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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Part I. Early Ohio Postal Systems And Post-Riders
Part II. Profiling Ohio's Postal Routes And Carriers

Dallas Bogan on 4 September 2004
original article by Dallas Bogan
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

Carrier of news and knowledge, instrument of trade and
Commerce, promoter of mutual acquaintance among men and
Nations and hence of peace and goodwill.
Carrier of love and sympathy, messenger of friendship,
Consoler of the lonely, servant of the scattered family,
Enlarger of the public life.

Charles William Eliot

Part I. Early Ohio Postal Systems And Post-Riders

The postal system of today and yesterday differ as much as day and night. Our original postal network, east of the Alleghenies, had become a part of the British format before the opening of the 18th century.
Efforts made by the Crown were stimulated to influence communication between English speaking colonies in America. A somewhat unusual postal system had grown from these efforts.
A young Philadelphia printer, Benjamin Franklin, was appointed postmaster of that city in 1737. So efficiently did he run the system that he was named a joint Postmaster General of the Colonies, serving with William Hunter of Virginia.
One of the first acts of the Continental Congress assembling in 1775, was the organization of a line of posts from Maine to Georgia, connecting with cross lines running into the interior. This method was under the supervision of Benjamin Franklin, who had since been named Postmaster General in this year.
Evolving out of the old British plan, the new system gradually became more efficiently run. During and after the Revolution, the whole procedure was directed toward promoting settlements.
The British system, still partially intact, set up the custom of farming out contracts for carrying the mail, first to individuals, and later to stagecoach companies. Certainly this way was more practical because of the regulation of business at great distances.
A requirement by law was given to ferry owners to give special consideration to carriers of the United States mail. The ferry was to be made available, day or night, to transport the mail without pay.
Also in the year 1794, a post office was opened in a little white frame building in the old French town of Gallipolis, with Francois D'Hebecourt as postmaster. Being French born, he attended a military school in Paris where he became acquainted with a lad from Corsica named Napoleon Bonaparte.
After graduation they planned to go to America and found a colony, but Bonaparte's family convinced him to remain in Paris.
Prior to 1794, the mail had been carried into the West from towns in Virginia to Danville, Ky. Letters and the armies of Generals Arthur St. Clair and Anthony Wayne sent messages in large numbers during this period. Long distance mail service on horseback was first established westward as far as Pittsburgh in 1788. On May 24, 1794, Postmaster General Pickering wrote General Rufus Putnam at Marietta that a mail service would be provided between Pittsburgh and Wheeling by land, thence to Limestone (Maysville), Kentucky, by water. From this location the mails would be sent to interior Kentucky offices and other locations along the river, including Cincinnati.
At this announcement boats were being built and already preparing for future business. A month later the Cincinnati newspaper, the "Centinel of the Northwest Territory," announced that a post had been established from Pittsburgh to Cincinnati, and that Albert M. Dunn had been named Deputy Postmaster General. Jonathan Meigs, Jr., had been named to a similar post in Marietta.
Because of the river conditions, such as ice, high water, and a number of trivial incidents, plans to use the river for mail delivery did not work properly.
Estimated time in 1794, by way of the Ohio River from Pittsburgh to Cincinnati, was given as seven days, while It required thirteen days for the return up the river.
In 1795, M.T. Green of Marietta contracted to carry the mails between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh in a canoe furnished with paddles and poles. While going down stream he would sometimes carry freight or an occasional passenger.
Green's canoe soon became very flimsy and, consequently, sometime later a line of row boats were established with relays at different stations between these junctures.
One old account stated that a boat was to leave Marietta "every Monday morning at five o'clock, or the evening before, if She chuses. She will make her passage up the river so as to Deliver the Mail at the Post Office at Wheeling the next Wednesday Evening unless a very extreordinary Fresh in the river shall render it empracticable which will very seldom if ever happen."
Mail exchange between the boats was made at Marietta, Gallipolis and Limestone. Rowing the boat in midstream was a precaution against the precarious Indians. Each boat was manned with four oarsmen and a coxswain armed. Passengers were always taken downstream, never up.


