A Century of
California Post Offices
THE FIRST DECADE
Official and Unofficial of
Post Offices Established in the Period
1848 to 1859
CORRESPONDENCE BETWEEN THE POSTMASTER GENERAL AND HIS SPECIAL AGENTS IN CALIFORNIA
From Message by President Zachary Taylor to the Congress, in relation to California and New Mexico, received January 24, 1850. U. S. Senate Executive Documents, 1st Session, 31st Congress, 1849-1850.
Vol. 9, No. 18, pp. 932 – 952.
DEPARTMENT OF THE POST OFFICE
Post Office Department
To the President of the United States:
In compliance with the resolution of the Senate of the United States of the 17th ultimo, I have the honor to report that the third section of the act of 14th August, 1848, authorizes the Postmaster General to employ an agent to make arrangements for the establishment of post offices and for the transmission of the mails in California; and that, in pursuance of said authority, the Postmaster General, on the 1st of November, 1848, appointed William Van Voorhees the agent for that Territory, to whom the following instructions were addressed:
Post Office Department
November 1, 1848
Being authorized by an act of Congress, approved 14th August, 1848, to employ an agent in making arrangements for the establishment of post offices and for the transmission, receipt, and conveyance of letters in California, I hereby appoint you such agent. The duties with which you are to be charged will not be confined to any one branch of the department. They will embrace whatever may appertain to the operations of the contract, appointment, and fiscal bureaus of this department in California.
A route having been created by law, and the same being put in operation by the employment of steamships extending along the whole coast of California, your first duty will be to proceed to the selection of suitable persons for postmasters at San Diego, San Pedro, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Monterey, and at such other points on the Pacific, at which the United States steam mail packets shall touch, as may need such appointments.
For San Francisco a postmaster has already been appointed, Samuel Yorke At Lee, esq., who will repair, by the first opportunity, to that place. Of course, you will not take steps for appointing postmasters at any of the above-named places on finding that such appointment would be inexpedient or unnecessary by reason of not having a mail supply or from any other cause. On making such selection you will report the same to the department at Washington for appointment, in the mean time placing the nominee in the performance of the duties of his office by a temporary letter of appointment, signed by yourself, to cease on receiving a commission from the Postmaster General, or official information that the appointment has been refused. With your report of the nomination of any postmaster, you will forward his bond, duly executed by himself and sureties, and certified by you to be sufficient, and filled with such an amount as you shall deem adequate for the case. You will cause him to be duly sworn on entering upon his duties. You will furnish him with proper blanks for post bills, accounts of mails sent, accounts of mails received, quarterly returns, and whatsoever else may be necessary to enable him properly to discharge his duties of postmaster, and to keep and render full and faithful accounts.
You will also instruct each postmaster how to perform his duties, and especially that he render his accounts for each quarter immediately after the expiration thereof to the Postmaster General of the United States at Washington. The collection of the balance arising at each office is a duty that will demand your utmost care and vigilance.
Before selecting postmasters for offices not receiving their mails by the government packets, you will ascertain by what road and from what point on the coast the same is to be supplied; and as no route into the interior of California has yet been created by act of Congress, you will have to make the supply of each office situated in the interior, conditioned upon the expense thereof being defrayed out of the net proceeds of such office. This restriction will necessarily keep the post-route arrangements which you may create upon an economical footing. With or without this restriction, the observance of economy in this respect is important; otherwise one or two points might absorb all the means which could arise in California for the support of mail service, leaving the other destitute. At present no more can be contemplated than semi-monthly or weekly transportation by the cheapest mode of conveyance, unless the same can be obtained at any favorable terms within the yield of the offices. You will bear in mind that no contract can be made for a longer period than four years, that the quarterly periods are for three months, commencing on the 1st of January, 1st of April, 1st of July and the 1st of October, and that arrangements, accounts, and settlements should be made to conform to these divisions of time, unless the circumstances be such as to render it impossible. On making such arrangements, you will immediately report the same to the department at Washington, for such order and contracts as the Postmaster General may make in the premises, in the mean time giving a letter of authority to perform the duties required.
Whether the compensation is restricted to the proceeds of the office or not, you will first determine in your mind a limit for that compensation by the rate per mile per annum. Horseback conveyance of the mails on the present routes in the United States, for weekly conveyance will vary from three to six dollars per mile per annum.
There may be some few instances, in the cotton-growing regions, where the wealth of the country is considerable, but the population very sparse, where the compensation will rise perhaps as high as ten dollars per mile per annum for weekly horseback conveyance.
You will make the contracts at the lowest offers the competition will produce, and not rise above the scale of prices indicated by the foregoing remark; the distance is to be counted but one way.
You will make provision in the contract that payment is not to be made until service is performed and certified to, and in every instance of omission there is to be an abatement of price.
A proper supervision is to be established and maintained, to insure performance, or deduction of pay. William Nelson, esq., United States consul at Panama, will be the mail agent of the United States for the Pacific mail. You will promptly advise him by the earliest opportunity of every office put in operation upon the coast, with those in the interior, depending on them respectively for their supply, so that he may properly bag the mails for those places.
You will prepare before leaving the United States, and take on with you, an adequate supply of all the blanks needed by yourself and the postmasters in California; also, mail-locks and bags of different kinds needed for that service. The iron lock and key belonging to it will be used for the interior mails; the brass lock and key for the mails conveyed by the steam packets. Hereafter, as the system enlarges in California, further discrimination in the mails may be made by placing the brass lock upon the most important interior routes. At present, the iron lock is deemed sufficient.
You will make report by every mail of the condition and progress of the business under your charge, and will be careful at the expiration of each quarter to render those official returns which will show the state of all pecuniary arrangements of the department in California, and the indebtedness and credits of each party whether postmasters, contractors, or others; and to keep the Postmaster General advised from time to time of the state and progress of settlements in the country, and what routes should be created by law to furnish them with the mails.
The postage for California is 40 cents on each single letter (which is a letter not exceeding half an ounce in weight) between any place in California and any place on the Atlantic coast, and 12 1/2 cents between any place on the Pacific. Double, treble letters, and so on, will be chargeable with double, treble, and the like increase of rates.
