In an era before modern communications, news was generally disseminated in hand-written letters that were carried aboard ships or by couriers on horseback. Those means were employed by the critics of British imperial policy in America to spread their interpretations of current events.
Special committees of correspondence were formed by the colonial assemblies and various lesser arms of local government. The committees were responsible for taking the sense of their parent body on a particular issue, committing it to a written form and then dispatching that view to other similar groups. Many correspondents were members of the colonial assemblies and also were active in the secret Sons of Liberty organizations. In the early years, committees were formed to address a specific problem, then disbanded when resolution was achieved.
The first formal committee of correspondence was established in Boston in 1764 and was charged with rallying opposition to the recently enacted Currency Act and the unpopular reforms imposed on the customs service.
The following year, New York took the initiative during the Stamp Act Crisis by summoning its neighbors to join in common resistance to the new taxes. Massachusetts correspondents responded by urging other colonies to send delegates to the Stamp Act Congress that fall.
In 1772, at the urging of chief propagandist Samuel Adams, a committee was formed to protest the recent decision to have the Crown, not the colonial assembly, pay the salaries of the royal governor and judges. Adams and his fellow correspondents rallied their neighbors to oppose this measure that had cost the colony its means of controlling public officials. In the following months, more than 100 other committees were formed in the towns and villages of Massachusetts.
In 1773, a correspondence committee of the House of Burgesses in Virginia wrote to the other assemblies to suggest that permanent committees be formed, a clear reflection that the crisis between mother country and colonies was deepening.
Perhaps the most important contribution provided by the committees of correspondence was the planning done for the First Continental Congress, which convened in the fall of 1774. The Second Continental Congress seized upon this successful idea and created its own correspondence committee to convey the American interpretation of events to foreign powers.
See timeline of the American Revolution.