Resolution to Summon a Convention in Williamsburg, May 30, 1774
Parliament's imposition of taxes on the North American colonies led to organized opposition by the colonial legislatures. In 1773 Parliament passed a tea act giving the East India Company a monopoly on the tea sold in the colonies. In December of that year, residents of Boston, Massachusetts, tossed three shiploads of tea into the harbor rather than let it be landed. In the spring of 1774 Parliament retaliated and passed the Coercive Acts (known in the colonies as the Intolerable Acts). These acts included the Boston Port Act, which closed the port of Boson to all commerce effective June 1, 1774, until the tea was paid for and restitution made to royal officials. The Massachusetts Government Act altered the charter of Massachusetts to limit town meetings and to allow the king to appoint a military governor in place of the governor elected by the colony's assembly, called the General Court.
Word of the closing of the port of Boston reached Williamsburg when the General Assembly was in session in May 1774. Although many Virginians disapproved of the destruction of the tea, which was private property, they did not approve of closing the port. On May 23, several members of the House of Burgesses met in the Capitol and drew on seventeenth-century English precedents to draft a resolution calling on Virginians to observe a day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer on June 1, in sympathy with the people of Boston. The House of Burgesses passed the resolution on May 24. Two days later the royal governor, John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore, dissolved the General Assembly so that the members could take no further action, but on May 27 many of the former burgesses met and formed an association that pledged them to purchase no goods imported by the East India Company except saltpeter and spices. They advised the colony's committee of correspondence to transmit the resolution to the other colonies with the suggestion that the colonies appoint delegates to come together in a general congress. Unbeknownst to the Virginians, letters from Boston were on their way. On May 29, the Virginia Committee of Correspondence received a letter from the Boston Committee of Correspondence proposing to halt all trade with Great Britain. Twenty-five burgesses who were still in Williamsburg met on May 30 and agreed to summon a convention to meet on August 1, 1774, in Williamsburg to discuss the proposal. That convention would be the first Virginia Revolutionary Convention, at which representatives chose Virginia's delegates to the First Continental Congress.
1. How many men signed this resolution? Do you recognize any of their names?
2. Why do you suppose that the burgesses remaining in Williamsburg did not make a decision concerning the Boston committee's proposal?
3. During this time communication between the colonies was delivered by horse or on ships. Consequently, it was considerably slower than today's instant communications. How do you think this influenced the decisions that the colonists made?
On May 29, a letter from the Boston Committee of Correspondence arrived in Williamsburg. This letter, dated May 13, proposed ceasing all trade with Great Britain, both imports and exports. On May 30, the burgesses remaining in Williamsburg met to discuss the letter and determine what action they should take. If you had been a burgess what would you have proposed? Why do you think the Virginians chose the route they did?
Virginia Independence Bicentennial Commission. Revolutionary Virginia: the Road to Independence, a Documentary Record, Vol 1: Forming Thunderclouds and the First Convention 1763–1774. Compiled and edited by William J. Van Schreeven and Robert L. Scribner. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1983.
Middlekauff, Robert. The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763–1789. Rev. ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.