JOHNSON, Postmaster General
Wm. Van Voorhees, Esq.
The following reports were received from Mr. Van Voorhees, 21st June, 1849:
San Francisco, California
March 13, 1849.
Dear Sir: Mr. Robinson, agent for Messrs. Howland & Aspinwall, having arranged with the captain of the brig “Laura Ann” to take a mail for the States to Panama, I embrace the only opportunity since my arrival to report that the mail steamer “California” reached San Francisco on the morning of the 28th ultimo, after a protracted voyage of twenty-eight days from Panama. Owing to the diminished supply of coal on board – insufficient, it was apprehended, to take the ship to San Francisco, if she were delayed to touch at San Diego and Santa Barbara – those places were omitted, and the mails in my charge to be delivered there were brought on, and are now in my possession here, no opportunity having offered to send them down. At Monterey the mails were delivered to Captain William G. Marcy, who received, opened, and distributed them, without, however, consenting to enter permanently upon the duties of the office. He nevertheless executed his bond as postmaster, which will be sent to the department hereafter, but with the understanding that he should probably relinquish the office in a short time. In case he concludes to do so, it will be found difficult to secure the services of another. No one in California seems at present disposed to take upon himself the trouble of public office, though it yield five times the compensation which may be expected from the post office at California. Young men, for example, daily relinquish places in the custom-house here with salaries of from four to eight dollars per diem; and indeed, to engage anybody permanently in any business, at any reasonable salary, is exceedingly difficult. Eight and ten dollars per day are demanded and received for the most common services, and even these sums are respectfully declined during the mining season, which is just opening. With this state of things existing, you can readily see the difficulties to be encountered in organizing the department in the Territory of California. I am credibly informed that teamsters from Sutter's Fort to the mines may command $200, and often as much as $400 per month. Horses I know to be worth – and very ordinary horses, too – from $200 to $300. To contract with a Californian, therefore, to convey the mails, the department may well calculate a heavy “debit balance” over and above the proceeds of the post offices supplied at the rates of postage now established for the Territory.
The postmaster for San Francisco not having arrived, and the demand for intelligence from the States absolutely requiring it, it was deemed best to have the mails opened and distributed. For this purpose, Mr. C. L. Ross, a merchant of some considerable standing, was selected by me to take charge of them until the arrival of Mr. Dallas, to whom he was directed to pay over such postages as he may have collected, and deliver the office, should he (Dallas) consent to take it, which I am inclined to think is extremely questionable. The compensation afforded postmasters under the existing system in the States will be found wholly inadequate here, if the office is conducted separately from other business.
All expenses are exorbitant; boarding $17.50 per week; washing, from $6 to $8 per dozen; fuel from $30 to $40 per cord; and office rent inordinately high. Nothing is more common than $100 per month for a small room, scarcely sufficient for an office, to say nothing of lodging apartments for the officers. The cheap desk or case, for which the department usually allows from $5 to $10 in the States, can be had here for not less than $25 to $30; and so in proportion for all other necessary office furniture. With this office, however, in connexion (sic) with some other business, I apprehend no very serious difficulty in respect to obtaining a postmaster; for there are a number of merchants in the place who, having established themselves, will not hesitate to take charge of it in view of the benefit to be derived in the way of calling custom to their counters. So also with the offices at Stockton, Sutter's Fort, and perhaps the mines. Postmasters, I think, may be readily had for these, if their supply can be arranged; but at San Diego, Santa Barbara, Sonoma, Benicia, San Jose, Pueblo de los Angeles, &c., they will be rather more difficult to secure.
I am unable to state with any degree of accuracy at what time the steamer California may be expected to start upon her return voyage to Panama. Without coal or crew, the prospect of her speedy departure is certainly not the most flattering. Her crew have all, I believe, together with engineers, second and third mates, deserted or otherwise left her; and to hire others, especially engineers, is not an easy matter. I do not see that the other two steamers will be in any better condition upon their arrival, so that there is no guessing when the Pacific line of steamers shall commence operations. It is to be hoped, however, some arrangement will be made to establish the line. If nothing else can be done, they might be put in command of regular naval officers, and manned by the government.
In the course of a day or two I shall set out for the upper country, where most of the inhabitants of California, particularly at this season, “do congregate,” and where it is very desirable to establish offices, if arrangements to supply them may be effected. As speedily as practicable I shall endeavor to collect all the information to be had relative to the establishment of post offices and post roads in the Territory, and communicate the same to the department without unnecessary delay. In the mean time it will give me pleasure to attend to any further instructions from the department.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
To the Postmaster General
W. VAN VOORHEES
San Francisco, California
March 14, 1849
Dear Sir: In addition to my report of yesterday, I have the honor to add that the mails therein mentioned for Santa Barbara and San Diego (at either of which places has an office yet been established or postmaster appointed) I authorized to be opened and distributed here. This was considered expedient and advisable; first, because it was believed (and so turns out) that the most important communications they contained were of an official character, addressed to officers connected with the army in California, the greater part of whom it was known did not now reside there; and, secondly, because I have not been able to select any person to take charge of the mails at either of those points, owing to the failure of the steamers to touch there on their passage up.
Until necessary arrangements are made for the conduct of other officers than those provided for by the department at Washington, of which I will advise the department immediately upon effecting them, I would beg to suggest, that the postmasters at Washington City and New York be directed to mail all letters for California (except Monterey) to this office. Persons who would probably be written to at San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, &c., from the States, and who, perhaps, resided there some six or eight, or even two or three months since, are now as likely to be found here, or “parts adjacent,” as there – indeed more so, for in the neighborhood of the mines congregate, I may venture to say, fully two-thirds, if not a greater proportion, of the citizens and residents of California. But were this not the case, it would be decidedly better, it seems to me, that the mails for points not yet provided for be kept at this office, from whence they may be forwarded to their destination so soon as proper officers have been appointed to receive them, rather than deliver them, as required now to do, if made up directly for such places, to persons irregularly and temporarily selected for the purpose.
In respect to such official letters as may be intended for officers of the army stationed at the above mentioned points, they could be sent, if necessary, to Monterey, and thence over the country by military express, (see accompanying letter from Major Canby) or by the steam packets upon their return trip, when the line shall be put regularly into operation.
