The story of personal mail delivery began in Doylestown
Our postman tours in blue shorts and shirt, skill-testing. No plug. I would laugh out loud to see Mike arrive in a bell-shaped beaver felt hat with letters sticking out like feathers. It was a standard problem in Doylestown 219 years ago.
Meet Charles Stewart. He was the village postmaster when the first office opened on January 1, 1802. It was just 27 years after the birth of the American post office during the American Revolution. Charlie’s claim to fame is that he pioneered the first door-to-door postal delivery route in the United States. He carried letters around the village and region, each tucked securely into his hat band for personal delivery.
The post office as we know it today evolved from Benjamin Franklin’s earlier management of the British postal system in the 13 colonies. From 1753 to 1775, he was responsible for it. In the main ports, postal wagons collected letters arriving from England on sailing ships, then set off on “postal routes” such as the old route 13 (the king’s route) to drop them off in inns and taverns on the river. East Coast. Among the changes Franklin made was halving the delivery time between Philadelphia and New York by keeping the weekly horse-drawn carts running day and night. Big Ben also created the first Postage Rate Table to standardize delivery costs based on distance and weight.
In the early 1770s, he and others instigating a revolutionary break with England organized a secret mail distribution network. The correspondence and constitutional post committees allowed rebels in the 13 colonies to discuss the treason without British postal inspectors knowing. Intelligence moved along the postal routes. The constitutional office was so successful that before the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1775, the Continental Congress converted it into a United States post office. He fulfilled George Washington’s vision of a rapid and free flow of information between government and its citizens by expanding postal routes and establishing numerous post offices that would bind the new nation together.
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But no one thought about starting personal mail delivery until Postmaster Charlie led the way.
He bought an elegant looking beaver felt hat with a band that could hold the envelopes. He ventured away to deliver them from his office in Doylestown. Buckingham, Bedminster, Chalfont, Warwick, even Wrightstown, a destination within 10 miles of Doylestown.
I imagine some of the interesting places he may have dropped off a letter or two. Like today’s Dublin village, six miles northwest of Doylestown. Originally, the town was known for its one-piece log tavernas at the crossroads of Route 313 and Elephant Road. But one was a double-large, giving the town its name – Double Inn village (later Irish immigration Dublin). Maybe Postmaster Charlie has quenched his thirst at the double-wide.
The anchor may have been another stop. The small village of Wrightstown is eight miles southeast of Doylestown on Highway 413. It was here that Joseph Hampton planted the first grafted apple orchard in Bucks County. The harvest made an excellent cider beer for the nearby Anchor Inn where it was celebrated in verse: “Esteemed by all extremely good, to quench our thirst and do us good.”
Embedded in the wall of the tavern was the vertebra of an extinct animal believed to be much larger than an adult African elephant. A farmer in Buckingham dug it up while plowing his field. It was a foot wide and 6 inches long, inspiring stories of monsters around the bar for 50 years. Scientists determined much later that it was a whale.
Another likely stop for Charlie could have been Babytown on Bristol Road near Hartsville, about seven miles south of Doylestown. What distinguishes the hamlet is its prodigious offspring. Charlie probably could have heard babies from a distance. Years later, a Civil War veteran was intrigued by the name and decided to take a look. “I knew from what I read in the papers that it was ‘Babytown’,” he said. “I expected to see a woman sitting at every doorstep with half a dozen children around her. I only saw one and it made enough noise to make up for what was missing.
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Postmaster Charlie’s carrier days lasted only two years. He died in 1804. His son-in-law Enoch Harvey continued. Meanwhile, Quakertown Postmaster William Green has followed Charlie’s high fashion while copying his home delivery idea that has caught on nationwide.
Charlie is still my kind of guy. When I was a teenager, my father tirelessly pushed me to decide what I wanted to be when I grew up. Maybe he was thinking of a doctor or a scientist. I dreaded these sessions to the point that I finally answered, “Dad, what I really want to be is a postmaster in a small village in Switzerland. Dad frowned. Charlie would have smiled and handed me his beaver hat.
Sources include “A brief history of the United States Postal Service” by Winifred Gallagher published in the September 2020 issue of Smithsonian Magazine, and “Place Names in Bucks County History” by George MacReynolds published in 1942.
Carl LaVO did a minor in science at university to the delight of dad and then went mountaineering in Switzerland before becoming a journalist. He can be contacted at [email protected]