On June 1, 1774, in response to the Boston Tea Party, the newly appointed governor, Lt.-Gen. Thomas Gage, shut down the towns’ harbor. All shipping and commerce came to standstill. Ships-of-war appeared in the harbor, army regiments arrived from England and only food was allowed to enter the town (by way of the town of Marblehead, sixteen miles to the north).
By fall, the situation in Boston was deplorable. Wood and goods of any kind could not be brought in by water within a circle of sixty miles without permission, and vessels that were on stocks, which had for some time been ready for launching, could not be put into the water. A fifty-gun man-of-war was stationed in the harbor, another in the Charles River and several others at the mouth of the harbor. The only entrance into the Town, the Neck, was doubly fortified by advanced batteries and a regiment on each side of the road. Four regiments were stationed upon the Common, one on Fort-Hill, another at Castle William. Before the Port Bill, the annual charge for support of the town’s poor was about twenty-four hundred pounds, now the number has increased twofold, if not threefold.
On May 13, 1774, Samuel Adams and the Boston Committee of Correspondence sent a circular letter to each colony’s Committee of Correspondence; in it he explained the situation that was about to befall Boston and asked for their support. Over the next six months, relief subscriptions were started throughout the colonies. After a subscription was filled, the goods were sent to Marblehead for inspection and then under guard sailed down to Boston. By the end of the year, more than 100 ships, bound for Boston, had arrived at Marblehead. They brought more than 5,500 bushels of grain, 7,300 bushels of rye, 17,600 bushels of corn, 700 casks of rice, 200 barrels of pork, 140 barrels of bread, 1,700 barrels of flour, 370 cords of wood, 7 tons of iron bar and nails, 3,000 sheep and 120 cattle.
The Committee of Ways and Means in Boston took possession of the goods and distributed them to the poor and those in need. There was an issue that the Committee had to deal with early in the new year: an allegation that they were misusing the funds received as donations. On June 19, 1774 the Boston Committee of Overseers created the Committee of Ways and Means; its purpose was to receive and distribute all donations. On September 13, the Committee of Ways and Means opened to the public “a regular set of books, in which they record all their proceedings, and give credit to the several Provinces, Towns, and particular persons from whom they receive any donations.” Then, in December, the Committee began to invite the representative of the town or county that had travelled with their donation, or in his absence the captain of the ship, to ”examine our books in order to inform themselves in what manner we apply the several donations received from our sympathizing brethren.” On January 12, 1775, a letter from Temple, New Hampshire, to the Committee stated,
We are particularly pleased, as you declare you are determined to be very open and exact in your accounts of what you receive and how you employ it, as, with all your care, amazing pains is taken to propagate stories to the disadvantage of the Committee and Town, the extensive and very fatal consequences of which, nothing but the plainest facts can prevent.
Eight days later, the Committee presented the “plainest facts”:
The Committee appointed by the Town of Boston to receive and distribute Donations for the charitable purpose of relieving and employing the suffers by means of the Act of Parliament . . . think themselves obliged, in this publick manner, to contradict a slanderous report raised by evil-minded persons, spread in divers parts of this Province, and perhaps more extensively through the Continent.
The report is, that “each member of the Committee is allowed six Shillings, as some say half a Guinea, for every day’s attendance, besides a commission upon all the Donations received, and other emoluments for their trouble.” The Committee, therefore, thus openly declare that the above-mentioned report is in every part of it groundless and false; and that they have hitherto attended and acted in their office, and still continue so to do, without any intention, hope, or desire, of receiving any other reward in this life.
And whereas, the Committee have this evening been informed by a letter from the country, of another report equally injurious, viz: That “the Committee have employed poor persons in working for themselves and gentlemen of fortune with whom they are particularly connected in their private concerns, and paid them out of the Donations received.” The Committee do, with the same solemnity, declare the said report to be as false as it is scandalous.
The public notice was not the only manner in which the Committee of Ways and Means renounced the allegations. Beginning on January 21, the Committee strongly encouraged a town or county’s representative upon the arrival of their donation to view the committee’s books so as to be reassured of the falsity of the allegations:
We return you our unfeigned thanks for your donation . . . and you may assure yourselves it shall be applied to the benevolent purposes designed by the donors, notwithstanding any representation of our adversaries to the contrary.
We are particularly pleased, as you declare you are determined to be very open and exact in your accounts of what you receive and how you employ it, as . . . amazing pains [are] taken to propagate stories to the disadvantage of the Committee and Town, the extensive and very fatal consequences of which, nothing but the plainest facts can prevent;
The gentlemen who brought us your donation have had an opportunity of examining our books, and . . . are satisfied with the falsity of the malicious reports which are spread abroad to our Prejudice, by those who are enemies to the liberties of America;
We refer you to Mr. Brown, for a full account of the manner of our proceedings, and the of keeping our books, who has had an opportunity of examining them, and of satisfying himself of the falsity of the malicious reports that have been industriously propagated by the friends of tyranny and despotism;
We inclose . . . a printed copy of our proceeding, as also a justification of our conduct against the many late cruel attacks on our characters which we hope will prove satisfactory.
With the adoption of the Non-importation Agreement in 1774, merchants in London immediately expressed their concern about the agreement’s impact on their businesses; as the new year began, their fear started to change to anger over the loss of trade with three million colonists. And the Non-Importation Agreement had exactly the opposite effect of what Parliament expected—instead of making the issue the problem of a single colony, it became the problem of thirteen colonies. On October 14, 1774, King George issued a proclamation prohibiting the importation of gunpowder, saltpeter and ammunition into the colonies—now many town’s magazines were being stripped of guns, saltpeter and ammunition. Many colonists believed that force would be used to subdue them.