The office at San Francisco bids fair to be of the first importance. If the now rapidly growing prospects of the town, its advancing commerce and increasing wealth and population continue, it must soon be second to few offices in the Union. In the absence of other and better accommodation, it is now kept in the counting-room of C. L. Ross, esq., but at no distant period it must unquestionably become of quite too much consequence to be thus “cabined.” What better arrangement can be made for it, unless the department authorizes the rent or purchase of a house for the purpose, I cannot well see. As stated in my report of yesterday, the emoluments and commissions afforded postmasters under the existing system in the States, considering the exorbitant expenses incurred here for fuel, office rent, and living, are not sufficient to induce the acceptance of the office by anybody unconnected with other business. Merchants may be had to take it in charge, but it is accepted by them as a sort of secondary auxiliary business, promotive of other private and more important concerns. Properly conducted, it requires or soon will require, the undivided attention of some efficient and capable officer; and I do not think it possible, under the state of things existing here at present, to secure the services of such upon such conditions, unless some more increase compensation be in some way provided. But in relation to this I shall report more fully hereafter.
I have the honor to be your obedient servant,
To the Postmaster General
W. V. VOORHIES
Special Agent Post Office Department
“Assistant Adjutant General's Office,
“Monterey, California, March 9, 1849
“Dear Sir: Please send me, by the first opportunity, any letters or packages that may be in your hands for General Riley, or for officers, &c., of the 2d infantry. The regiment will debark at San Diego, and I will have an opportunity of sending them south by the military express which runs from this place to the South Fork nightly.
“Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
“ED. R. S. CANBY,
“Assistant Adjutant General
“Mr. W. Van Voorhies,
“U.S. Mail Agent, San Francisco, California.”
Referred to in my communication of this date.
W. V. VOORHIES
Mr. Van Voorhies was, on the 30th of March, 1849, superseded by the appointment of R. T. P. Allen, esq., to whom the following instructions were given:
Post Office Department,
March 31, 1849.
Being authorized by an act of Congress approved the 14th of August, 1848, to extend mail facilities to the Territory of California, I have, by letter of appointment dated the 30th instant, selected you as special agent for that purpose, vice W. Van Voorhies, removed. You will, accordingly, so soon as practicable, proceed, by way of the isthmus of Panama, to California, and relieve Mr. Voorhies, receiving of him the public property in his possession, and giving him a receipt for the same.
Your duties will embrace whatever may appertain to the operations of the contract, appointment, and fiscal bureaus of the department in California; and the efficiency of the mail service in that Territory will mainly depend upon your energy, industry and integrity.
It will be your first duty to see that post offices are established, and suitable persons selected for postmasters, at San Diego, San Pedro, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Monterey and San Francisco, and at such other points on the Pacific, at which the United States steam packet shall touch, as may need such appointments. Should you find that a post office is inexpedient or unnecessary at any of the above-named points, you will, of course, govern yourself accordingly.
On selecting a postmaster, you will place him in charge of the duties of his office, under a letter of appointment signed by yourself, until his commission may issue from the Postmaster General, or official information be received that it has been refused.
You will cause each postmaster, before entering on the discharge of his duties, to be duly sworn, and see that he executes his bond, with good and sufficient sureties, for such amount as you may deem adequate in the case.
You will furnish him with proper blanks for post bills, accounts of mail sent, accounts of mails received, quarterly returns, and whatever else may be found necessary to enable him properly to discharge his duties of postmaster, and to keep and return full and faithful accounts.
You will also instruct each postmaster how to perform his duties, and especially that he render his accounts for each quarter, immediately after the expiration thereof, to you, to be forwarded after the returns shall have been examined and registered at your office.
The collection of balances due from postmasters will demand your utmost care and vigilance.
As no route into the interior of California has yet been established by act of Congress, all offices not supplied by government packets will be special, and will, in general, depend for their supply of mail on the net proceeds of the offices severally; and, in extending the mail system into the interior of the Territory, you will have strict regard to economy, that the expense of the service may not exceed the means arising from it and properly applicable to it. At present, no more can be contemplated than semi-monthly or weekly transportation, by the cheapest mode of conveyance.
You will bear in mind that no contract can be made for a longer period than four years; that the quarterly periods are for three months, commencing on 1st January, 1st April, 1st July and 1st October; and that arrangements, accounts, and settlements should be made to conform to these divisions of time, unless circumstances be such as to render such conformity impracticable.
You will make your contracts for transportation of the mails at the lowest offers the competition will produce, recollecting that the distance is to be counted but one way; and you will make provision in the contract that payment is not to be made until service is performed and certified to, and, in every instance of omission, there is to be an abatement of price. A proper supervision is to be established and maintained, to insure performance or deduction of pay.
William Nelson, esq., United States consul at Panama, is the mail agent of the United States for the Pacific mails. You will promptly advise him, by the earliest opportunity, of every office put in operation upon the coast, with those in the interior depending upon them respectively for their supplies, so that he may properly bag the several mails.
You will prepare, before leaving the United States, and take with you, an adequate supply of all the blanks needed by yourself and the postmasters in California; also, mail keys, locks, and bags of different kings needed for that service. The iron lock and key belonging to it will be used for the interior mails – the brass lock and key for the mails conveyed by the steam packets. Hereafter, as the system enlarges in California, further discrimination in the mails may be made by placing the brass lock upon the most important interior routes.
You will make frequent reports of the condition and progress of the business under your charge, and will, as soon as practicable after the expiration of each quarter, render those official returns which will show the state of all pecuniary arrangements of the department in California, and the indebtedness and credits of each party, whether postmasters, contractors, or others; and you will keep the Postmaster General advised, from time to time, of the state and progress of settlements in the country, and what routes should be created by law to furnish them with the mail.
The postage for California is 40 cents on each single letter, (which is a letter not exceeding half an ounce in weight), between any place in California and any place on the Atlantic coast, and 12 1/2 cents between any places on the Pacific. Double and triple letters, &c., will be charged with corresponding rates.
You will cause all contracts to be executed in triplicate, and postmasters' bonds in duplicate, and retain one copy of each in your office, transmitting the other to the department in Washington for file, as required by law and regulations.
