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POSTAL SYSTEM OF THE REPUBLIC OF TEXAS

POSTAL SYSTEM OF THE REPUBLIC OF TEXAS. The Postal System of the Republic of Texas had its beginnings in October 1835, when a special committee of the Permanent Council was appointed to establish mail routes, and John Rice Jones was named postmaster general. A Post Office Department was established by an ordinance and decree of the provisional government, approved on December 13, 1835, and the Post Office Department of the Republic of Texas was formally created by an act of the Congress of the Republic of Texas, approved on December 20, 1836. Jones headed the postal system until he was succeeded by Robert Barr during Sam Houston's first term as president of the Republic. When Barr died in October 1839, Jones was again named postmaster general, remaining in office until January 1841, when the Fifth Congress created the General Post Office as a division of the State Department, and a clerk was appointed to take over and perform the duties of postmaster general.

Jones, the organizer of the Texas postal system, followed the United States plan of organization, acquiring its blanks for his guidance. The first route, established in 1835, was one from San Felipe de Austin to the headquarters of the army, to Bexar, to Velasco, and to Cantonment Jessup, in the United States. Cantonment Jessup was in Natchitoches Parish, 379 miles from New Orleans. Jones's task was complicated at the outset by the fact that the government failed to provide funds for carrying on the business. Appropriations to supplement postal receipts were made, however, beginning in 1836. The service was also supported by an act of December 21, 1836, which provided that any person with accounts against the post office department for transporting mail at any time during 1837 could take the same in land at fifty cents per acre by paying recording and surveying fees, provided that the land was located in tracts no smaller than 320 acres in the form of a square.

The first Texas rates established were 6.25 cents for twenty miles; 12.5 cents for the second zone up to fifty miles; 18.75 cents for the third zone, up to one hundred miles; 25 cents for up to two hundred miles, and 37.5 cents for further distances. Ship mail, presumably foreign mail, paid an additional fee of 6.25 cents. As Spanish money was used, the fractions created no difficulties for the service. These rates were for single letters, meaning one page-a sheet folded over, with the address on the front, known now as stampless covers; envelopes did not come into use until around 1845. Postmaster General Jones was not out of line as to rates, for it was not proved until some years later that lowering of rates increases activities to the point of probable profits.

In an effort to increase revenue, Congress, on December 18, 1837, made the lowest rate 12.5 cents for the first forty miles, 25 cents up to one hundred miles, and 50 cents for longer routes, still adding the 6.25 cents on ship letters. On January 28, 1841, Congress put an additional 50-cent fee on ship mail, but on February 1, 1842, rates were reduced to the previous scale. Various changes were made, almost yearly, on some form of mail, and changes in routes, as well as new rates, created considerable postal activity.

The records on receipts of the Post Office Department are incomplete. The postmaster general's report for 1839 shows income of $12,512.84, and the 1841 report, covering a year from March 1840 to March 1841, shows income of $2,462.78.

It was not easy to move mail; according to the United States quartermaster general, even by 1851 there was not, in all Texas, New Mexico, California, or Oregon, a steamboat line, railroad, or a turnpike. What he meant, of course, was that there was no regular means of conveyance of these types suitable for his purposes. Almost all the movement westward was by slow-moving wagontrain, drawn by oxen or mules.

Among the interesting postmarks of the Republic period is one in two lines reading "STEAM PACKET COLUMBIA" as used on the vessel plying the Galveston-New Orleans route. The essential oval for any Texas collection is the marking employed at New Orleans, in the United States, for mail sent in and out of Texas via the Texan consulate at New Orleans. The oval reads: "WM. BRYANT / NEW ORLEANS / AGENT OF THE TEXIAN POST OFFICE DT." or "SAM RICKER..." etc. Both of these men served at New Orleans using an oval hand stamp for the purpose of recording mail. There was also a small oval hand stamp reading "Agency of the Texian Post Office. New Orleans," and likewise a small oval reading "Forwarded by William Bryan New Orleans." This was the only known hand stamp of a foreign government applied on mail in the United States and is an important marking for the United States cover collector as well as the Texas specialist.

John R. Jones, in a review of his department, said he was authorized to establish fifteen mail routes. By the later part of 1835, Jones had made contracts for ten routes covering 988 miles, and by October 1, 1836, the Republic owed more than $1,600 to the various riders who carried letters and papers between the different route towns. Jones had to stop service on some routes because of financial difficulties. Contracts as entered into by the post office department were profit-making business ventures for a few of those who acquired them. A contractor would bid in and get a route for $1,200, then he would subcontract it to somebody who needed a job at $750 or $800.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

James M. Day, comp., Post Office Papers of the Republic of Texas (2 vols., Austin: Texas State Library, 1966–67). Hans Peter Nielsen Gammel, comp., Laws of Texas, 1822–1897 (10 vols., Austin: Gammel, 1898). Mary Austin Holley, Texas (Lexington, Kentucky: J. Clarke and Company, 1836; rpts., Austin: Steck, 1935; Texas State Historical Association, 1985). Harry M. Konwiser, Texas Republic Postal System (New York: Lindquist, 1933). W. L. Newsom, "The Postal System of the Republic of Texas," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 20 (October 1916).

Harry M. Konwiser

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Harry M. Konwiser, "POSTAL SYSTEM OF THE REPUBLIC OF TEXAS," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/mcp02), accessed December 22, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.