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Early Internet

So there were the Boston Massacre and the BostonTea Party, but in between there also was the Gaspee inci-dent. The Gaspee was a British armed schooner on cus-toms duty and chasing smugglers in Narragansett Bay onenight in June 1772. Unfortunately for the crew it has runaround, at which point a crowd of Rhode Islanders, someof them prominent citizens of the Providence area, stormedthe ship and burned it to the water line!This seemingly rash act came during a relatively quietperiod for the uneasy relationship between the colonies andthe mother country. Thanks to the repeal of the TownshendActs, the quarrels had abated for the moment. In NorthCarolina, all attention recently had been focused upon theminor war between the uplanders and lowlanders, withRoyal Governor William Tryon and his planter allies of thelowlands soundly defeating the upland “Regulators,” as theywere called, at the Battle of Alamance Creek. In Pennsyl-vania, would-be settlers from Connecticut tilted with Penn-sylvanians over land in the Wyoming Valley, while to thenorth others hungry for land argued over claims in theHampshire Grants, located between New York and NewHampshire.The Gaspee incident, however, shifted the colonial fo-cus back to relations with Mother England. While moder-ate Patriots were aghast at the outright attack on an armedBritish ship, local efforts to unearth the perpetrators werenot taken seriously. But then London sent a royal investi-gating commission–with stern promises of trial in Englandfor the guilty parties, probably followed by hangings. Thecommission, though, failed to find a single person to pros-ecute. With such mockery made of royal authority, RhodeIsland’s Collector of Customs could only moan, “There’san end to collecting a revenue and enforcing the acts oftrade.”From the Patriot point of view, on the other hand, therewas a danger that royal use of an investigatory commis-sion in one case could be a precedent for the intrusion oflike bodies in all kinds of other colonial affairs.For all the Royals and Loyalists in North America, mean-while, there was worse news than the failure of the Gaspeecommission, far worse, yet to come. In Massachusetts,Governor Thomas Hutchison put out the word that startingin 1773 he and the colony’s judges woule be paid their sala-ries by the Crown, meaning, according to the onlookingPatriots, that colonial officials would be beyond local con-trol. In no time, reinvigorated Committees of Correspon-dence were back in action in Boston and throughout thecolonies. Their stream of resolutions, pamphlets and newsitems led to the formation of more such committees in townafter town, matched by a similar eruption of revolutionarycells in colony after colony.In the end, through organizations such as the Sons ofLiberty and the multitudinous committees of correspondencespringing up all over, the Patriots of North America hadformed an interlocking “Internet,” providing one anotherwith the latest in revolutionary words and deeds.In Virginia, for example, the House of Burgesses inMarch of 1773 formed a colony-level Committee of Cor-respondence specifically to look into the Gaspee incidentand its ramifications. the empowering resolution, adoptedon a motion by Thomas Jefferson’s brother-in-law, DabneyCarr, asked the legislatures of Virginia’s sister colonies toappoint one or more persons of their own membership aslike committees “to communicate from time to time...”In the Virginia capital of Williamsburg the very next day,the local Virginia Gazette carried an explanation by anunnamed “Gentleman of Distinction,” probably a Burgessesleader. The item said in part: “...[W]e are endeavoring tobring our Sister Colonies into the strictest union with us;that we may resent, in one Body, any Steps that may betaken by Administration to deprive any one of us the leastParticle of our Rights and Liberties.”While not the first such example to be seen or heard inthese revolutionary days, these were the code words onthe tongues of Patriots far and wide. Colonies in a Union.Our rights. Our liberties.Up in New England, instead of Web sites spreading theword of this early “Internet,” it often was horseback ridersgalloping into far-flung towns and villages with the latestnews or Patriot propaganda. “Selected riders carried thewritings...deep into the Berkshire hills, to the green shoresof Rhode Island, down through the rolling Connecticut fields,far over the New Hampshire border,” wrote BruceLancaster in his history, The American Revolution.In this regard, he also noted, “No horseman was busierthan silversmith Paul Revere, who might have a mass ofpamphlets or letters or only a scrap of paper bearing thesingle line: ‘Mr. Revere will give you all the news. J.Adams.’”John Adams, naturally!from The Best Little Stories of theAmerican Revolutionby C. Brian Kelly