You are authorized, when, in your judgment, the good of the service requires it, to remove a postmaster, and to withdraw from him the post office property; but you will, on exercising this power, report the fact to the Postmaster General, with your reasons for such removal. You are also authorized to annul a contract for the violation of its stipulations as expressed in the instrument; but you will be careful to report every exercise of this power to the department, stating your reasons therefor. You are also hereby empowered to dismiss a mail carrier from the service, when, in your opinion, the good of the service requires such action – the reasons to be reported as above.
The authority is hereby conferred on you to exercise the power of the department, in the first instance, to make deductions, and impose fines for omissions, failures, and delinquencies in the performance of mail service; the same to be reported to the department at Washington for ratification, record, and report.
You are hereby directed to bring suit in the proper courts for balances due to the United States by postmasters, when, in your opinion, the good of the service requires prompt action in the premises; and you will do and perform all needful acts in arranging, directing, and superintending all post office business whatsoever in California, and in regard to the transmission of the mails to and from the same; and postmasters and all other persons in the service of the department are expected and required to render you all practicable aid, and to obey all lawful directions given by you, as fully as if they had been given by myself.
The terms of the third section of the act of the 14th of August, 1848, do not require the Postmaster General to appoint an agent for each of the Territories therein mentioned, but merely authorize him to employ not exceeding two agents for Oregon and California.
It is now deemed expedient to place the whole of the mail arrangements within and between these Territories under the general superintendence and control of one individual, in order that they may be conducted with unity and harmony. You will therefore assume the principal charge of the mail business in both Territories, with the authority hereby conferred on you to continue the present agent for Oregon as your assistant, or to supersede him, and to employ another, should you, for the advantage of the public interest, consider it advisable and proper to do so.
In case of the removal by you of the present incumbent of the Oregon agency, you will forthwith report the fact to the department, together with the name of the person whom you may appoint as his successor, in order that a commission may be sent to him. In the interval, you are empowered to give him a temporary commission; or, should you find occasional or temporary assistance sufficient, you may of your own authority engage it, and commission the person employed accordingly.
R. T. P. Allen, Esq.
The following is the first report received at the department from Mr. Allen:
Panama, May 17, 1849
Sir: In obedience to your instructions, I sailed from New York, in the steamer Falcon, April 19, for the scene of my distant service. We arrived at Charleston, Savannah, and Havana, on the days indicated in your advertisement; were delayed near five hours off Charleston bar awaiting the mail, and two days at Havana coaling. The Isthmus did not bring us the New Orleans mail until the 26th, one day after her time. Leaving Havana on Friday, the 27th, we reached Chagres on Wednesday, the 2d of May, and immediately sent the mail to the post office, as required by the authorities there. I will here mention that the Falcon is a noble steamer and well adapted to the service, but entirely unable to keep up the monthly communication required by law; and hence no regularity can be attained in the transmission of the Pacific mails until additional steamers are put on the line.
Many letters and papers were put on board the Falcon for various points on both coasts after the regular mail, a portion being prepaid to the clerk of the steamer. I also noticed that a number of bags of newspapers were shipped as merchandise. I name the facts as interfering materially with the resources of the department, and as needing correction. Indeed, many packages of mailable matter will always, legally or otherwise, be carried by these steamers, unless we have an agent on board.
I desired the captain of the Falcon to wait at Chagres some days, that I might report to you from Panama by her, and also that, if possible, a Pacific mail might be taken home in her; but being told that he could not delay longer than the 6th or 7th instant, I at once gave up the thought of communicating by that trip, and proceeded leisurely up the river, and across the hilly country to this place.
Immediately on my arrival I had an interview with Senor Arosemana, the “intendente”
(law interpreter) of this province, and explained to him at length my views of the postal convention, in regard to the unity of a mail, whether of one or many bags. I then directed our consul to write an official note to the governor on the subject, explaining those views as of our government, (not deeming it advisable to demand here permission to transport the mail as merchandise,) and demanding a reduction in their charge. A favorable answer has been returned, so far as the authorities here are concerned, and the matter referred to the chief executive for final decision; so that, until the existing convention be modified, our mails will pay thirty dollars for the first hundred of gross weight, and twelve dollars for each additional hundred pounds.
The importance of this admission will be seen, when I name that they had charged for the mail of the Falcon ($1,250) twelve hundred and fifty dollars tax, whereas the charge paid will be less than one-tenth of that sum. I have directed this to be paid, but still under protest, as we claim the right to carry our mails across as merchandise.
I have been informed by the intendente, within a day or two, that a law has been enacted by this government passing all merchandise across the isthmus free of toll of every kind. Whether this law may not be made to bear on the transmission of the mails, is worthy of inquiry.
As, independent of the terms of our postal convention, newspapers pass the isthmus free, I have directed Mr. Nelson to send to the post office for weighing as mail the bags containing correspondence alone, in the letter pouches.
My attention was called to a bag, about to be shipped on one of our steamers, marked “L. & Co.'s express mail,” and I directed the consul, whom I have appointed sub-agent for the service of the isthmus, (see letters of appointment and instructions, herewith transmitted), not to permit it to be shipped, or the letters and papers to be forwarded in the steamers, except in the regular mail. Under my instructions, this mail matter will be placed in the mail, and charged as though it had been mailed in New York.
The mail pouches crossing the isthmus should be of leather; The India-rubber pouches will not stand the service – those sent by the Falcon being worn out before they arrived at Panama.
I observe a tendency on the Atlantic side to make the mail service a secondary matter, and to run for passengers. This needs correction. Had the Falcon waited one day more, she would have carried back the Oregon's mail, and important despatches (sic) for our government from California. The loss of a mail for want of a single day's delay has now occurred twice during her short period of service. She should be ordered always to wait until a messenger can go to Panama and return – this at the least. The Panama mail contains many letters not prepaid; these are issued here by the post office for the New Granadian charge simply. It also contains letters for the coast of South America, for forwarding which, in the British mail, provision should be made.