An order sent from Washington City concerning the qualifications of the post-rider stated that "in the selection of riders you must always take persons of integrity, sound health, firmness, perseverance and high ambition, and pride of character. Among these a preference is due to young men, the less the size the better."
The Postmaster General provided portmanteaus (a stiff leather suitcase that opens into two compartments) and bags. The rider was committed to carry the mail under cover and keep it securely locked at night. Bond in the sum of $1,000 was secured for the "faithful performance of duty."
We can hardly envision the trials and tribulations these post-riders had to experience. They had to make their way through mazes of underbrush and dense forests, or traverse along the edge of swiftly flowing rivers searching for a shallow place to ford, or lumber their enduring horse through a marshland, just to emerge into the dense forests once again.
Compensation for the early post-riders has not been satisfactorily established, as some statistics of the Post Office Department indicate that riders got all the proceeds between certain offices on certain routes.
In one instance the Postmaster General offered a courier $2.50 per mile for carrying the mail. In another location it was recorded that carriers received two cents for "each piece of franked mail that they carried." (To be continued.)

Part II. Profiling Ohio's Postal Routes And Carriers

Chillicothe was the state capital of Ohio from 1803 to 1809. It was then moved to Zanesville and later returned to Chillicothe in 1812, it being moved permanently to Columbus in 1816. Chillicothe was, according to old postal maps, the nucleus of all the old routes until 1810 when all existing post routes were terminated and replaced by a whole new system.
Ohio at this time was growing by leaps and bounds. With a great increase in the volume of mail, bags became heavier and more bulky, and sometimes were left behind for want of room. As a consequence, Cincinnati would be left without mail for a substantial time.
The history of Allen County gives a short sketch of one of the first mail carriers in the Northwest Territory. It tells that Tutaw, a Shawnee Indian, was employed by Anthony Wayne to carry letters and dispatches between Piqua and Defiance. A story told concerning the Indian is as follows:
"Old Tutaw was one day, in 1830, passing down the Auglaize in his canoe loaded with bark, which grounded near Sam Baxter's cabin. In an effort to float the canoe he got into the water and made such a splash and dash therein that young Baxter ventured to have a laugh at his expense. In 1846 he met Tutaw, who looked at him for an instant and said, 'You bad boy, you laugh at old Tut when he got his canoe fast.'"
Late in the fall of 1798 a contract was given to Daniel Convers "to carry the mail or cause it to be carried from Marietta in the Northwest Territory to Zanestown on the Muskingum River and from Zanestown to Marietta once a week at the rate of $90.00 for every quarter of a year during the continuance of the contract."
If Convers was late for the scheduled stop, he was deducted a penalty of one dollar for each hour's delay. This penalty would stand firm unless substantial proof was offered and the delay was confirmed unavoidable.
This contract began November 1, 1798, and continued until September 13, 1800. This is said to have been the first regular mail between Marietta and Zanesville, as well as the first regular mail route in the lands of the Ohio country.
Found in Scott's History of Highland County was a segment containing information on the first post office in "Chelicotha." It says:
"In the spring of 1799, Henry Massie, deeming it important both for milling and other purposes, made a pack-horse trace from New Market to the settlement at the falls from which there was already a trace down to Chillicothe, since he deemed it important to connect with the settlement at the falls of Paint Creek and Chillicothe. A log hotel kept by Wishart became the post office with Wishart as post master and a weekly packmail line established between Chillicothe and Cincinnati."
Land service of the mails was likewise progressing. The first mail delivered between Chillicothe and Franklinton (now a part of Columbus) was by Andrew (Andy) McElvaine. He, as a boy, emigrated with his father from Kentucky in the year 1797. He was only thirteen years of age when Adam Hosack, who was the contractor and postmaster, employed him as a mail messenger. The year was 1805.
The route operated weekly on the west side of the Scioto. McElvaine left Franklinton on Friday, stayed overnight at Markley's mill on Darby Creek, reached Chillicothe the next day, and thence returned to Darby Creek. Sunday night he again reached Franklinton.
At the beginning there was no post office route established between the two towns, but during the first winter, there was one established at Westfall, and another at Markley's Mill.
Such a trip for a young man of thirteen, through a wilderness filled with wild beasts, a constant threat from the Indians, all this in the name of "carrying the mail."
An article appeared in the Lebanon Western Star depicting the area mail carriers. It read:
"Until stage lines were established mails were carried overland by post-riders, boys being preferred to men, on account of their lighter weight on the horse. In 1817, Abner L. Ross, Sr., who was born in Lebanon in 1804, as a boy of thirteen, began carrying the U.S. mail from Oxford via Hamilton, Blue Ball, Red Lion, Green Tree, Lebanon, Hopkinsville, Goshen and Batavia to Georgetown, near the Ohio River.
