Military Postal History Society

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Slide 1

FREE FRANKING & PRE-1789: AMERICAN COLONIAL MILITARY MAIL: Military Postal History Symposium ROMPEX-2017, Denver, Colorado

Presented By

Ravi Vora

Member: RMPL, US Classic Society, APS

Slide 2


Genesis of Free Franking Privileges

Presentation covers following examples

Pre Independence Examples

1739-41: Jonathan Belcher, Governor of Massachusetts Bay

1761: President Colden, General Assembly of Colony of New York

Post Independence: Military Mail

1777-78: General Smallwood (Later Governor of Maryland)

1778: Jer. Powell President of Council of Chambers, State of Massachusetts to Brigadier Oliver Prescott, Groton, Mass.

To be presented in upcoming MPHS article centered on colonial militias

1778: Charles Petit Secretary to Governor of NJ

1779: Colonel George Letter

1780: James Sutton, Board of War, Philadelphia

1785: Timothy Pickering Quarter Master General, Sec of War, Post Master General, and Secretary of State

Slide 3

Franking Privilege: Historical Development by Congressional Analyst

Origins of the Franking Privilege: British Colonial Period

1660: British House of Commons instituted free mail to many colonial officials.

Pre-1789 Period:

In 1775 the First Continental Congress passed legislation giving Members mailing privileges so they could communicate with their constituents, as well as giving free mailing privileges to soldiers;

In 1782, under the Articles of Confederation, the Continental Congress granted its members, the heads of various departments, and military officers the right to send and receive letters, packets, and dispatches under the free frank.

Slide 4

Circa 1739-41: Jonathan Belcher, Governor of Massachusetts Bay Free Frank to Secretary Waldron of New Hampshire

Circa 1739-1741: Free frank signature of J. Belcher on an address panel to Secretary Waldron of His Majesty?s province of New Hampshire. Jonathan Belcher was the Governor of Massachusetts Bay and New Hampshire from 1730 to 1741. Waldron was a close ally and friend of Belcher against the Wentworths in New Hampshire who were advocating NH to a separate province. Both Belcher and Waldron were replaced in 1741! Correspondence from Governor Belcher to Secretary Waldron was recorded in 1739 as per following




Slide 5

1761: Official OHMS Letter from President Colden General Assembly of Colony of New York

6 August 1761: An official letter addressed to Thyer Schermerhorn at Schenectady, NY with ?On His Majesty?s Service? free frank from President Colden of General Assembly of NY Colony. Letter advises that the General Assembly had adjourned in August 1761 and that President Cadwallader Colden had directed Thyer Schermerhorn of Schenectady NY to attend the next meeting on September 1, 1761. Cadwallader Colden was also the acting governor of Province of New York for His Majesty?s Government.

Slide 6

Challenges of American Revolutionary War:

During the American Revolutionary war period of first 20 years of independence, the predominant issues, and challenges of fighting the British Army were of organizing, paying for and availability of provisions,and logistics of transport for various militias organized by the states and newly proclaimed independent government of USA.

Quarter Master General and their staff played a critical role in successfully fending off British Army who kept trying to recapture the lost provinces by His Majesty?s government.

Effective communication was critical between the Federal military leaders and state officers and soldiers in the field.

Free franking, also called ?On Public Service?, was essential due to paucity of funding by the US and state militias.

Slide 7

1777-78: General Smallwood to Colonel Hollingsworth, Head of Elk, Maryland

Circa 1777-1778: Outer page of letter from General William Smallwood (Maryland) to Colonel Henry Hollingsworth at Head of Elk in Maryland who was Quarter Master General responsible for providing provisions to the American troops. Front bears ?Public Service? and signature of W. Smallwood.

Communications from Smallwood and from General Washington to Colonel Henry Hollingsworth address the problem of inadequate provisions or clothes for American Soldiers who were fighting the British Army trying to reach Philadelphia to recapture.

General William Smallwood, later Governor of Maryland

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1778: Jer. Powell President of Council of Chambers, State of Massachusetts to Brigadier Oliver Prescott, Groton, Mass.



24 September 1778: Folded letter with ?(On Public Service)? to Brigadier Oliver Prescott, Groton, Massachusetts. Letter head lined, ?State of Massachusetts Bay, Council of Chambers, Sept. 24, 1778? and the official letter signed, Jer. Powell, President (For Jeremiah Powell who was President of Council of Chambers and had extensive communications with Samuel Adams and other founding fathers) to Brig General (Dr.) Powell. Letter refers to recent directives for the state Militias and directing Brig General to execute orders for his militias??


Slide 9

1778: Charles Petit Secretary to Governor of NJ to DDM General Jehermiah Hubbard

23 Sept 1778: Official letter from Charles Petit, then Secretary to Governor William Livingston of New Jersey with his signature and manuscript marking, ?Public Service. It is addressed to Jehermiah Hubbard, D.D.M. General at Hartford, (Conn.). Hubbard was appointed 1st Quarter Master General by General N. Greene. No content.

Slide 10

1779 Colonel George Letter to John Pratt, AC General, Army at Otsago Lake, New York

26 June 1779: Official letter from Colonel George Letter with ?Public Service? marking to (Captain) John Pratt, A.C. General Subs with Army at Otsego Lake. No content

Captain John Pratt was Assistant Commissary General of Subsistence and was part of volunteers under the command of John Harper that participated in General George Clinton?s Portage March from Mohawk River to Otsego Lake on June 26th 1779 and established Camp Liberty in Low?s Grove on the West side of Mount Wellington. It was then in position to guard the embarkation point at Hyde Bay for attack from the West.

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1780: James Sutton, Board of War, Philadelphia to Major Gordon, Trenton, NJ

Letter from James Sutton, APD (In Captain James Brown?s Company) in Philadelphia. Letter addressed to Major Gordon, Trenton (NJ) with ?On Public Service? marking. Major Gordon was in charge of the Continental Store in Trenton NJ for the Continental Army.

Letter refers to directives from the Board of War to send shallops (shallow boats) to transport Maryland Troops from Trenton to Christeen. Mentions agreement with two to three captains for transport as soon as possible. Also, provides a muster (Roll call of names of 12 soldiers) for transport on Shallops.

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1785: Timothy Pickering Quarter Master General Free Frank to David Wolfe, Assistant QMG, New York With ?FREE? and ?19 MA? Bishop Cancel

Slide 13


Free Franking Privilege during American Revolutionary period was a legacy of British system of free franking started by British House of Commons in 1660 and applied to Colonial America and continued by the newly independent Continental Congress of America

Free franking privilege to both the Continental Congress and State Government officials as well as to the Continental and State military officers was essential for timely communications between government and military officials including state militia.

Free franking was signified by following markings:


On His Majesty?s Service

On Public Service or Public Service