In view of the entire field, I deem a confidential agent here, with ample powers, as indispensable to the efficiency of the service. I would not advise a separate mail agent on board the steamers; this would be objectionable in many points of view; it would require a large expenditure in the first place, unnecessarily; and there would almost invariably arise a jealousy of feeling between him and the officers of the ship, productive constantly of unpleasant results, and ever working to the disadvantage of the service. I would strongly recommend, therefore, the appointment of the captains of the steamships as mail agents, with a small salary to compensate them for the additional trouble the supervision of the mails would give them – say five hundred dollars per annum. This would identify them with the mail service, and they (who have controlling power on board the steamers) would feel an interest and pride in the efficiency of that service; and I am entirely satisfied that the department would save annually more than their salaries in the prevention of frauds of various kinds, and in the increased correspondence arising from offering facilities to passengers and other to mail letters. I recommend, then--
1st. A resident agent in Panama, fully empowered to superintend the mail service on the isthmus.
2d. Let the contract for the transportation from Chagres to Panama be as heretofore; and if the great increase of service demanded since the bid was made require additional compensation, let it be given. The natives cannot be trusted for the promptness necessary to this service.
3d. Appoint the captains of the mail steamers on both oceans mail agents, duly sworn, with powers and duties similar to the traveling route agents on the railroads of the States.
4th. Give instructions that the steamers carry no mailable matter not in the mails.
5th. Fix the day of departure, on either side of the isthmus, at the first of each month. We will try to bring the California steamers to Panama by the 20th, and start them regularly on the first of the succeeding month. We must aim at regularity, or have confusion worse confounded in the entire line, and a constant recurrence of such misadventures as the last failure in connecting.
6th. Let the letters be put in leather pouches and labeled “correspondence”, or “letters,” and the newspapers in unsealed canvass bag, labelled (sic) “newspapers”.
7th. Let the steamer agents be directed to collect the small letter bags into a large canvass bag, and to mark it accordingly.
8th. I suggest that steps be taken immediately to terminate the present “postal convention.” Our mails should pass free, as the service is not rendered for which the payment provided for in the present convention was a “consideration”.
9th. I suggest that you direct the various postmasters to receive letters for ports in South America, charging postage in advance to Panama, and from Panama to those ports twenty-five cents extra – a total of fifty-five cents on the single letter, prepaid in all cases.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Hon. Jacob Collamer.
R. T. P. ALLEN,
Special Agent California and Oregon.
Second report received at the department from Mr. Allen.
Mail Agency Office, San Francisco, June 23, 1849
Sir: Having been delayed in Panama in the discharge of duties pertaining to my office, and by illness, I did not arrive at this place until the 13th instant, and on the 15th resumed the duties of my office, superseding Messrs. Voorhies and Bronson, leaving the latter, however, in office as assistant. (He has since returned to the States.)
I have, until this date, been engaged in establishing my office in this place, and collecting such information, from the various sources accessible to me, as might guide me in extending the proper facilities of the mail system to the people of California. There exists at present a very general spirit of dissatisfaction among all classes of people here with the absence of these facilities; and I shall feel it an imperative duty, acting under the advice of the governor and of Hon. T. B. King, to extend to the various parts of the Territories the benefits of the service.
The unexampled productiveness of the mining districts has greatly enhanced the price of labor, and, as a consequence, of rents and of real estate generally. While the laborer can realize an ounce of gold per day (on the average) in the mines, he cannot be hired here for a great deal less; and while carpenters get $18 per day, and service of every kind is in proportion, the cost of living must be very great. Boarding and lodging rates at about $25 per week, and all expenses are proportionally high. I know gentlemen who pay $200 per month (more than my entire income) for their cooks; and one man gets, as I have been well assured, $6,000 per annum for driving a wagon for one firm, with the privilege reserved of hauling for other houses when not engaged in the service of his employers; and ordinary clerks are receiving $300 to $500 per month.
You will readily perceive, therefore, that the expenses of the department here must greatly exceed those of the department at home for similar services; and it can scarcely be expected that the income arising from postages here will meet the necessary expenditures of the department, conducted however economically. You may rest assured that I will not permit unnecessary expenditures, and that in extending the system into the interior I will conduct everything on the most economical plan.
Each mail from the East has, for the last two months, brought about six thousand letters. Considering the great number of emigrants now “en route” from the States, the ensuing mails may be expected to bring a greatly increased number; so that I think we may safely estimate an average of ten thousand letters per month, which will yield an income of nearly $50,000 per annum – say $40,000 as nett income, applicable to current expenses; while the amount of service that seems absolutely indispensable cannot be procured for less than $80,000 to $100,000 per annum.
It will be necessary to make special provision for the post office in this place, as the duties of the office will occupy the postmaster's entire time, not permitting him to engage in any other business, while his entire commission will not pay the rent of his office.
I would suggest for your consideration the propriety of purchasing, or erecting, a permanent building for the post office, &c., in this town, or wherever the distributing office for the Territory is to be permanently located.
True economy would certainly demand some such course, to save the enormous rents to which the department is now liable. In order that you may be well advised of the state of things here, I would respectfully refer you to the reports of General Riley, and other officers of the government, to be found on file in the proper offices, and to H. D. Cooke, esq., to whom I have committed my despatches (sic), that he might give you information of the state of affairs here more fully than I can do in this report. Mr. Cooke has been in this Territory several years, and is every way reliable.
I shall leave this place on Monday, the 25th instant, for the purpose of examining at what places the establishment of a post office may be necessary, and at the conclusion of that tour I shall have the honor of reporting to you the result of the exploration.
Since my arrival here I have had opportunity of communicating with some of the first citizens of Oregon, and have, acting on information derived from them, established post offices at Portland, Oregon city, and Salem, on the Willamette river, and appointed postmasters at those several points.
As the postmaster of Astoria has absented himself for a long period from his office, (is now in this Territory at the mines), I have removed him, and appointed General John Adair, of Astoria, in his place. So soon as I receive the acceptance of these several officers, I will formally communicate their appointments to you, that their commissions may issue.
I transmit herewith a report from my predecessor, which I have caused to be placed on record in this office, and have the honor to remain,
Hon. Jacob Collamer
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
R.T. P. ALLEN,
Special Agent California and Oregon.
Third report received at the department from Mr. Allen.
