1930 2¢ Seal of Massachusetts Bay Colony stamp
US #682 was issued for the 300th anniversary of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

On November 5, 1639, Richard Fairbanks was made the first official postmaster in an American colony.  Many consider this to be the first public postal service in America.

In the early days of the colonies, many citizens attempted to keep in touch with people from their mother countries.  When they sent letters to Europe, they could trust that their mail would be handled respectfully, passing through those countries’ respective postal systems.

But in the American colonies, there were no established post offices at this time.  So it was their responsibility to find out when the ships would be returning from Europe to try to collect their mail.

Then on November 5, 1639, the Massachusetts Bay Colony became the first to attempt to remedy this situation.  The colony’s general court issued an ordinance that all letters that arrived in Boston from Europe or were to be sent from Boston to Europe, should be taken to Richard Fairbanks’s tavern.  Opened a year or two earlier, Fairbanks’s tavern was popular and centrally located.  It hosted important committee meetings and returns to the surveyor-general.

1973 8¢ Colonial Communications: Postrider stamp
US #1478 pictures a colonial post rider, who carried the mail from colony to colony.

For his service, Fairbanks received a penny for each letter delivered.  The ordinance didn’t require that people take their letters to Fairbanks to be sent to Europe but offered it as a convenience.  The full ordinance read:

“For preventing the miscarriage of letters; & it is ordered, that notice be given that Richrd Fairbanks his house in Boston is the place appointed for all letters which are brought from beyond the sea or are to be sent thither, are to be brought unto; & he is to take care that they be delivered or sent according to their directions; & he is allowed for every such letter a 1d., & must answer all miscarriages through his own neglect in this kind; provided that no man shall be compelled to bring his letters thither, except he please.”

1973 8¢ Colonial Communications: Postrider Colorano Silk Cachet First Day Cover
US #1478 – Colorano Silk Cachet First Day Cover

From this ordinance, Fairbanks’s tavern effectively became the city’s post office, and Fairbanks the postmaster.  Many also consider this to be the first public postal service in America.

1989 25¢ Traditional Mail Delivery stamps
US #2434-37 shows traditional methods of mail delivery.
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  1. I find your articles to be very enjoyable and informative. Love the way you incorporate other stamps when appropriate for an article.

  2. Most people don’t realize tavern’s were used as meeting places back in those times the Marine Corps was started in a tavern…

  3. Very interesting! I knew the basic story but not any of the details especially the full formal ordinance – great article!!

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