On July 26, 1775, the Second Continental Congress declared “…that a Postmaster General be appointed for the United States, who shall hold his office at Philadelphia, and shall be allowed a salary of 1,000 dollars per annum…” Benjamin Franklin was not, however, the first Postmaster in America nor was this the first time he would be responsible for managing mail within the colonies.
Before the Post Office, correspondence depended on friends, sea captains, merchants, and other massagers to hand carry letters. Establishing and maintaining these informal networks was no trivial occupation. To manage official correspondence the Colony of Massachusetts and England, the General Court of Massachusetts designated in 1639 that Richard Fairbanks’ tavern in Boston as the official repository of mail brought from or sent overseas, in line with the practice in England and other nations to use coffee houses and taverns as mail drops. Then, in 1673, Governor Francis Lovelace of New York set up a monthly post between New York and Boston. William Penn established Pennsylvania’s first post office in 1683. Central postal organization came to the colonies only after 1691 when Thomas Neale received a 21-year grant from the British Crown for a North American postal service. Neale never visited America. Instead, he appointed Governor Andrew Hamilton of New Jersey as his Deputy Postmaster General. In 1707, the British Government bought the rights to the North American postal service from the widow of Andrew Hamilton and began appointing Postmasters (actually selling the office) in the name of the Crown. This is how Benjamin Franklin became postmaster of Philadelphia in 1737
During his time as a Postmaster for the Crown, Franklin effected many important and lasting improvements in the colonial posts. He immediately began to reorganize the service, setting out on a long tour to inspect post offices in the North and others as far south as Virginia. New surveys were made, milestones were placed on principal roads, and new and shorter routes laid out. For the first time, post riders carried mail at night between Philadelphia and New York, with the travel time shortened by at least half.
In 1760, Franklin reported a surplus to the British Postmaster General—a first for the postal service in North America. When Franklin left office, post roads operated from Maine to Florida and from New York to Canada, and mail between the colonies and the mother country operated on a regular schedule, with posted times. In addition, to regulate post offices and audit accounts, the position of surveyor was created in 1772; this is considered the precursor of today’s Postal Inspection Service. By 1774, however, the colonists viewed the royal post office with suspicion. Franklin was dismissed by the Crown for actions sympathetic to the cause of the colonies.
William Goddard, a printer and newspaper publisher then set up a Constitutional Post for inter-colonial mail service. Colonies funded it by subscription, and net revenues were to be used to improve the postal service rather than to be paid back to the subscribers. By 1775, when the Continental Congress met at Philadelphia, Goddard’s colonial post was flourishing, and 30 post offices operated between Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Williamsburg.
When Benjamin Franklin returned from England in 1775, he was appointed chairman of a Committee of Investigation to establish a postal system. The report of the Committee, providing for the appointment of a postmaster general for the 13 American colonies, was considered by the Continental Congress on July 25 and 26. On July 26, 1775, Franklin was appointed Postmaster General, the first appointed under the Continental Congress; the establishment of the organization that became the United States Postal Service. Franklin served until November 7, 1776.
Article IX of the Articles of Confederation, ratified in 1781, gave Congress “The sole and exclusive right and power…establishing and regulating post offices from one State to another…and exacting such postage on papers passing through the same as may be requisite to defray the expenses of the said office…” Following the adoption of the Constitution, Congress reestablished a post office and created the Office of the United States Postmaster General.