Agency Office, San Francisco, August 2, 1849
Dear Sir: I have been so constantly engaged in the “out-door” duties of my office, that I have been unable to prepare an official report in time for this steamer – shall doubtless be able to prepare one in time for the next. Enclosed you have a notice designed to inform the public of the locality of post offices. At present, nearly all the letters arriving remain in this office many weeks before being called for.
I have advertised for proposals carrying the mail to these several offices, and will endeavor to get the lines in operation “on regular contracts” by the first of October.
The last mail brought near eighteen thousand letters. If correspondence increases in anything like this ratio, the receipts will more than cover all liabilities for transportation, &c., unless, as at present, a large portion of the letters come prepaid. The extraordinary state of things here will render instructions for the support of this office necessary, as no responsible man can be found to take the office for the emoluments accruing under present laws. I crave instructions that will enable me to make this office effective, and to transport the mail into the interior as far as may seem necessary, and on such other points as may seem to you proper.
I have not heard from Mr. Moore since informed by the prints that he had left New York for Chagres.
I am, sir, very respectfully, you obedient servant,
Hon. Jacob Collamer.
Special Agent California and Oregon
Fourth report received at the department from Mr. Allen.
Mail Agency Office,
San Francisco, August 29, 1849
Sir: As indicated in my report of the 23d of June, I left this place on the 25th of that month for the purpose of selecting proper sites for the post offices in the interior.
A pleasant sail of four hours in San Francisco and San Pablo bays brought me to Benicia, a mapped town on the straits of Karquinez, containing now about forty houses, where I landed and took horses for the Upper Sacramento. Benicia is selected for a post office, with a view to the supply of the army and naval depot established there, and of the valleys of Mopa and Sonoma – the latter having been selected as the headquarters of the Pacific division by Major General Smith.
From Benicia I travelled (sic) along the base of the hills on the North Suisun bay, crossing several small but beautiful valleys, a distance of seventy-five miles, to Vernon, at the mouth of Feather river. This village is established for the commercial supply of the mining districts of Bear creek, and Juba and Feather rivers- its location being doubtless well chosen for the object in view. I selected it as being, among existing points on the river, best adapted for the postal supply of the regions named.
After a day's delay at this point, I passed up Feather river, through a most beautiful country, twenty miles, to Sutter's upper farm, on the west bank of the river. The country bordering the Feather river is by far the most fertile and most beautiful I have seen in California.
Crossing Feather river at Sutter's, I crossed the barren, arid plains twenty miles to the foot of the hills – visited the lower mines of the Juba, and, finding no grass for our animals, passed immediately to the crossing of Bear creek at Johnson's ranch, a distance of fifteen miles. At this point, being fifteen miles from the mouth of Feather river, it is in contemplation, I believe, to establish a military station.
Passing thence the same day twenty-five miles further, we encamped at the “dry diggings” of the North Fork of American river, and the next day, visiting the mouth of the North Fork, in the vicinity of Mormon island, passed down the American river to Sacramento city, at its mouth, encamping one night on the road.
This is a thriving town, rapidly building up, and promises well to be a place of much importance. Here I established a post office for the supply of the vicinity, and of the mining district of the American and its branches.
From Sacramento city I passed through the plain lying to the east of the Sacramento and Joaquin rivers to Stockton, another thriving town, located on a slough about three miles from the latter river, and sixty miles from Sacramento city. We crossed in this space several beautiful streams marked on the map; and, locating a post office at Stockton for the supply of the district watered by the branches of the Joaquin, I returned by water to San Francisco.
The entire region passed over in this journey, with the exception of narrow strips bordering the Sacramento and its upper and western tributaries, is not at all adapted to agriculture, and but ill so to grazing, and is only valuable for its mineral resources.
The entire valley of the Joaquin, and of the lower Sacramento, doubtless formed, at no very distant epoch, a lake, of which Suisun bay, still rapidly filling up, is the remnant.
Since my return from Stockton, I have remained so far as possible in this place, being unwilling to leave the office here for any considerable length of time, pending the arrival of Mr. Moore, and being mostly occupied in the duties pertaining to the establishment of post offices, appointment of postmaster, formation of temporary contracts, inviting bids for permanent ones, &c.
Finding myself thus fully occupied in the upper portion of the Territory, I despatched (sic) J. Ross Brown, esq., with a commission as temporary special agent, and instructions to proceed southward as far as San Diego, establishing post offices at San Jose, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, San Diego, and such other points on the main southern route as might appear to him necessary..
I shall be able, from present indications, to provide the necessary mail service for the Territory on much more reasonable terms than I had supposed possible; and, should we be able to get the letters out of the offices, the revenue will be amply sufficient for the service.
Soon after my arrival at this place, John W. Geary, esq., the then incumbent in office here, tendered his resignation; and, there being presented to me an eminent (whig) gentleman of Tennessee, as willing to accept the office temporarily, who was every way suitable to the post, I accepted his resignation, and gave the gentleman alluded to (W. P. Bryan, esq.) a letter of temporary appointment, to continue in force until the arrival of Mr. Moore, taking from him bonds in the sum of $5,000.
I have established post offices at the following points, viz:
Benicia, supplied weekly by water from San Francisco.
Sacramento city, supplied weekly by water from San Francisco.
Stockton, supplied weekly by water from San Francisco.
San Jose, supplied weekly by water from San Francisco.
Vernon, supplied weekly by water from Sacramento city.
Culloma, supplied weekly on horseback from Sacramento city.
Sonoma, supplied weekly on horseback from Benicia.
And have appointed the following gentleman postmasters at the several points indicated, viz:
Charles W. Hayden, to be postmaster at Benicia.
Henry E. Robinson, to be postmaster at Sacramento city.
William Hipkins, to be postmaster at Stockton.
Gilbert A. Grant, to be postmaster at Vernon.
Jacob P. Little, to be postmaster at Culloma.
L. W. Boggs, to be postmaster at Sonoma.
J. D. Happe, to be postmaster at San Jose.
These gentlemen are men of great respectability, and every way worthy the appointments they have received. I respectfully recommend that commissions be forwarded them in due time.
