Benjamin Franklin Papers

Outgoing Philadelphia Mail, 1764–1767, 18 October 1764

Outgoing Philadelphia Mail, 1764–1767

Printed forms with MS insertions: American Philosophical Society

October 18, 1764

Benjamin Franklin’s brother Peter was postmaster of Philadelphia from about the middle of October 1764 until his death on July 1, 1766.9 He was succeeded by Thomas Foxcroft, brother of the other joint deputy postmaster general. Both the Foxcrofts became Loyalists upon the outbreak of the American Revolution and ended their service in 1775.

As early as 1753 instructions to the local postmasters had required them not only to maintain exact accounts of their financial transactions but to keep detailed records of letters received from or dispatched to other offices in the colonies. Printed forms were supplied for the purpose. Form “B” provided columns in which to list each outgoing shipment of mail, showing the date, the number of pieces of each kind (single, double, and triple letters, and packets) sent to every destination on that day under each of the three categories of unpaid, prepaid, and free mail, and (for each of the first two categories) the total charge for the group of letters, reckoned in pennyweights and grains of silver.1

A set of sixty-four of these completed forms, printed on both sides, survives from the Philadelphia Post Office among the Franklin papers. The entries are dated from Oct. 18, 1764, to Sept. 22, 1767, thus spanning the whole of Peter Franklin’s postmastership and the beginning of Thomas Foxcroft’s. There are several breaks in the series, four of them for periods of about a month apiece and one for six weeks; several sheets are badly torn, and, especially for the first part of the period, the ink was often so weak—or has faded so badly—that the writing is now virtually illegible. Nevertheless, the series is complete enough to permit one to form a reasonably clear idea of the amount and the destinations of the postal correspondence carried on by the people in the area served by the Philadelphia Post Office during the period.

To reprint in full the contents of these forms would serve little useful purpose. Instead, the records for four calendar months, distributed through the whole period, have been chosen and the total amount of mail of all categories sent from Philadelphia to every other post office has been tabulated for each of these months. Inadequacies in the records, as mentioned above, have necessarily played some part in the choice of months, but those selected are believed to be fairly representative of that time of year and of that year in general.2

Examination of the tabulations printed below reveals several aspects of the colonial postal system in general, as well as of the Philadelphia operations in particular, during the years which followed closely upon the considerable personal attention the deputy postmasters general, Franklin and Foxcroft, had been giving the service in 1763 and 1764. Several new post offices, especially in the South, appeared at this time, and expanded routes became available, notably the new one to Pennsylvania towns west of Philadelphia.3 Perhaps most enlightening is the distribution of outgoing Philadelphia mail. It may come as something of a surprise to observe that almost half of all these letters and packets were going to New York City. Some of the New York total—it is impossible to say just how much—was sent there to be placed on board the monthly packet boats to England, but the correspondence between these two colonial cities themselves had become impressively heavy and clearly justified the increase in service to three times a week which had recently been provided.4 Boston led all other single communities in the colonies, receiving a little over 8 percent of Philadelphia’s mail. Correspondence with offices in adjoining provinces, as might be expected, was substantial. The New Jersey post offices, taken as a group, accounted for approximately 6 percent of the total, and those in Maryland, on both sides of the Chesapeake, drew just over 16 percent, probably evidence of the close economic relations of Philadelphia with that province.

The number of letters sent to any one place fluctuated considerably from one mail to the next and, as this tabulation shows, sometimes from month to month. No single entry, therefore, should be regarded as particularly significant—for example other months in 1764 and 1765 than the ones selected show at least a sprinkling of letters to Connecticut towns—but the statistics as a whole indicate with considerable fidelity the nature and distribution of Philadelphia’s outgoing mail during these years. While comparable records of mail arriving at the city in this period have not been found, it is reasonable to assume that the pattern was much the same.

Total Pieces of Mail
Destination Dec. March Sept. May
1764 1765 1766 1767
District Of Maine
Falmouth 2
New Hampshire
Portsmouth 6 6 6
Boston 120 128 120 105
Marblehead 3 3 1
Newbury 5 5 1
Salem 4 4 2
Rhode Island
Newport 33 57 25 20
Providence 4 3 1 5
Guilford 1
Hartford 3
Middletown 3
New Haven 2 8
New London 5 11
Norwalk 5
Stamford 1
Stratford 2
Montreal 3 8 6
Quebec 26 20
New York
Albany 7 7 11
New York 652 608 842 741
New Jersey
Brunswick 18 19 15 14
Burlington 12 10 15 5
Elizabethtown 12 10 17 12
Newark 1 3
Princeton 13 9 16 15
Trenton 17 13 17 21
Woodbridge 13 7 22 19
Bristol 3
Carlisle 22 4
Lancaster 73 37 140 65
Shippensburg 5
York 10 2
New Castle 28 1 31 9
Wilmington 4 9 2
Annapolis 47 48 61 29
Baltimore 54 68 71 61
Cambridge 3
Charlestown 13
Chester [town] 34 10 34 6
Fredericktown 16 8 41 33
Joppa 2 2
Marlboro 11 6 14 17
Newtown 21 69 58
Talbot 20 34
Queenstown 7
Vienna 22 10
Alexandria 35 12 23 5
Dumfries 3
Fredericksburg 1 8 18 18
Hanover 1
Hobb’s Hole 1 4
Norfolk 8 11 18 20
Richmond 3
Williamsburg 17 16 36 20
Yorktown 1 4 2
South Carolina
Charleston 12 21
Totals 1279 11975 1806 1483
Total For These Four Months 5765
[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

9Pa. Gaz., Oct. 18, 1764; July 3, 1766.

1The full instructions, issued by BF and Hunter, are printed above, V, 161–77, and their sample form “B” is reproduced at V, 171.

2It would have been desirable to include one tabulation from a January or February—the worst months for the post riders—but breaks in the series or the condition of some sheets prevented such a choice.

3Comparison of the list of offices given below with that for 1763 (above, X, 418) shows the establishment of several new offices in Maryland and Virginia and changes in the names of a number of others there. On the new Pennsylvania route, see above, pp. 247–8.

4Since Philadelphia was the junction between the northern and southern postal routes, some of the mail recorded as sent to New York undoubtedly originated further south.

5In a series of five consecutive entries for this month the place names are indecipherable. The 72 pieces of mail listed in these entries have been added to those recorded above in order to show a correct total of outgoing mail for March 1765.

Index Entries