. By June, Mayor Cuyler was a prisoner of the revolutionaries. And by the eve of Independence, the committee also assumed many of the municipal government's civic responsibilities - albiet in a more passive way than the pre-war common council.

From January 1775 to June 1778, the Albany committee met first at various taverns and then regularly at the Albany city hall. While the colonial city council met twice monthly to pass ordinances, issue deeds and patents, and conduct other city business, the Albany Committee of Correspondence represented much more intensive activity - often meeting twice daily to deal with more pressing issues relating to the war and its new political and economic implications. Its members were chosen by the people of the community without fussing over their voting qualifications. Elections were held twice a year but new members were added at different times in-between. Additional community members occasionally attended committee meetings. The composition of its membership and an examination of its activities help illustrate the scope of the political revolution on the local level.

Between 1775 and 1778, sixty-four different men represented the city on the Albany County Committee of Correspondence. Although some of these city people were middle-aged and some of them had served on the colonial common council, this was a new leadership group. With the passing of the community's traditional leaders of pre-war days, the withdrawl or removal of pro-British officials, and the call for upwardly mobile personages to serve beyond Albany, new men stepped forward to take part in public decision-making for the first time. They emerged from the struggle as Albany's new leaders. At the same time, most of the subcommittees and taskforces and virtually all the contractual services performed on behalf of the county committee were undertaken by city people rather than by those of the countryside - although out-of-Albany delegates constituted an overwhelming majority of the overall Albany County membership.

The Albany Committee meet for the last time on June 10, 1778. By that time, the city Corporation had resumed operations and was functioning much as it did before 1775. But in 1778, a board of Commissioners for Detecting Conspiracies had begun to identify and root out enemies of the Revolution in Albany city and county.

the American Revolution



This overview is based on a long-term study of the committee's proceedings made possible by religious reading and study of its published minutes. In addition, Stefan Bielinski, Abraham Yates, Jr. and the New Political Order in Revolutionary New York (Albany, 1975), and the sources cited therein represent the most readable usages of the committee's minutes.

The minutes of the committee were kept by its secretary, young attorney Matthew Visscher. The manuscript minutes are said to have been purchased by the State from his descendants in 1848.

The printed minutes represent an abridged but fully indexed transcription of those volumes! Online reproductions of the minutes = volume I and volume II. The online presentations of the minutes have a history of varied accessibility.

Committee Members Present - January 24, 1775

Henry I. Bogert - for the 1st ward
John N. Bleecker and Rutger Bleecker - for the 2nd ward
Abraham Yates, Jr. - for the 3rd ward
John Knickerbacker and John De Wandelaer - for Schaghtekoeke District
Corns. Tymese - for Half Moon
Adam Vrooman and Dr. Daniel Budd - for Schohary and Duanesborough
Francis Nicoll and Killiaen Van Rensselaer for the Manor of Rensselaerswyck

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first posted: 1/17/01; last revised 7/28/12