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The Early American Postal System

Early American Postal Service
Early American Map of Postal Road Between Boston and New York City

In the early American colonies, there was no organized postal service until the late 17th century, and even then it operated much differently than it does today. Before this time, the Americans relied on friends, merchants, and sometimes even the Native American population to carry their mail for them.

British North American Postal System

At the command of British King and Queen William and Mary in 1692, New Jersey Governor Andrew Hamilton established postmasters in each of the existing North American colonies. The very first "long distance" route was between Williamsburg, VA and Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Because there was no official post office, the early postal riders would deposit mail at taverns in the community instead of delivering directly to a person's address.

Richard Fairbank's Tavern, in what is now Boston, Massachusetts, was the official repository for mail received from overseas at the time, and is thus the first American post office.

The United States Post Office USPO

Before the American Revolution, very little official mail was exchanged throughout the colonies. However, when things began to heat up in the 1760s, a much greater need arose for a more organized postal service. When the Stamp Act of 1765 sent an uproar through the colonies, the citizens began planning to overthrow the British Imperial Post and open up a purely American one.

The United States Post Office (USPO) was ordered by the Second Continental Congress on July 26, 1775. Benjamin Franklin oversaw its creation as head of the department for a short while.

The Post Office Department (USPOD)

In 1789, George Washington appointed Massachusetts resident Samuel Osgood as first American Postmaster General. At the time, there were 75 official post offices and more than 2,000 miles of post roads. The Post Office Department hired post riders who would take desolate roads hundreds of miles through treacherous conditions to deliver the mail to the various post offices. One of these postal riders was Israel Bissell, one of the riders commissioned to alert the colonies that the British troops were moving in the early stages of the American War for Independence.

The first official Congressionally recognized Post Office Department opened in the United States in 1792, it's central hub being Philadelphia. Article I, Section 8, Clause 7 of the newly ratified United States Constitution empowered Congress to establish Post Offices and Roads under the supervision of the executive branch.

Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons under the Creative Commons Share-Alike License 3.0

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