The Port Act was the tipping point that ignited revolutionary passions and talk concerning independence among North Carolinians.
In 1774 the British Parliament passed the Coercive Acts — or as they were known in the American colonies, the Intolerable Acts — as a means to punish Boston for indulging the Boston Tea Party. Enacted on June 1, 1774, the first of these Intolerable Acts was the Boston Port Act, which installed a barricade and closed the Boston port to all ships, no matter their country of origin.
Virginia reacted quickly to call upon the other colonies to elect delegates to attend a provincial congress in which unified delegates replied to Parliament’s action. Within a day, the North Carolina Committee of Correspondence agreed not only to follow Virginia’s lead and hold delegate elections but also to call for a boycott against British commerce and to avoid trading with Britain until the Port Act was repealed.
In Wilmington on July 21, William Hooper, a future signer of the Declaration of Independence, held a meeting in which he excoriated the Port Act and called upon North Carolina to send county delegates to New Bern to decide the colony’s course of action.
Similar meetings took place in almost every country and city across North Carolina. One was held in Edenton, where Rev. Daniel Earle gathered people outside of the courthouse, condemned the Boston Port Act, and candidly declared that "the cause of Boston was the cause of us all." In the end, thirty of North Carolina’s thirty-five counties sent delegates to the New Bern assembly that met on August 25, 1774.
Along with the eight members of the North Carolina Committee of Correspondence, seventy-one delegates attended the three-day meeting in New Bern. John Harvey was unanimously chosen as the moderator. The assembly’s first action was to agree to send relief supplies to Boston and Massachusetts. With a series of resolutions the delegates drafted their grievances against Britain, decided to commit North Carolina to a policy of united resistance along with other colonies, and finally to choose three delegates to send to the general congress of all the colonies. The delegates chosen to represent North Carolina were William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, and Richard Caswell.
On September 5, 1774, the three North Carolina delegates met with the other colonies’ delegates in Philadelphia. The gathering, known as the First Continental Congress, coordinated a unified colonial response to the Port Act and the other Coercive Acts.
Robert Ganyard, The Emergence of North Carolina’s Revolutionary State Government (Raleigh, 1978); David Morgan and William Schmidt, North Carolinians in the Continental Congress (Winston-Salem, 1976); Independence Hall Association, http://www.ushistory.org/ (accessed August 23, 2010).