Aug 2018 Story


Written By Angela Stout August 2018

When is the last time you handwrote a letter?  Most likely you have phoned, emailed, texted or used different types of social media (Marco Polo, Instagram, Facebook, Whats Ap, etc.) multiple times in one day!Today we have technology to reach out and connect with just about anyone around the world in just a moment’s notice.  Our ancestors werelimited in the ways to get news from loved ones.  Getting mail was much more difficult than getting news today.  Genealogists, and others who want to learn more about the history of their communities can discover valuable sources of historical information on how mail was sent via Post Offices and mail routes.  When Joseph Roberts settled on Mine Lick Creek (1818), he did not have a mail box and mail was not delivered to him down on the creek because it was prior to rural delivery??.  A little research educated me on how our postal service has evolved.

A quick glance at events.

1775 - Benjamin Franklin appointed first Postmaster General by the Continental Congress

1796 – TN became a state.

1811 – Sparta Post Office was opened and was the closest post office for our Joseph Roberts.

1818 - Joseph Roberts filed for the land grant of fifteen acres on October 13, 1818.  According to census records, Joseph Roberts homestead was sometimes in Jackson County, sometimes in White County and later in Putnam County.  These changes were based on the drawing of the county lines. 

1847 - U.S. postage stamps issued.  Previously, letters were taken to a Post Office, where the postmaster would note the postage in the upper right corner.

1855 - Prepayment of postage required.  The postage rate was based on the number of sheets in the letter and the distance it would travel. Postage could be paid in advance by the writer, collected from the addressee on delivery, or paid partially in advance and partially upon delivery.

1863 - City delivery began

1896 - Rural delivery began.  Postmaster General John Wanamaker, who served from 1889 to 1893, was a merchant who thought it made more sense to have one person deliver mail than to have 50 people ride into town to collect their mail. He cited business logic and social philosophy as reasons to give rural dwellers free delivery. Businesses could expand their markets. Rural customers paid the same postage rates as city people. Rural people needed the important information provided by newspapers yet did not always have time to walk or ride to the Post Office.  Thus, the creation of rural routes.

Farmers helped by putting out boxes for the rural carriers — everything from lard pails and syrup cans to old apple, soap, and cigar boxes. Rural carriers sold stamps and money orders, registered letters, and, in short, served as traveling Post Offices.

The increase in the number of rural delivery routes led to a decrease in the number of small Post Offices. In 1901, the Post Office Department operated the largest number of Post Offices in American history, 76,945.

For someone like Joseph Roberts, helived prior to rural delivery and would travel to a post office to get his mail.  He would have chosen to travel to the closest post office to his farm.  At the time from filing for a land grant, the closest post office was Sparta Post Office until the Cookeville Post Office opened in 1830.  In 1835, Double Walnut Post Office opened and that was closer than Cookeville.  Finally, in 1843 Double Springs Post Office opened.  Double Springs was the closest post office to the end of Joseph Roberts life.

Joseph Roberts children (second generation) received their mail at different post offices because of where they lived.  Census records and other documents can sometimes give us an idea where our ancestors’ servicing post office was because it would list it on the document.  The 1860 Federal Census Record is a good one because it lists the servicing post office.  For example, the 1860 census lists Francis Marion Roberts (Joseph’s son) post office as Double Springs. However, in 1873 Pine Fork Post Office opened and would have been closer for Francis Marion.  A source document that supports Francis Marion Roberts switched to Pine Fork Post Office would be the 1877 sworn affidavit that Francis Marion Roberts submitted for Violet (Roberts) Lee which also lists Pine Fork Post Office as his servicing post office.  Later, the Boma Post Office opened in 1888, and that would have been the closest post office through Francis Marion’s death.  From the 1860 census records, Francis Marion Roberts siblings listed such post offices as Laurel Hill, Pekin, Granville and Double Springs.


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