We tend to think of Ben Franklin as the creator of the US Postal System, but there is an unsung patriot who should be remembered as the creator of the Constitutional Post.
Although he was not the founder of the colonial postal system per se, Benjamin Franklin dramatically improved the manner in which mail was delivered during his time as postmaster general for the Crown. Delivery routes had been changed to improve efficiency. Post riders moved mail between New York and Philadelphia at night. The postal service actually operated at a profit under Franklin’s direction in 1760. The British relieved Franklin of his duties in 1774 after he revealed the Governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Hutchinson’s, willingness to impose further regulations and taxes on Colonists. When Franklin left the Crown’s postal service, the mail moved smoothly, via a number of routes, from Florida in the south to Canada in the north. It also moved between the Colonies and Britain at regular intervals.
The postal service prior to the Revolution was known as the Crown Post. In 1775, the conflict between Britain and the Colonies was mounting. The British took steps to block communication between committees of correspondence and others who might be sympathetic to the independence movement. Newspapers were destroyed. Private correspondence was opened and read. The transfer of information was disrupted in order to prevent it from being redistributed to Colonists via pamphlet s or newspapers.
One newspaper which was often disrupted was William Goddard’s Pennsylvania Chronicle. Goddard’s father, Giles Goddard, served as the postmaster of New London during Benjamin Franklin’s time of service at the Crown Post. Goddard’s sister, Mary, was also a printer. She published the first certified copy of the Declaration of Independence in January, 1777. Needless to say many of Goddard’s family members were well known as printers. Goddard, himself, had worked with Franklin as a printer, and that definitely made him a person of interest in the eyes of British officials. The delivery of the Pennsylvania Chronicle was often interrupted. Goddard sometimes employed private carriers to disseminate it. Increased taxation on newspaper delivery finally forced the Pennsylvania Chronicle out of business in 1773.
In March 1774, The Boston Committee of Correspondence suggested to the Salem Committee of Correspondence that William Goddard should be placed in charge of constructing a system by which mail could be transported outside of the purview of British officials and loyalists. In October, 1774, Goddard proposed a plan to implement a postal service to the Continental Congress. By the time that Congress adopted the plan in July, 1775, the Constitutional Post was in business and had 30 post offices. This service, funded by subscription from participating Colonists, fostered the transfer of information and communication between New York and Philadelphia. Revenues from the system were used to further improve it. When Congress formally established a postal service, they chose to name Benjamin Franklin as the first Postmaster General. Goddard reluctantly accepted the position of Riding Surveyor. The attached image is a pass which Franklin created for Goddard on September 4, 1776. The pass explained his position with the post office which had been established by Congress. It also permitted him to travel throughout the Colonies.
The Constitutional Post was so successful, and the Colonists were so distrustful of the Crown Post, that the Crown Post discontinued operation on December 25, 1775. The central location for Constitutional Post was at the London Coffee House which was a focal point in Philadelphia.
When Benjamin Franklin resigned from the position as Postmaster General, Congress chose to appoint Franklin’s son-in-law, Richard Bache, rather than Goddard to the post. Goddard resigned and eventually took over the Maryland Journal which had been run exclusively by his sister, Mary, since the time he moved to Philadelphia. However, Goddard should be remembered as the innovative patriot who productively responded to the Crown’s tyranny and instituted the framework for our postal system.
Please take a moment to remember What IS Right With America!
Susan C. Rempel, Ph.D.