View Full Version : Mail in Colonial Pennsylvania

03-24-2014, 04:48 PM
Does anyone know if it was possible for a SENDER to pay postage on letters in 1755-1756, or was it always paid by the receiver?

In my WIP, I have a bundle of letters waiting for my PA frontiersman at a frontier outpost, but after a bit of research, I'm questioning whether that's believable. Would those letters have been held in Philadelphia and advertised in The Gazette until my frontiersman picked them up, or is it possible that they were carried west to a tavern/outpost? My guy doesn't get into town much. :-)

Also, how could my frontiersman send coinage to his lover in a letter? (She's in Ireland)


King Neptune
03-24-2014, 05:48 PM
I don't know about prepaid postage, but money would not have been sent in a letter. There were bank checks and draughts, and there were operations like ones that exist today specifically for sending money.

But wasn't there a postal system in Pennsylvania then? I believe that Franklin set one up, and apparently it was set up around 1755. I would guess that the procedure was to forward things to someplace near the potential recipient and hold it there if it couldn't be delivered immediately.

Correction: this page has a decent history of the postal service in Pennsylvania, but it doesn't have details of procedures.

03-24-2014, 09:02 PM
Thanks for the link, King Neptune. I read that last night and sent a question through their "Contact" page. Hopefully, they can shed some light. I suspect, though, that the receiver paid postage until sometime in the 19th century. From everything I've read, Franklin was trying to regulate things, including record keeping, etc., which probably meant a reduction in letters getting to the frontier. If I remember correctly, unclaimed mail was advertised in the PA Gazette. Maybe I should read a few of those (they're online) and get a feel for how things worked.

I tend to agree that money would not have been sent in a letter. I wonder if I could send it via a ship's captain?

King Neptune
03-24-2014, 10:37 PM
It is also my understanding that the recipient paid postage until sometime int he early or mid 1800's. If you find the advertisement, then you might find the answer.

As I understand it, transporting money was a regular part of trade for shipping companies (captains, if they owned the ship).

03-25-2014, 12:21 AM
It is also my understanding that the recipient paid postage until sometime int he early or mid 1800's.

Postage stamps were invented precisely for the purpose of pre-paid postage (ain't that some fine alliteration, there, folks?). The first was the Penny Black in 1840 in Britain, bearing the likeness of young Queen Victoria. The U.S. followed suit in 1846, with two denominations, one-cent bearing Washington's visage, two-cent with Franklin's, as I recall from my youthful stamp-collecting days. I actually have a Penny Black (millions were made, and they remain pretty common).

The invention of the postage stamp was an instant success and greatly facilitated the movement of information from place-to-place. Of course, in the beginning, you still had to move stuff via horse, but railroads came along about the same time, and within a little more than two decades, connected the East and West Coasts of the United States.


03-25-2014, 04:16 AM
Here is An Early History of the Colonial Post (https://archive.org/details/colonialpostoff00woolrich) office written in the late 19th century.

Here is a book you might check out.
A pertinent study of early postal history is Kay Horowicz and Robson Lowe’s The Colonial Posts in the United States of America, 1606–1783 (London: Robson Lowe, 1967).

03-26-2014, 04:51 AM
Perfect, thank you. Looks like I have my weekend reading all lined up.

How did you find these? I Googled for an hour.

03-26-2014, 04:34 PM
My Google-fu is MIGHTY!

Also, I know how to search archive.org, which every writer on this board should bookmark, even contemporary and sci-fi.

I can't remember my search terms, but they were something like "colonial post regulations America" and I added "archive.org" after the first too-many-results.

I got the book cite off an interesting looking article that didn't after all talk about who pays.

03-26-2014, 07:53 PM
I'm in awe of your Google-fu.

I wrote to the National Postal Museum just before I posted here, not expecting a response, but voila!

"Postage in the U.S. was never only paid by the receiver. It was an option, not a rule. That all began to change in 1847 when the U.S. created federal postage stamps that could be purchased and used to send letters. Following that, on March 3, 1851, Congress passed a postal reform act that reduced the five-cent letter rate to three cents for pre-paid letters. Between July 1, 1851, and December 31, 1855, prepayment of postage could be made either in cash or with stamps. On January 1, 1856, the Post Office Department eliminated the 'cash option', thus mandating use of stamps. The option to send letters 'collect' (at the 5-cent rate) was abolished on April 1, 1855."

Thought I'd post it here in case the question ever comes up again. Hey, it could happen.