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Hugh Finlay (1731-1801)

Post rider delivering mailAs Surveyor of the Post Offices and Post Roads on the Continent of North America, Hugh Finlay set out in September, 1773 on a journey through Canada and the 13 colonies in order to assess the overall state of the mail system in order to improve the efficiency of the mails. His journal serves as a record of his painstaking 310 mile journey.

What Finlay discovered was a surprising number of people sending their letters “out of the mails” with private carriers, avoiding the payment of postage in the British-run system. Although Finlay disapproved of this practice, he acknowledged that it would be difficult to halt due, in part, to growing anti-British sentiment. Thanks to William Goddard’s Constitutional Post, which had begun in 1774, some colonists saw payment of postage as a version of taxation without consent.

Finlay’s expedition came to an end in June 1774 when growing unrest in the northern colonies made the job of surveying the roads hazardous and, in some cases, impossible. In addition, he had been appointed Postmaster General of the Colonies in February 1774 following Ben Franklin’s dismissal from that position. However, the appointment would not last long. Increasing competition from the Constitutional Post caused the British Post Office in America to close forever by Christmas 1775.

Explore Finlay’s route.

Learn about how Ben Franklin avoided paying postage.

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