I rejoice that you have thought proper to relieve me of a portion of my duties by your instructions to Mr. Moore, because it will enable me to be absent for a longer period at a time from my office, and thus more efficiently to discharge the out-door duties of my agency.
Bids for the mail service for one year from the first of October next will be received, according to advertisement, until the first day of September, when the lettings will be made, according to law.
In my report from Panama in May last, I had the honor to recommend a system for the transportation of the mail on both oceans, as well as on the isthmus. From information given me by Mr. Moore, I see that nothing has been done towards securing a speedy and safe transit of the isthmus; while, from facts reported by him, speedy action would seem to have become imperatively necessary. I would respectfully urge that the mails cannot be safely intrusted to the care of the natives. An agent should always accompany the mail across the isthmus, and also on the steamers on each side; and I would recommend that the steamers be required to have a mail room as an office for the agent, and for keeping and assorting the mails.
No care seems to be now taken of the mails, especially on the Atlantic side. They are stowed away in a dark corner below, and are constantly liable to be overlooked. Thus the last Havana mail was carried to Panama and returned; and Mr. Moore informs me that at Chagres they were thrown ashore and left exposed all night, one of the bags wet and another broken open; his servant put them under cover and took care of them, himself not being permitted to accompany the mail on shore.
The clerk of the Falcon had in his possession letters and packages left with him to be forwarded in April, which Mr. Moore mailed in July. He is not, I should think, a suitable person to have charge of so important a service. It would seem, indeed, that neither the officers nor owners of the Falcon have any regard to the good of the public service, but make it entirely subsidiary to other ends.
I am not advised of the terms of the Pacific Steamship Company's contract; will you cause a copy of it to be forwarded to me?
I have the honor to forward herewith a letter from John W. Geary, the late postmaster at San Francisco, (C;) also, copies of a correspondence between the undersigned and Commodore Jones, marked A 1, 2, 3; and of a letter to Brigadier General Riley, with his answer thereto, and a letter to Jacob B. Moore, marked B 1, 2, 3; which will explain themselves, and are forwarded because it is probable your attention may be called to the matters to which they relate by others.
I have received, since the commencement of this report, the acceptances of the persons appointed to the post offices in Oregon. I would respectfully ask that commissions be sent to them as follows, viz:
to John Adair, as postmaster at Astoria; to Thomas Smith, as postmaster at Portland; to George S. Curry, as postmaster at Oregon City; to J. B. McLane, as postmaster at Salem. The India-rubber mail bag is entirely unfit for this service. I would respectfully request you to cause an assortment of the smaller leather pouches, say fifty in all, to be sent to the office in this place, for use in this Territory and Oregon. There are no “distribution blanks” among those heretofore sent to the Pacific coast; a full assortment is greatly needed for the post office in this place; they should be sent in quantity by the first steamer.
Jesse D. Carr, esq., an attache of the custom house here, has presented a claim, on which I need instructions from the department. It appears that the postmaster at New Orleans confided to his care a mail of eight bags for this coast, which Mr. Carr receipted for and brought to Panama at his own expense; he now asks to be reimbursed in the sum of two hundred dollars, ($200). This mail was turned over to our consul at Panama, as shown by his receipt, without passing through the New Granadian post office, and of course without paying the usual toll to that government. It is proper to add, that he did not come from New Orleans to Chagres in the mail steamer. The matter will be left in “statu quo” until instructions are received to cover the case. So little care is taken of the mail on the steamers, and in the transit of the isthmus, that I have thought it proper, pending a permanent arrangement, to commit it to the care of a special agent, who will deliver also a budget to the department at Washington. This agent will be entitled to no compensation other than the free passage secured to mail agents.
Having received information that J. Ross Brown, the temporary special agent whom I sent southward, has gone no further than Monterey, (having been detained there by sickness,) I have recalled him, and will, so soon as the steamer leaves, proceed in person to establish the southern offices. For this purpose I will leave San Francisco early next week, and remain in the field on the southern route until the middle of October or the first of November.
Judging from information derived from Mr. Moore, I think it probable that the authorities on the isthmus do not adhere to the arrangement, made during my stay in Panama, diminishing the tax on our mails by counting all the bags as one mail, and that Messrs. Howland & Aspinwall decline carrying them across the isthmus according to their proposition to your predecessor. I earnestly commend this matter to your early attention. The mails should by all means cross the isthmus in charge of an American, and the old postal convention with New Granada should be terminated.
At the commencement of the ensuing rainy season, when I will be unable to travel in the interior for several months, and shall have completed mail arrangements for both Territories, I will visit the isthmus, and, probably, report to you in person the condition of the service, as during the season indicated, such as absence from the Territory as the expedition would require would not be detrimental to the interests of the service, and my presence in Washington and on the isthmus might be of material advantage to it in many respects.
Owing to the inadequate compensation of postmasters, I find it very difficult to procure proper persons to serve in offices where there is so much business as to interfere with the incumbent's ordinary avocations. This is the case at Sacramento city, where a very large amount of mail matter will be distributed. I enclose a letter (marked D) from the postmaster at that place, and solicit instructions on the subject. Can I in any case authorize a postmaster to employ a clerk? Can I, where it appears necessary to use a separate building, authorize one to be rented? On examination, it will appear that in all cases clerk hire and office rent would each exceed the postmaster's entire commissions.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Hon. Jacob Collamer.
Special Agent for California and Oregon
The following instructions were addressed by the Postmaster General to Mr. Allen:
Post Office Department, May 16, 1849
Sir: Mr. Jacob B. Moore having been appointed and commissioned as postmaster at San Francisco, in California, and having duly executed and filed his bonds to the United States for the faithful performance of the duties of said office, the special instructions given you in reference to the post office at San Francisco are, by said appointment, suspended, and are therefore revoked. You will, however, furnish Mr. Moore, out of the supplies taken with you for the offices in California, all blanks, stationery, mail pouches, sacks, &c., which may be required for the use of his office; and also render him any aid in the due enforcement of the laws of the United States regulating the Post Office Department which he may from time to time require, and your instructions warrant. As the post office at San Francisco is a distribution office, you will report to Mr. Moore all offices which you may establish under your instructions, with the names of the postmasters, and also the names of all contractors and mail carriers whom you may employ, and the routes over which they travel, the times of arrival and departure, the distance from point to point, the mode of conveyance stipulated, &c., and the compensation allowed to each, in order that he may be enabled, according to law, to report to the inspection office at Washington, from time to time, the condition of the service.