"Before he was twenty he became a contractor in mail carrying himself, and soon his contracts extended over several hundred miles of mail and stage lines.
"In 1835, James S. Totten, who afterward became prominent in Warren County politics, was a poor boy living with his grandfather, Gen. David Sutton at Deerfield [now South Lebanon]. His grandfather died in that year and left him in destitute circumstances. Young Totten, then fourteen, became a mail carrier in the employ of Mr. Ross, and made weekly trips on horseback from Lebanon to Eaton, and from Lebanon to Felicity, receiving $8 per month for his services."
Mail carriers were in great personal danger during the War of 1812. The post-rider still had a great personal fear of the hostile Indians. The mailbag was always in danger of being stolen. A military escort was sometimes necessary during the early stages of the conflict. A man named Munger was possibly the first known post-rider in Lower Sandusky, his route traversing to Fort Meigs.
One recorded incident while on one of his trips was that a party of Indians just a mile from the fort attacked him. He escaped with but slight wounds, leaving the mailbag and his horse to the Indians. After the robbery of Munger, it was difficult to get anyone to travel the route to the fort.
Another recorded incident found Munger traveling toward Fort Stephenson. The thick woods and swamp sheltered him while he traveled for four days. Being extremely late, he was presumed dead or taken captive. But on the fifth day he made his appearance at Lower Sandusky, having wandered as far north as Port Clinton on the lake shore.
Isaac Knapp, who had removed to Lower Sandusky in 1814, undertook the hazardous contract to Fort Meigs. He affiliated himself with his brother, Walter, who carried it some of the time. Because of his light body weight, Walter was able to walk on the thin ice or frozen crust, whereas a heavier man with his horse would break through.
A rather dismal disposition ran through the brothers in their mail route ventures. One day, as Isaac Knapp was preparing to depart to Fort Meigs, he saw from the fort two men who had just started out, bludgeoned and murdered by the Indians. However, with this scene deeply etched in his mind, he showed no fear.
Some hours later, he calmly shouldered the mailbag and, by an indirect route, set off into the forest and safely completed his journey.
These two brothers were the heroes of a more remote period of time in the Ohio country. They helped spearhead the yet untamed wilderness, which has since turned Ohio into the crossroads of America.
John DePue carried the mail between Pittsburgh and New Lisbon, Ohio, in 1809. He was described as "a small, thin, wiry man." He used two horses, one to ride and the other for carrying the mail. He rode the second horse and guided the packhorse tandem fashion.
As he reached the town of New Lisbon "he would commence blowing his horn and continued with varying notes until he reached the post office. All teams and vehicles were prompt to give way, the carrier equally prompt to claim it. The United States mail must not be obstructed or delayed for a moment."
On a weekly trip from Medina to Cleaveland, a mail courier found himself suddenly surrounded by a large pack of wild hogs, these animals being common in this time period. He immediately found a fallen tree on which to climb. He fired at them, now and then killing a precarious boar. As they fell, one by one, the rest, being attracted by the blood, finally withdrew.
The messenger, with all danger past, proceeded on to Cleaveland somewhat behind schedule.
The next morning, before turning toward home with his mail, he furnished himself with fresh ammunition. He also had the lock of his rifle changed by the only gunsmith in the village. He had a new lock installed in place of the old time percussion pill- lock, because corrupt dealers too often mixed mustard seed or turnip seed with the little percussion pills that they greatly resemble.
The War of 1812 produced many positive benefits in Ohio as far as transportation goes. The post-riders ultimately used roads cut through the forests from the Ohio River to Detroit for use of transport of troops.
These post-riders, or couriers, were at this time exceptionally cooperative in every way, and complaints of failure of deliveries of the mail were few and far between.
However, the opposite could be said for many of those who were entrusted as postmasters or their assistants; the fault is to be found in them more so than the courier.
Such a case happened in 1814 to a boy, age 15, by the name of McNeal, while he was serving as assistant postmaster at Bowling Green, Kentucky.
At that time, when communication between the army of the North, at Detroit, and that of the South, at Naw Orleans, was crucial, many complaints were registered as to the failure of the mail delivery.
An investigation was made and the boy had been found guilty of robbing the mails passing through that office. After three days of thoroughly searching the area, a great amount of bills of exchange, drafts, checks, postal notes and orders amounting to $400,000 was found.
The courts found him guilty, but his father, with the support of a friend, bailed him out. The extent of the fine was only five hundred dollars and, according to the account, "the boy moved off.

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This page created 4 September 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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