Thomas Jefferson Papers
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From Thomas Jefferson to Augustine Davis, 24 July 1791

To Augustine Davis

Philadelphia July 24. 1791.


The necessity of establishing a communication from Richmond into the upper parts of Virginia induced me to ask from the late postmaster-general a plan for establishing cross posts consistently with law. He has furnished me with the inclosed deed, by which you will percieve that certain covenants are to be entered into between the future postmaster general and an undertaker, in such a way as that the latter shall have the whole postage and nothing more; so that the cross post is to support itself, and not to bring any expence to the public. After the contract executed, no rider can take pay for the carriage of letters; consequently that profit will go exclusively to the post, to which will be added whatever yourself, your brother printers or the subscribers will give him for newspapers. Satisfied that a rider plying weekly through Columbia, and Charlottesville to Staunton and back, may be supported by the postage of letters and premium on newspapers, I have had the inclosed deed prepared for that route, and wish you to engage some trusty person to undertake it immediately, and to execute the deed. You will shortly know the name of the Postmaster general to be inserted.

But a more material cross post will be that from Richmond along the Buckingham road, by New-London and the peaks of Otter into Montgomery, Wythe, and Washington, and along the Holston &ca. on the route, as far as may be done, towards the seat of the South Western government. How far the profits of this cross post will enable you to extend it along that route, I know not: but after deciding on the best roads, having regard to the populousness of the country through or near which they pass, so as to accomodate as many people as possible, and consequently get into the way of as many contributions towards it’s support as possible, my idea would be that you should set it up to the farthest bidder, that is to say, engage it to him who will go farthest on the route for the profits it may afford. I shall be glad if, after considering this proposition, and making due enquiries, you will be so good as to let me know what you think of it’s practicability, and to what extent along the route you think it may be pushed, stating also the particular roads which, in order to increase custom, it may be best for the undertaker to pursue.—I am Sir your very humble servt,

Th: Jefferson

PrC (DLC). Enclosure: Form of contract to be executed between Samuel Osgood, Postmaster General, and the person engaging to carry the mail on the crosspost in Virginia. This was the customary form for such contracts, transcribed by a clerk in Osgood’s office, which TJ altered in various ways by pencilled notations. Knowing that Osgood would soon resign, he bracketed his name wherever it appeared. Where the form obligated the contractor to “carry the Mail or ensure it to be carried,” TJ altered this to read: “carry Mails or ensure them to be carried.” He filled in all of the blanks specifying the route and frequency of the cross-post, as indicated in the italicized words of the passage requiring the contractor to carry mail “from the Post Office in Richmond to Columbia, Charlottesville and Staunton in the state of Virginia and from Columbia, Charlottesville and Staunton so as to form one compleat Tour once at least in each Week.” TJ of course left untouched the blanks to be filled with the name of the contractor. The person assuming responsibility for conducting the cross-post was required to supply all equipment necessary for the purpose; to forfeit an unspecified sum in case he failed to make any trip, unless this was due to unavoidable accident; to be accountable for all postage due to the United States and to settle in gold or silver coin after deducting postage for any letters or packets not delivered; to take an oath “not to open detain or delay, Embezzle or destroy” any letters or packets in his care; to be liable for damages sustained by any losses occurring through carelessness or neglect; and to give bond for the faithful performance of his duties. In return the contractor was given exclusive right to carry the mail along the specified route; to enjoy all the emoluments and profits arising therefrom; to have authority to establish post offices between Richmond and Staunton; and to appoint suitable persons to manage such offices, they being accountable to him (undated form in clerk’s hand except for TJ’s interpolations, in DLC: TJ Papers, 69: 11996–7; endorsed by TJ).

TJ’s concern for the establishment of a cross-post reaching into the western parts of Virginia was no doubt augmented by the uncertainty and the slowness of the posts. But his desire to serve the public interest by promoting better transportation of letters and newspapers was also stimulated by the anxiety he had experienced in recent months in hearing so seldom from his family at Monticello. While he was keenly aware of the need for better communication with officials in the Southwest Territory, he submitted the proposal for a post along that route only for Davis’ consideration. Davis advertised it, however, as if he had been authorized to negotiate a contract in the same manner as for the route to Staunton (see Davis to TJ, 1 Aug. 1791; TJ to Washington, 7 Aug. 1791; Tatham to TJ, 15 Aug. 1791).

It was perhaps at this time that TJ obtained from the Postmaster General’s office the following tabulation of existing mail contracts on the post road from Boston to Richmond (undated MS in clerk’s hand, DLC: TJ Papers, 69: 11995):

Contracts for carrying the Mail
Names of the Constractors From what places No. Miles How carried how often. Total cost. Cost of one trip. Rate pr. Mile by the year one trip weekly
1 Levi Pease Boston to New York 253     Stage twice in winter & 3 times in Sumr. 2,500.   19.23 3.95
2 John Inskeep New York to Phila 95     4 monthly on Horses & eight pr Stages 5 times
1,860.67 7.16 3.90
3 Inskeep & Vanhorne Phila. to Baltimore 102     Ditto 3 Do. 1,466.67 9.40 4.79
4 Van Horne Baltimore to Alexandria 54     Stages 3 Do. 597.33 3.83 3.69
5 John Hoomes Alexa. to Richmond 122     Stages 3 Do 1,475.68 9.46 4. 3
626     49. 8 20.36

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