And you will also file in the office at San Francisco copies of all contracts which you may make for the transportation of the mails.
You will instruct each and every postmaster in California and Oregon to render their quarterly accounts to the department, through the postmaster at San Francisco, and to deposit with him the nett proceeds of their respective offices, or to pay the same to the contractors or others engaged in the service, on his order. The instructions addressed to you on the 31st March last are therefore so modified as to conform to the above.
You will find Mr. Moore ready to co-operate with you in the best mode of arranging the mail service, and establishing post offices at proper points; and, as he has had experience in the department, and is well acquainted with the post office system, you will consult with him on those matters, and all others touching the interest of the department.
Col. R.T.P. Allen,
Special Agent, &c., San Francisco, California.
The following additional instructions were addressed by the Postmaster General to Mr. Allen:
Post Office Department,
December 10, 1849.
Sir: Your letter of appointment of the 31st March last specified it to be your first duty to see that post offices were established, and suitable persons were selected for postmasters, at San Diego, San Pedro, San Luis Obispo, Monterey, and San Francisco, and such other points on the Pacific, at which the United States steam packets shall touch, as may need such appointments. It appears that such appointment has been much needed at San Diego, but it does not appear that any has as yet been made.
You were also instructed that, as no route into the interior of California has yet been established by act of Congress, all post offices not supplied by government vessels would be special – that is, depend for their supply of mail on nett proceeds of the offices severally. And you were enjoined, that in extending the mail system into the interior of the Territory you must have a strict regard to economy, that the expense of the service may not exceed the means arising from it and properly applicable to it.
The last mail from San Francisco brings accounts against this department for fourteen weeks' transportation of the mail from San Francisco to Sacramento city, and thence to Culloma, at the amount of $9,800, being at the rate of $36,400 per annum; also, accounts for eight weeks' transportation of the mail from San Francisco to Monterey, and from San Francisco to Stockton, at $4,000, which is at the rate of $26,000 per annum. Said accounts recite that the service was performed as per contract with you, as the special agent of this department for California. There is nothing to show that the offices above named yield at the rate of $62,400 per annum – an amount that is believed to be vastly beyond the nett proceeds of those offices, to which nett proceeds you are instructed to limit the cost of your mail arrangements.
The only knowledge or intimation that the department has of such contracts being made is contained in those accounts, which, however, come through a channel that induces full reliance on the correctness of their statements; whereas your letter of appointment requires that you should, as soon as practicable after the expiration of each quarter, render those official returns which will show the state of all pecuniary arrangements in California, and the indebtedness and credit of each party, &c., &c., and that you cause all contracts to be executed in triplicate – one of which you were to file in the office in San Francisco, as per instructions of the 16th of May, 1849, and the two others in each case were to be transmitted to Washington, to be filed in the department and the Auditor's office, as required by law. No contract, or duplicate thereof, in the foregoing or any other case, has been received from you for file as aforesaid; nor any account of contract arrangements or expenditures whatever.
The department has received information through different channels, but unofficial, that you have entered into new contracts for a term of one year from the first of October, 1849, at amounts in the aggregate exceeding $50,000 per annum. But no report is received from you to show officially whether such be the fact or not; detailing, as your report should, the advertisement put before the public, the bids received, and that those accepted were, in the language of your instructions, the lowest that competition could produce; and showing, moreover, that the amounts you had engaged to pay were within the means arising from the service itself – that is, the nett proceeds of the offices – agreeably to the limitations prescribed in your instructions.
I desire it to be distinctly understood that payments cannot be made for mail transportation service at San Francisco or here, until the contracts in triplicate are executed and placed on file, one in the office at San Francisco and the other in Washington, which can easily be done, before any payment can become due, at the expiration of the first quarter; and that a contract for any service made at a higher amount than the lowest bid, or made for an amount beyond what is well understood to be the revenue of the route, cannot be considered as authorized by this department.
In my letter to you of the 16th of May, after speaking of the experience in the department of J. B. Moore, esq., the newly-appointed postmaster of San Francisco, and his acquaintance with the post office system, I directed that you should consult with him in the arrangement of the mail service, and the establishment of post offices, and all other matters touching the interests of the department. I trust that this instruction will be faithfully observed. Mr. Moore will make payment, so far as his means will go, not upon your order as such, but upon the contract, duly filed, agreeably to the instructions of May last, and upon your certificate of the performance of service, setting forth the amount to be deducted for failures and delinquencies, if any.
By the instructions of March last, the general superintendence of Oregon was placed in your charge, in addition to the special agency of California; and you were instructed to continue the present agent in Oregon as your assistant, or to supersede him, and employ another, as you should think best; and, in case of his removal, you were forthwith to report the name of a suitable person as his successor, that a commission might be sent to him; during the mean time, to give him full authority and instructions to act at once in the business.
Great complaint is made that nothing whatever has been done in the way of providing any mail arrangements for Oregon; and, although the then special agent had returned to the States, as appears by your letter of June 23, yet no report of a successor has been made by you.
To recur again to the contracts which it is said you have made, I have to remark that, if they are of the character stated, the sanction of this department must be withheld – not only because they are beyond the limitations prescribed in the instructions, but beyond the limitations prescribed by law, because, as the letter of 31st March informed you, no routes in the interior of California had yet been established by act of Congress.
The expediency of establishing a route parrallel (sic) to the one created by act of Congress, and used by the steam ship, is not perceived; nor the propriety of drawing on the postmaster of San Francisco for your salary, until an account is duly made up and sent to this department for audit.
Col. R.T.P. ALLEN,
Special Agent, &c., San Francisco, California.
The foregoing copies respectfully submitted to the President, present all the correspondence between the Post Office Department and its agent in California.
Transcribed by: Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.
Source: Frickstad, Walter N., A Century of California Post Offices 1848-1954, Pages 372-395. Philatelic Research Society, Oakland, CA. 1955.
© 2012 Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.