America’s First Postmaster 

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.

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’ tavern.  Opened a year or two earlier, Fairbanks’ tavern was popular and centrally located.  It hosted important committee meetings and returns to the surveyor-general.

US #682 – First Day Cover.

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:


US #1478 pictures a colonial post rider, who carried the mail from colony to colony.

“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.”

US #1478 – Silk Cachet First Day Cover.

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

US #2434-37 shows traditional methods of mail delivery.

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    1. Awesome hearing information from such an early time. I’m sure there is so much more to the story. Thank you so much for sharing this important information with us.

  1. What lovely sounding words “hither” and “thither” are to say. They are quaint to our ears now for we use the quicker one-syllable “here” and “there.” Thanks, Mystic, for including the original ordinance.

  2. Thank you Mystic Stamps for these tidbits of American History, previously unknown to me. Reading them in the a.m. always gives a good start to my day.

  3. Taverns played an important role in colonial America. Generally the only places that town meetings, political meetings, etc. could take place were churches or taverns. Churches were often used, but taverns were more comfortable as a meeting place for people of different denominations. Some very important meetings just prior to and during the American Revolution took place in taverns. They has the added advantage of being able to get a bite to eat and slake your thirst with a pint or two after arduous debate.

  4. Postal history articles always generate the most comments 🙂 An indication to Mystic perhaps… As always you keep moving the bar upwards…

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