The Post Office, otherwise known as USPS, is one of the oldest institutions in America, predating even the Declaration of Independence. So where was the first Post Office, when did it open, and who built it?
If you’ve been wondering about the Post Office’s origins, you’re not alone. I’ve been curious about the same thing, so I decided to research the topic. That said, here’s everything I learned about the first Post Office!
Where Was The First Post Office In 2023?
The Second Continental Congress established the United States Postal Service on July 26th, 1775, with Benjamin Franklin as the first Postmaster. However, the first Post Office existed long before that. The first post office on American soil was created on November 6th, 1639, by the Massachusetts General Court and was used only to handle overseas letters.
The first Post Office has a rich history that’s intimately linked with the origins of the United States, so be sure to keep reading to better understand the saga of how the United States Postal Service was born!
Where Was The First Post Office Built?
The first Post Office was not, in fact, built to be a Post Office.
In 1639, the Massachusetts General Court named Richard Fairbanks’ tavern the first-ever colonial Post Office responsible for letters coming into and going out of the colony to overseas ports.
Further, Richard Fairbanks’ tavern was located in Boston, Massachusetts, between Washington and Devonshire Streets just north of Water Street.
That said, the Massachusetts General Court named Fairbanks’ tavern the first colonial Post Office because the use of taverns and inns as Post Offices mimicked European practices and traditions.
At the time, most of the colonists were first-generation Americans and still had many European traditions ingrained in them, so the practice of using a tavern as a Post Office was familiar.
So, not only was the setting of a tavern for a Post Office familiar to colonists, but it was also utilitarian as it was the most common gathering place for settlers and was centrally available to all parts of the colony.
Even more, being centrally available to all parts of the colony, Fairbanks’ tavern, in particular, was also located extremely close to the port, making the transport of the post easier.
When Did The First Post Office Open?
While Richard Fairbanks’ tavern was established around 1637, it didn’t serve as a Post Office until the Massachusetts Bay Colony realized there was a serious issue with colonists trying to communicate with people back in Europe.
Because of this, the first colonial Post Office was established on November 6th, 1639, in Fairbanks’ tavern by the Massachusetts General Court.
That said, the ordinance made by the Massachusetts General Court on November 6th established the Post Office.
In a nutshell, Fairbanks’ tavern was a convenience the court was trying to provide to the colonists to help keep in touch with those in their mother countries.
So, while they could choose to send their letters back to Europe with people on ships for a higher price, they could also use the first designated Post Office for the price of a penny.
Therefore, this essentially named Fairbanks as the first-ever American Postmaster General, as he was solely responsible for shipping and distributing all of the mail that came into his possession.
Who Was In Charge Of The First Post Office?
When the Massachusetts General Court named Richard Fairbanks’ tavern the first colonial post office, they also named Richard Fairbanks the first-ever American Postmaster General.
This meant he was in charge of the Post Office and all of the mail it handled.
Further, Richard Fairbanks was originally from England and was born in 1588 to George Fairbanks and Isabella Stancliffe in Lincolnshire.
Fairbanks met his wife, Elizabeth Daulton, in Lincolnshire, and after they were wed, they had two children before immigrating to the New World in 1634.
Five years after they came to America, Fairbanks’ tavern in Boston was named the first American Post Office, which remained in the tavern until Richard Fairbanks died in 1667.
Also, Fairbanks was well-known for the “stronge water,” which was a colonial type of liquor that his tavern sold.
What Did The First Post Office Do?
When we think of the modern Post Office we know and love, we think of packages from eCommerce merchants, birthday cards from family, and invitations/letters from loved ones.
However, the first American Post Office didn’t intend for communication between colonies. Instead, people used it for communication with Europe.
At the time, people often did not have very strong ties to other colonists, especially in other colonies.
Instead, they were far more concerned with communicating with those in the country they immigrated from for both business and personal reasons.
However, if colonists did want or need to communicate with one another, it was relatively easy to find someone who would carry their letter by land or coastal ship for a fee.
In comparison, getting mail to Europe proved to be far more difficult at this time.
Before Fairbanks’ tavern, there was no established system for postage, meaning people would have to track down ships going to and from Europe to try and collect and send their mail.
However, once Fairbanks’ tavern was established as a Post Office, all of the mail coming into the Massachusetts Bay Colony was dropped off at the tavern.
Therefore, colonists could take their mail to the tavern for Fairbanks to pass off to ships on their way to Europe.
Moreover, most of the mail at this time was governmental or business in nature, with some more personal notes included.
The first Post Office in the United States was created on November 6th, 1639, by the Massachusetts General Court.
That said, the Post Office was established in Richard Fairbanks’ tavern in Boston, Massachusetts, to handle and distribute mail coming from and going to Europe.
Further, Richard Fairbanks was the first-ever Postmaster General in America and ran the Post Office out of his tavern until his death in 1667.