Why the Mail was Sometimes Late

There were three main reasons why the mails did not arrive on time:  1) the weather, which in turn affected 2) the condition of the roads, and 3) interference of the Indians.  The editors, not having a mail, would have no idea why the mails did not arrive on time, but it did not stop them from complaining.

A Philadelphia paper voiced this complaint: “If we are rightly informed, the war in which we are engaged was undertaken in defence of the ‘Freedom of the Seas.’  So intently are the views of the administration fixed upon this grand object, that they have no leisure to attend to the minor consideration of the freedom of the rivers and roads.  The intercourse, by mail between that great imperial capital, called the city of Washington, and Philadelphia, is now effectually cut off, either because the government is unable to keep it open or else because they consider such trifling matters as being beneath the consideration of men who are engaged in humbling the power, and repressing the insolence of Great Britain, on the high seas.” [United States Gazette, reprinted May 13, 1813 by the Maryland Gazette].

A Baltimore paper thought the failure of the mails, during war-time, was especially vexing. “Still, however, we feel it a duty to state, that at this time, two mails are due from Boston, one from New York, and one from Washington to this city.  It is more especially harassing and tantalizing at this time, because precisely contradictory accounts are current of the intelligence received by the Erie; and because we have some reason to believe, interesting news may be on the way from our northern frontier.”[Baltimore Whig, reprinted November 13, 1813 by the Charleston City Gazette].

The editors were anxious to receive the letter mail, but more anxious to receive the newspaper mail.  The letter mail, being less bulky, could travel by horseback; the newspaper mail had to go by stage.  The editor of the Charleston City Gazette was especially vocal.  “Why does not Mr. Granger [Post Master General] compel the post-masters to forward the papers as well as letters? . . . We do not receive one fourth our quantity of newspapers; and those we do receive, are so old as to be of no value.”[April 3, 1813].  He complained yet again on October 30, 1813. “FOUR Mails are due this morning; a circumstance which gives us a blessed prospect of what we are to expect the coming winter.  What is the reason the mail does not arrive?  Every one inquires, and the answer is ready; ‘the roads are so cut up by waggons that the stage cannot get along’.  But what has that to do with the mail, we ask?  If the roads are bad, and there is no doubt but that they are, let the mail be brought on  horseback, or, if too heavy for that mode of conveyance, put it into a light sulky, with high wheels and two horses tandem, and there is no road between this and Maine through which it could not come and arrive regularly when due.  AT ALL EVENTS, THE MAIL MUST COME MORE REGULAR.”

The Scioto Supporter, of Chillicothe, Ohio, apologized to his readers on June 11, 1814, for, “the last Washington City Mail brought nothing from the Eastward further than Marietta, which must account for the want of news in this week’s paper.”  He filled in with an Ode to Commodore Perry, an account of the four Girty brothers, and reprints from other papers and from London papers.  A letter from New Orleans explained why the Eastern mail was late. “The post-rider from Fort Stoddart, (M. T.) has come in to-day, from which route we have four due, and gives information of the Indians having fired at him from whom he received some shots through his clothes, and was compelled to leave the mail on the road, and make his escape.”[Charleston City Gazette, September 1, 1813].  On July 26, 1813, the New Orleans Post Office offered this advice: “It is recommended to persons writing to the states of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to forward their letters via Fort Adams [Wilkinson County, Mississippi], in consequence of the insecurity attending the passage of the Fort Stoddert mail through the Creek nation at the present moment.  A mail will be dispatched as usual to Fort Stoddert every Tuesday at 1 o’clock P. M.”[New York Spectator, August 2, 1813]. Ohio, Illinois, and Missouri also had their mails interfered with by the Indians.   A letter from Camp Seneca, mentioned that, “On the 19th, a small party started from Camp Meigs for this place, with the mail.  About one mile on this side of the Camp, they were fired on by a party of hostile Indians.” [New York Spectator, September 11, 1813]. A party of friendly people from Delaware, however, rescued the mail carrier.

If you are interested in contributing funds to speed The University of Texas’ massive project of scanning and putting on-line historic newspapers online, please contact Linda Abbey, of UT’s General Libraries, phone (512) 795-4366 or online to the Historic Newspapers Preservation link.

About the Author

Mary Bowden is a researcher working at the Texas Collections Deposit Library at the University of Texas. A little-known but invaluable treasure of U.S. history and the history of American journalism is archived in the collection of bound United States’ Newspapers at the University of Texas at Austin. The collection began more than a century ago and has been stored in recent years in the Texas Collections Deposit Library on the campus of the University of Texas. The sizeable archive is currently in the early stages of being digitized before being moved to a more climate-controlled environment at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus of the University, on the north side of Austin.

Mary Bowden