Brief obsessions are not uncommon for me in my work at the Library of Congress. Case in point: an 1805 list of post offices.
The Post Office has a long history. Benjamin Franklin was the first Postmaster General, appointed by the Continental Congress in 1775. It continued under the Articles of Confederation and was eventually included in the Constitution – Article I, Section 8 – which gave Congress the power “To establish Post Offices and Post Roads.” After a series of extensions, it was permanently established on May 8, 1794 (1 Stat. 354).
To assist the local postmasters, the Post Office published a list of post offices and their distance to Washington (at the time postal rates were determined by distance measured from Washington City). There isn’t much information beyond the names, locations, and distances, but it does remind us what our country was like when it was published.
New Orleans was in the Orleans Territory and was 1253 miles from Washington.
- Geneva was 911 miles away, while Girardou was 938. Both were then in the Louisiana Territory.
- Frenchtown in Raisin River County was 570 miles from Washington in the Michigan Territory.
- In the Indiana Territory, Cahoika in St. Clair County was 963 miles from Washington.
- In the Mississippi Territory, Natchez in Adams County was 1247 miles away.
- In Washington, D.C. it was 2 miles to Georgetown and 10 miles to Alexandria City (then part of the District of Columbia).
There are also a few other curious items in the publication. There are handwritten notes for the new post offices, the more notable places like state capitals were capitalized, and they used a clever abbreviation for the word crossroads – an uppercase X put on its side followed by the word roads.
I was intrigued by the Postmaster General Gideon Granger, who was appointed by Thomas Jefferson on November 28, 1801. Gideon Granger served as Postmaster General until 1814 and was the father of another Postmaster General, Francis Granger, who served in 1841 and was later a Representative from New York in the 24th, 26th, and 27th Congresses.