1774 — The First Continental Congress

Old Statehouse

On September 5, 1774, every colony but Georgia sent representatives to what is now called the First Continental Congress. They met in secret because they did not want the British to know that the colonies were uniting. At first there were 44 delegates who met in Carpenter's Hall in Philadelphia. Twelve other delegates reported late. Some of those who came were George Washington, Patrick Henry, John Jay, John Adams, (Silas Dean, Eliphatet Dyer and Roger Sherman from Connecticut) and Samuel Adams. Peyton Randolph of Virginia was chosen president.

Joseph Galloway from Pennsylvania suggested they work out a way that the colonies could have their freedom under British rule, but not many delegates agreed with him. They made a list of basic rights they wanted and a list of complaints to send to King George III. They signed a petition demanding the Intolerable Acts be repealed and sent it to England with the demand they would be repealed.

John Adams thought the First Continental Congress was like a school for American leaders. George Washington, Samuel Adams and Patrick Henry were all part of this Congress. Benjamin Franklin was in England and presenting the colonists' demands in person to the British Parliament. The Continental Association was created at this Congress. This was an agreement of the colonies to stop all trade with Britain until their demands were met. Men from the colonies came to Philadelphia to represent their colonies. Soon they were able to see past just their colony and started to think of all the colonies together as America. Patrick Henry said: "I am not a Virginian, but an American."

When the governor of Massachusetts started taking some warlike steps, John Adams' wife, Abigail, wrote him to warn him. The colonists were also preparing. This showed the men at the Congress that the people were ready to stand behind their decisions, stop all trade with British companies, and to fight England.

The men adjourned the Congress on October 26, 1774 and decided to meet again in May of 1775 in Philadelphia if King George III did not repeal the Intolerable Acts. When King George III heard of the colonists' demands, he answered: "The die is now cast. The colonies must either submit or triumph." When Patrick Henry went to the Virginia Convention in Richmond, he made a speech. It was from this speech that his famous quote comes: "I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"

King George III's decision not to repeal the intolerable Acts or any of the other taxes finally caused the Revolutionary War that led to the Colonies Independence.

Eliphatet Dyer

1721–1807, American jurist, born in Windham, Conn. After serving in the state legislature for several years, Dyer took part in the French and Indian Wars and later was a member of the governor's council (1762–84) and became (1766) an associate judge of Connecticut's superior court. He was one of the organizers of the Susquehanna Company and was an active supporter of the company in its attempts to secure confirmation of its lands in the Wyoming Valley. A Connecticut delegate to the Stamp Act Congress (1765), he was later a member (1774–79; 1780–83) of the Continental Congress. Dyer was chief justice of Connecticut from 1789 until 1793.

Roger Sherman

1721–93, American political leader, born in Newton, Mass. Sherman helped to draft and signed the Declaration of Independence. He was long a member (1774–81, 1783–84) of the Continental Congress, helped to draw up the Articles of Confederation, and after serving as a member of the Constitutional Convention in 1787 where he introduced the Connecticut Compromise' providing for a bicameral federal legislature, he was one of the strongest proponents of the new Constitution. He was prominent in Connecticut colonial and state politics and was mayor of New Haven and treasurer of Yale College. Sherman was a U.S. Representative (1789–91) and US Senator (1791–93).

Silas Deane

Silas Deane is one of the most enigmatic Revolutionary War era figures. Even today, scholars debate whether he was a patriot or traitor. But the events in question stem from his later life in public service. Earlier, during his days in Wethersfield, the picture is clearer. Those were the years he bound his life together with the Webb family. When Joseph Webb, Sr., died unexpectedly in 1761, his widow, Mehitabel, sought a legal adviser and chose Silas Deane, a young lawyer, new in town, who had just passed his bar exam. The son of a Groton blacksmith, Deane had gone to Yale and studied law in Hartford. He married Mehitabel a short time later.

Deane was in an enviable position: He had his wife's inheritance and owned of one of the finest houses in town. But with six stepchildren and a son delivered to him by his wife, the roomy Webb house was still too cramped. Since Mehitabel's son, Joseph Jr., was soon to reach his majority, it was agreed that he and the older children would live in the family home. Deane, his wife, and young children would live in a new house next door.

By 1766, the home was complete. Its dignified and elegant appearance set it apart from its neighbors. But Mehitabel was unable to enjoy it for long; she died the next year. Within three years, Deane remarried; this time to the socially prominent Elizabeth Saltonstall, granddaughter of a Connecticut governor. Deane then became involved in public service.

Elected Wethersfield's representative in the General Assembly of Connecticut, he quickly showed leadership ability. In early 1774, when the Continental Congress was assembled, Deane was among three chosen from Connecticut. In Philadelphia, he worked at a feverish pace. He was a member of 40 committees, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, and instrumental in developing the United States Navy.

After Congress recessed around Christmas 1774, Deane returned to the Assembly in Hartford. There, he conceived the plan to attack Ticonderoga, New York, and supported the funding of Ethan Allen's expedition. He could not hide his disappointment when he was not elected to the new Congress. But around that time, in a secret communique from Congress, he, Benjamin Franklin and Virginia planter Arthur Lee were invited to go to Paris to enlist support for the Revolutionary cause. While the French were eager to regain territory lost to England in the French-Indian War, they were officially at peace with England, and the dealings had to be kept secret.

Deane sailed in March 1776, leaving behind his ailing wife. His trepidations must have been many: He had no friends in France, no letters of introduction, no experience in diplomacy, nor friends with playwright and pamphleteer Caron de Beaumarchais, the liaison between the American and the French foreign office. Beaumarchais, displaying characteristic wit, said that "Mr. Deane is probably the most silent man in France, for he will not speak to the English, and he cannot speak to the French."

Deane devised a plan to shop supplies to his countrymen, and Beaumarchais set up a dummy company through which munitions and supplies would pass. Payment was to be in raw materials or cash after independence was won. The shipments were made, but payment became a source of discord between Deane and Arthur Lee, who insisted the supplies were free. He also claimed that Deane had been enriching himself at his country' s expense. The feud resulted in Deane's recall from France, but his request for a hearing was put off. Finally, Congress offered to repay a fraction of the debts he incurred. Deane refused.

His wife dead and his house mortgaged, Deane never again lived in Wethersfield, He went to back to Paris in 1780 and lodged with Franklin, but he was broke and dispirited. The arrival of French troops in America the same year can be credited to Deane's diplomatic efforts. But letters he wrote advocating reunion with England were published, bringing him more scorn. He wandered Europe for some years, and ended up in London after the war. He made attempts to explain himself and continued to petition Congress. Finally, in 1787, Congress sent auditors to Paris to review Deane's accounts. They were found to be in good order, and he was awarded $30,000. However, due to legal technicalities, Deane never saw a cent. He died two years later, just as he was about to return to America. His heirs received half of the award 60 years after his death.

1774 Bibliography