Long Time Gone: Mail Service In the 1830s

Heading off to work bright and early every Monday at 7am doesn’t sound so bad. Neither does heading home from work on a Friday evening. But when that Friday evening ride is the return leg of the Monday morning commute, it begins to sound a little less appealing. Throw in the fact that you’re either on horseback or on a horse-drawn cart, travelling the rough southeastern Ohio terrain, it’s 10 or less degrees outside, and you’re not exactly a spring chicken anymore- you can keep that job.

In order to keep the job, you first have to get the job, and that’s exactly what Benoni Staats tried to do in 18381. The route Benoni placed a bid for covered 146 miles one way – a daily route between Zanesville, Ohio and Maysville, Kentucky. The path of the route was then a part of Zane’s Trace, and is now Ohio Route 50.2

Page showing Benoni Staats’ bid for a post route in 1838.





What is unclear is the exact definition of daily. Was it five days? Six days? As the route description details, it would take a little over two days to get there and a little over two days to get back. Clearly, the contractors bidding would have to have several people in their employ to be able to deliver mail daily, so the amounts here are not even what they themselves would actually make. Given the fact that a number of people would be needed, it seems likely that a lot of these guys probably had agreements to work for whichever one of them won the bid.

Notice how John Yontz spit up his bid. The first and lowest price is for a two-horse wagon. When a four-horse coach gets thrown into the mix,  using a four-horse coach during the summer and fall months then switching back to a two-horse coach during the winter and spring, the price jumps. Add a few months in the four-horse coach, add a few thousand dollars. If the government prefers four-horse service all year, they’re going to pay through the nose for it. I assume that tells us something about the expected conditions of the road they traveled – and one wonders if the reason James Bryan failed is because of the larger rig.

What does that route look like on a map today? Below is a Google Map with all of the stops from the description marked:

Zanesville-to-Maysville mail route on a modern map.


Let’s be honest – that route would not be fun for very long in a car, let alone in a wagon or horseback. Rough roads, exposure to the elements, and who knows what else makes this a job for the hearty folks. At the time of this bid, Benoni was likely about 38 years old. He appears to have been involved in mail delivery through at least 1865 – at least as an advocate3 . Later, his grandnephew (my great grandfather), Wilbur Staats also delivered mail in the Summerfield area.4 It would be one tough way to make a living. So let’s tip our hats to all those rural mail carriers – both yesteryear and today.

  1. U.S. Congress, Executive documents: 13th congress, 2d session-49th congress, 1st session, H. Doc 220, “Abstract of Bids Under Advertisement of May 17, 1838…,” 229; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com/books?id=3owFAAAAQAAJ&pg=PP11#v=onepage&q&f=false: accessed 5 Aug 2012). []
  2. for general background information on Zane’s Trace, see: Beverly Whitaker, “Zane’s Trace,” article, Genealogy Tutor,  http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~gentutor/Zane.pdf: accessed 5 Aug 2012). []
  3. U.S. Congress, Journal of the House of Representatives Being the Second Sesson of the 38th Congress (1864-1865), 202; digital images, A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875 (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/amlaw/: accessed 5 Aug 2012).  []
  4. Roger Pickenpaugh, A History of Noble County, Ohio, 1887-1987 (Baltimore: Gateway Press, 1988), 125. []
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One Response to Long Time Gone: Mail Service In the 1830s

  1. Love the way you handled this here, Chris — the map really makes it clear!