Committees of Observation and Safety

The Congress therefore created the Committees of Observation and Safety and gave them the task of making sure no citizens purchased British merchandise under the authority of the Continental Association. The Congress also attempted to define the exact relationship Britain had with America and the degree to which Parliament could legislate. Although the Congress did not request home rule, it did claim that colonial legislatures should be entrusted with more responsibilities.

The Committees of Observation and Safety had a profound effect on American colonial life. As British officials shut down or threatened to shut down town legislatures and councils throughout the colonies, the committees often became de factogovernments. Many established their own court systems, raised militias, legislated against Loyalist demonstrations, and eventually coordinated efforts with other observation committees in nearby communities. Also, most of these committees were democratically elected by community members and were thus recognized by patriotic colonists as legitimate supervisory bodies. Their creation and coordination helped spread revolutionary ideas and fervor to the countryside and later smoothed the transition to democracy after independence.

The Battle of Lexington and Concord

By 1775, colonial resentment toward Britain had become a desire for rebellion. Many cities and towns organized volunteer militias of “minutemen”—named for their alleged ability to prepare for combat at the drop of a hat—who began to drill openly in public common areas.

On April 19, 1775, a British commander dispatched troops to seize an arsenal of colonial militia weapons stored in Concord, Massachusetts. Militiamen from nearby Lexington intercepted them and opened fire. Eight Americans died as the British sliced through them and moved on to Concord.

The British arrived in Concord only to be ambushed by the Concord militia. The “shot heard round the world”—or the first shot of many that defeated the British troops at Concord—sent a ripple throughout the colonies, Europe, and the rest of the world. The British retreated to Boston after more than 270 in their unit were killed, compared to fewer than 100 Americans. The conflict became known as the Battle of Lexington and Concord.

The minutemen’s victory encouraged patriots to redouble their efforts and at the same time convinced King George III to commit military forces to crushing the rebellion. Almost immediately, thousands of colonial militiamen set up camp around Boston, laying siege to the British position. The battle initiated a chain of events, starting with the militia siege of Boston and the Second Continental Congress, that kicked the Revolutionary War into high gear.

Popular pages: The American Revolution (1754–1781)