Out of the Mails

Out of the Mails exhibition wall panel
December 14, 2006 - January 31, 2008

In the fall of 1773 Hugh Finlay, a postal surveyor, set out to examine Britain’s North American colonial postal system. What Finlay found surprised him. People complained frequently of long delays in receiving their mail, a problem he attributed to the post riders and stagecoach drivers who were taking commissions to carry letters and packages “out of the mails.”

By sending letters outside official mail channels, either by private courier or having friends carry them, Americans avoided paying high postage rates but financially endangered the struggling new system.

Investigate the four areas below to learn about Finlay’s journey, find out how Ben Franklin sent his mail for free, experience mail service on the loyalist and revolutionary sides of the war and explore the challenges of the postwar system.