Excerpt from"Postal Services in the Colonies, 1592-1775"

 E Pluribus Unum



Excerpt from"Postal Services in the Colonies, 1592-1775," The Southern Philatelist 2, no. 6 (March 1891): 87-8.

The first Parliamentary Act for the establishment of a postoffice in the English American Colonies was passed in April, 1692, when a royal patent was granted to Thomas Neale for the purpose. He was to transport letters and packets 'at such rates as the planters should agree to give.'
Rates of postage were accordingly fixed and authorized, and measures were taken to establish a postoffice in each town in Virginia, when Hale [?] began his operations. Massachusetts and other Colonies soon passed postal laws, and a very imperfect postoffice system was established. Neale's patent expired in 1710, when Parliament extended the English postal system to the Colonies. The chief office was established in New York, where letters were conveyed by regular packets across the Atlantic.

A line of postoffices was soon after established on Neale's old routes, north to the present City of Portsmouth, N.H., and south to Philadelphia, and irregularly extended a few years later, to Williamsburg, Va. The post left for the South as often as letters enough were deposited to pay the expense. The rates were fixed, and the post-rider had certain privileges to travel. Finally an irregular postal communication was established with Charleston.

In 1753 Dr. Franklin was appointed Deputy Postmaster-General for the Colonies. It was a lucrative office, and he held it until 1774, when he was dismissed because of his active sympathy with the colonists in their quarrel with the Ministry. For a while the colonial postal system was in confusion. William Goddard, a printer, went from colony to colony, making efforts to establish a 'Constitutional Postoffice,' in opposition to the 'Royal Mail.'

When, in 1775, almost every vestige of royal power was swept from the Colonies, the Continental Congress appointed (July 26) Dr. Franklin Postmaster-General. In the autumn of 1776, when Independence had been declared, and Franklin sailed for France, the whole number of postoffices in the United States was 75; length of post routes, 1,875 miles; revenue for about fifteen months, $27,985; annual expenditures, $32,142.


For further information on this subject, see:

The Postal Service in Colonial America: A Bibliography of Material in the Smithsonian Institution Libraries National Postal Museum Branch.

America Writes Home: Pre-1920 Letters


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The E Pluribus Unum Project is funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. It is co-directed by Dr. John McClymer, Professor of History, Assumption College; Dr Lucia Knoles, Professor of English, Assumption College; and Dr. Arnold Pulda, Director of Gifted and Talented student programs for the public schools in Worcester, MA. Visitors are encouraged to send inquiries or suggestions.