To better understand the movement of written information (mail) from point to point within the Greater Chuckatuck Historical (GCH) area of interest, a little information on the development of the United States Postal Service should be explained. The following information is taken from Gale Directory of Company Histories and Gale Encyclopedia of Espionage & Intelligence and is paraphrased to meet the requirements of our discussions.
In the early days of America, colonists had to either ferry their own mail or rely on messengers and merchants to carry their letters and packages. The first official postal service emerged in 1639 when Richard Fairbanks’ Boston tavern became the repository of all mail sent from abroad. The postal service was initially run by the British, but in 1775, America’s Continental Congress voted to establish its own postal system, with Benjamin Franklin as its first Postmaster General. By the 1780s, the postal system consisted of seventy-five post offices and about twenty-six post riders. Post Riders were men on horseback to carry the mail. During the 19th century, there were rapid changes that transformed the postal service into a remarkable public convenience. By the start of the 1800s, the Post Office Department had bought several stagecoaches for transporting both mail and passengers on the nation’s post roads. Its patronage led to better stagecoach design, ensuring improved comfort and safety, and to better roads. In addition, a full ten years before waterways became official post roads in 1823 the Post Office had begun using steamboats to transport mail between river-linked towns that shared no common road. By 1831, it had begun sending mail short distances via trains–the ‘iron horses’ that many people denounced as demonic devices–and five years later awarded its first mail contract to a rail carrier. The first postage stamps were introduced in 1847.
As you read this section on post offices you will notice that the first postmasters in the GCH area were not appointed until 1826. The closest city at the time was Suffolk, Virginia and their first postmaster was a John Driver, date of appointment unknown, while the second postmaster was Josiah Reddick Jr. appointed to that position in 1797. Smithfield had a postmaster assigned in 1783 and Richmond in 1782. Records of the United States Postal Service (USPS) do not show any positioned filled earlier than those listed above, however, this does not mean that individuals were not serving in the position of postmaster just not officially identified as such.
Because we have copies of letters written in the 1700’s to persons outside of the GCH area and know that information was being passed from town to town and person to person before that date, it must be assumed that a system for moving this type of material was in place. In the early years the process of getting it moved (or sent) as desired would most likely have been transporting it to the nearest store in the local area by horse back or via water and from there either delivered with supplies to another city or if incoming, picked up by the intended family on a visit to that store or the next boat visit. As noted in the material by Gale in their writings the waterways were designated as mail routes in 1823 but we are sure waterways were used well before the official date noted by the post office. Knowing that many of the plantations/large farms had a packet wharf along the rivers and creeks boats would have been a logical mode of transportation to and from those areas. Although not verified, one could surmise that material to Chuckatuck proper could have come to the Grist mill to be unloaded, at Powell’s wharf, or the Packett wharf and then moved by horse and cart to the local area store. We have an article which we received from Lona Dailey McKinley regarding one Christopher Columbus Thompson “Capt Kit” her Great, Great Uncle who during the war between the states carried mail from the Driver side to the Chuckatuck side of the Nansemond river and in so doing passed close enough to the Yankee ships to hear the sailors talking. What is that old Post Office saying about what they will do to get the mail through? Well this is just another example that was not listed as wind, or sleet, nor hail will stop the carrier of the US Mail.
Everets, Reid’s Ferry, and Exit were all on navigable waterways giving them easy access for movement of all sorts of materials. From discussions with locals it was learned that there was a daily ferry service in the late 1800s and possibly much earlier to and from Newport News and Norfolk that would have made movement easier and faster than via land. The railroad in Suffolk would have been a major point of movement from and to points north, south and west.
A discussion about the post offices would not be complete without a few words concerning the “Rural Free Delivery (RFD) system. This data is paraphrased from Gale Encyclopedia of US History: rural delivery service. RFD was a service designed to bring mail directly to people living in rural areas and was initiated on an experimental basis in 1896. It should be noted that in 1890 there were some 41 million people in the U.S. of which roughly 65 percent of the total population lived in rural areas. Many of the larger cities enjoyed mail service for decades; however the cost of building a delivery network in remote areas, along with opposition from local merchants and postmasters, had delayed service to rural towns. Subscription magazines and mail-order stores had become staples for a growing middle class, and their emergence put new pressures on the federal government to expand its mail services. In 1890, after the Farmers Alliance movement and many other groups targeted Congress it was proposed that rural customers receive free service. The argument was made that why would 50 or more farmers or planters have to spend their time and effort to walk or ride a horse to the local store to pick up their mail when one or two hired boys for an hour or two a day, or even a school teacher could pass out the mail to the children for delivery. This experiment would not begin for several years due to budget constraints. It was not until 1896 that rural free delivery service began in Charles Town, Halltown, and Uvilla in West Virginia. Within a year there were some 44 routes in 29 states. In 1899 this service was extended across the entire United States. It should be noted that in 2010 as the GCHF works on this project, an economic downturn and skyrocketing cost of doing business as usual, has caused many post offices to reduce hours of operation. It is anticipated that a number of these outlying post offices will close in years to come and with their closing will place the burden of getting the mail to the customer by the local mailman in their jeep type vehicle.
You may read more about the RFD on the internet at:http://www.answers.com/topic/rural-free-delivery#ixzz1DQfMwbjj
With this basic concept of how mail and materials were moved in the early years you can imagine the rapid development in the early 1900s with the horseless carriage, faster trains and ultimately the airplane. Each post office in the GCH area as we know them will be discussed below. There is a distinct possibility that mail may have been distributed by some other means or persons that the GCH foundation is unaware of.