Because it was winter, any further assistance to Boston would likely be in form of money, but now to re-stock each county’s and town’s magazines another subscription, in some cases simultaneously with the one supporting Boston, had to be established. An example of how one colony set up the subscription is the colony of Maryland. At the meeting of the Provincial House of Deputies held from December 8-12, 1774, it was unanimously
recommended to the Committee of each County to raise by subscription, or in such other voluntary manner as they may think proper, and will be most agreeable to their respective Counties, such sums of money as . . . will amount to the following
and that the Committees of the respective Counties lay out the same in the purchase of Arms and Ammunitions for the use of such County, to be secured and kept in proper and convenient places, under the direction of the said Committees.
Charles County’s subscription was setup on January 2, Prince George’s on January 16, Baltimore’s on January 16, Frederick’s on January 24, and Anne Arundel’s on February 1, to name a few. How each county secured the individual donations was to left up to the county board.
An example of how one county collected its subscriptions is the county of Lancaster in Pennsylvania. In the Manuscript Department of the Library of the Pennsylvania Historical Society, there is a volume entitled “Lancaster County Miscellaneous Paper”. Within the volume is document entitled Lancaster County Contributors To Relief of Boston, 1774. Under the tile is the following statement: “We whose names are hereto subscribed do severally agree to pay the sum affixed to our respective names to the committee of the county of Lancaster for the relief of the distresses of the poor inhabitants of the town of Boston.  The two-page document contains 186 names; after each name or names is the amount in pounds, shillings and pence that the individual or individuals subscribed. Surprisingly, eight women’s names appear on the pages: two alongside their husband’s name and six as individual entries.
|Month||Total||Money ONLY||Food/Goods ONLY||Both|
244 ships with cargos arrived at Marblehead over a period of nine and a half months. The last ship arrived on April 17, 1775; two days before the conflicts at Lexington and Concord.
It is not surprising that many colonists in Boston began to leave the city as early as the fall of 1774. The population of Boston in 1770 was 15,520; by June 1775, it had dropped to 2,719. Most of those still in the city were either loyalists or loyalist refugees. Following the departure of British forces on March 17, 1776, the colonists began to slowly make their way back to the city. By 1780, the population had risen to 10,000.
Boston Gazette, August 1, 1774; Boston Committee of Ways and Means to Worcester County’s Committee of Correspondence, October 11, 1774, The Writings of Samuel Adams, Henry Alonzo Cushing, ed. (New York: Knickerbocker Press, 1907), 3:81; Boston Committee of Ways and Means to Northampton Committee of Correspondence, August 30, 1774, ibid., 3:66-67; Boston Gazette, October 17, 1774; Boston Committee of Ways and Means to Kent County’s Committee of Correspondence, August 25, 1774, The Writings of Samuel Adams, 3:36.
These numbers reflect all of the identified goods that reached Marblehead. They are not exact because some of the goods were identified as “a few sheep,” “105 barrels of ship stuff,” “loaded a sloop with provisions,” or “a small quantity of wheat.” Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Vol. IV of the Fourth Series (Boston: Little Brown, and Company, 1858), 1-192.
“William Cooper to a Gentleman in New York, September 13, 1774,” American Archives: Fourth Series containing A Documentary History of The English Colonies in North America, Peter Force, ed. (Washington DC: M. St. Clair and Peter Force, 1837), 1:785.“Committee of Ways and Means to the Committee of Correspondence for Londonderry, December 8, 1774,” in Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Vol. IV of the Fourth Series, 170; “Committee of Ways and Means to the Committee of Correspondence for Chatham, December 19, 1774,” ibid., 184; “Committee of Ways and Means to the Committee of Correspondence for Bristol, January 2, 1775”, ibid., 193; “Committee of Ways and Means to the Committee of Correspondence for Eastham, January 4, 1775,” ibid., 197; “Committee of Ways and Means to the Committee of Correspondence for Salem, January 10, 1775,” ibid., 199; and “Temple to the Committee of Ways and Means, January 12, 1775,” ibid., 201. Committee of Correspondence for Temple, New Hampshire to the Committee of Ways and Means, January 12, 1775, in Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Vol. IV of the Fourth Series, 201. Committee of Ways and Means “To the Public” Notice, January 20, 1775,” in American Archives, 1:1172-73.
“Committee of Ways and Means to Committee of Correspondence for the town of Eastham, January 4, 1775,” Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Vol. IV of the fourth Series, 197; “The Committee of Correspondence for the town of Temple to the Committee of Ways and Means, January 12, 1775,” ibid., 201; “Committee of Ways and Means to the Committee of Correspondence for the town of West Springfield, January 21, 1775,” ibid., 203-04; “The Committee of Correspondence for the town of Providence to Committee of Ways and Means, January 24, 1775,” ibid., 213; “Committee of Ways and Means to the Committee of Correspondence for the town of Falmouth, January 31, 1775,” January 31, 1775,” ibid.
All figures in the two charts are compilations from Albert H. Hoyt, Donations to the People of Boston Suffering Under the Port-Bill 1774-1777 (Boston: n.p., 1876), 3-9, www.loc.gov/item/01012253; Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Vol. IX of the Second Series, 158-66; Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Vol IV of the Fourth Series, 274.
Julius Rubin, “Urban Growth and Regional Development,” Growth of Seaport Cities, 1790-1825: Proceedings of a Conference Sponsored by the Eleutherian Mills-Hagley Foundation, March 17-19, 1966, ed. David T. Gilchrist (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 1967), 27-8.