The Birth of the United States Post Office
In early colonial times most correspondence took place between the colonists and England. The King’s authorities would read and scour all of the information and mail that was being sent. Correspondence between the colonies depended on trusted friends, merchants, or friendly Native Americans.
Around 1639 Richard Fairbanks’ Tavern in Boston, Massachusetts was designated as the official repository of mail by The General Court of Massachusetts (appointed by the King). Using taverns as mail drops was common practice in England, and the colonists adopted this practice as well. Local authorities designated by town representatives and England operated post routes within the colonies, some of which are still around today.
In 1673, Governor Francis Lovelace of New York set up a monthly mailing post between New York and Boston. The post rider’s trail became known as Old Boston Post Road, which is part of today’s U.S. Route 1. Old Post Road in North Attleborough, Massachusetts was part of this rider’s trail and is considered one of the oldest roads in America.
In 1683, William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania and a leader in the Quaker community, established its’ first post office. Slaves or private messengers delivered communications from one plantation to another.
Most importantly, Thomas Neale received a twenty-one year grant in 1691 from the British Crown to begin a North American postal service. Neale had never laid foot on North American soil, so he appointed then Governor Andrew Hamilton of New Jersey as his Deputy Postmaster General. Neale’s franchise cost him only 80 cents a year. In 1699, he assigned his interests in America over to Andrew Hamilton and R. West. Neale died heavily in debt as a result of this endeavor.
By 1707, the British Government had purchased the rights to the North American postal service from the widow of Andrew Hamilton and R. West. The government then appointed Andrew Hamilton’s son, Andrew, as Deputy Postmaster General of America. He served until 1721 when he was succeeded by John Lloyd of Charleston, South Carolina.
In 1730, Alexander Spotswood, a former lieutenant governor of Virginia, became Deputy Postmaster General for America. Seven years later, Spotswood appointed Benjamin Franklin as postmaster of Philadelphia. In 1753, Bejamin Franklin and William Hunter who was postmaster of Williamsburg, Virginia, were appointed by the British Crown as Joint Postmasters for the colonies. Upon Hunter’s death in 1761, a man by the name of John Foxcroft of New York succeeded him, serving until the outbreak of the Revolutionary War.
During his time as a Joint Postmaster General for the Crown, Benjamin Franklin influenced many important and lasting improvements in the colonial product posts. He immediately began to reorganize the service; he inspected post offices in the North and as far south as Virginia. New surveys were made, milestones were placed on principal roads, and new and shorter routes were laid out. For the first time, post riders carried mail at night between Philadelphia and New York, and the travel time had been shortened in half.
William Goddard, a publisher, set up a post for colonial only mail service. This was separate from the British crown and was funded by purchasing subscriptions. Net revenues were to be used to improve his postal service. In 1774 Goddard suggested to Congress that the colonies come together to form a United Postal Service. He believed that this would be a way to separate the colonies’ mail from the British postal inspectors. This way they could communicate colonial news only to the colonies. Goddard proposed his idea of a postal service to Congress two years before the Declaration of Independence was signed
By 1774 colonists did not trust the British crown and viewed the royal post office with suspicion. Benjamin Franklin had been dismissed of his post duties by the Crown for his actions. The crown believed that Franklin was displaying sympathy to the cause of the colonies. In September 1774, shortly after the Boston riots, known today as the Boston Massacre, the colonies began to separate from England. A Continental Congress was organized at Philadelphia in May 1775 to establish an independent government. One of the first questions before the delegates was how to convey and deliver the mail.