My Burning Question: Was the job of mail carrier created for Civil War veterans?

Post Office Boxes – Photo courtesy of linder6580 at stock.xchng.com

Post Office Boxes – Photo courtesy of linder6580 at stock.xchng.com

Are you a fan of American Pickers? My husband and I rarely miss an episode. I love antiques so I’m always interested in what the guys might find. My husband likes the car, motorcycle, “rusty gold” aspect of the show. So that’s where you’ll find us on a Monday night, catching Mike and Frank.

Now if you watch the show you may remember an episode where Frank bought an old set of post office boxes. They were really cool. I wouldn’t mind having a set myself although I have no idea what I’d do with them! Anyway as they’re apt to do on American Pickers, a little fact was put on the screen. Something to the effect that originally the job delivering mail to homes or the “mail carrier” position was created for Civil War veterans.

Wow! And you know what? My Civil War ancestor was a mail carrier! How cool is that! So I decided to research the origins of the mail carrier. Maybe I’d find some genealogical tid-bits on my g-g-grandfather, the mail carrier. I was excited to say the least!

My excitement didn’t last long. I couldn’t find a thing that tied the development of the mail carrier position to Civil War veterans. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Now I’m sure American Pickers would not lie to me, so what’s up with this? I was on the verge of writing Mike and Frank when I happened on the website for the United States Postal Service (USPS). I was checking the price of postage when I saw a link for USPS history. Yay! I read every topic they had on USPS history and not one word on the first mail carriers being Civil War veterans. Boo! BUT I could submit a question which I did. I submitted my burning question on whether the job of mail carrier was created for Civil War veterans. My email read:

Hello,

I have a question on the origin of mail carriers. I saw on the American Pickers TV show, which airs on the History channel, that the first mail carriers were Civil War veterans. The mail carrier’s position was created as a “reward” for military service. My own Civil War ancestor happened to be a mail carrier so I’d like to verify this may be how he obtained the job. I have researched and not found any reference to Civil War veterans as mail carriers at all. So I’d appreciate any help you could give me on the subject.

Thank you for your time,
Cindy Freed
Genealogy Circle

Then I waited for a reply. . . and waited . . . and waited. In fact I forgot all about the email. Then low and behold this week I received a reply from USPS and this is what it said:

Hi!
Letter carrier positions were not created to reward veterans.  Free home delivery of mail was established in cities beginning in 1863 as a convenience for customers.  It also helped ease congestion in crowded lobbies in urban Post Offices, where customers previously had to call for their mail.
It’s true that many Civil War veterans did serve as letter carriers.

In an Act of March 3, 1865, Congress called for honorably discharged, disabled veterans to be given preference in appointments to government jobs, as long as they were capable and qualified.
Prior to 1883 (or 1893, in smaller cities), when the Civil Service Act kicked in, letter carrier appointments were solely at the discretion of the local postmaster and were often based on political connections.  It was not uncommon for politically-connected citizens – and even a city’s postmaster – to have been Union officers, and they naturally favored job-seekers who had been comrades-in-arms.
Thank you for your patience in awaiting this information – I hope it’s still of interest.
-Jenny Lynch
Historian and Corporate Information Services Manager
United States Postal Service

So there’s my answer! Thank you Jenny Lynch! I appreciate it!

Perhaps my g-g-grandfather was politically connected (somehow I doubt that) or maybe the postmaster that hired him was a Civil War veteran as well. Who knows but guess who’s now going to research the postmaster of Hamler, Ohio in the 1870′s and 80′s. This girl!!

Happy Civil War Saturday and good luck in your continued research!

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19 thoughts on “My Burning Question: Was the job of mail carrier created for Civil War veterans?

    • Wouldn’t that be crazy! I wonder if there are records that date back that far somewhere, anywhere about post masters and mail carriers? Work records, job appointments,etc. Where would we look?
      Thanks for your comment!

  1. Interesting. My Confederate Civil War vet in Benton County, TN was a mail carrier. Don’t guess he was given preferencial treatment, as he fought against the union. Perhaps I’ll have to research the postmaster.

    • Melissa – Thanks for stopping by and commenting! I wonder if there were many Confederate war veteran postmasters? Maybe they hired fellow war veterans too? Now that’s something to look into. I always seem to find another thing to research! LOL!! Thanks again for your comment!

    • Hey Steph thanks for stopping by and commenting! This whole subject is interesting isn’t it? I know the USPS historian says the job of mail carrier was not created for Civil War vets yet it’s got to be more than coincidence that sooo many vets were either postmasters or mail carriers. There must have been a prevailing attitude or unwritten rule that you hired a Civil War vet for these jobs. It is something I want to know more about! Thanks again for stopping by!

  2. Fascinating Cindy! My great-great-grandfather was the post man in Belitsa, Belarus in the late 1800s. His daughter wrote a fascinating account of how he became the post man, how unreliable the Russia post was and how the Jewish community created a sort of private post service. He was chosen because he could read and write in many languages, and was trust worthy. The job entailed not only pick-up the mail from the central office a few hours away by horse drawn carriage, before it was mishandled by the Russia post, and delivering it to the community. In addition he would help people read their letters and write letters for them. The whole family was involved in the post business, and the children helped their dad with the delivery and the writing. They also ran a side business of delivering other products while they were at it. Their service was so reliable that they non Jewish community used their services as well.

    • Smadar ~ What a great story and tribute to your g-g-grandfather! What an honorable man. That’s really neat how the entire family became involved!
      Thanks for stopping by and your comment.

      • That’s true Cindy. It also highlight the differences between Russia and America at the time, even if we look at it from the narrow perspective of the post services. I know his children who immigrated to the US including my great-grandmother were so impressed and appreciative with what America had to offer. Having this kind of insight as to their past is really quite powerful.

  3. Great post! A few years ago, we were in DC for a family event. We found ourselves with an hour to kill before a family dinner, and standing outside the Post Office Museum (a branch of the Smithsonian, I believe). We’d never heard of it, and it wasn’t on our “must see” list, but we figured it would be a good way to spend an hour, as we would want more time in the other museums… and didn’t want to have to rush. We were late for dinner. It was extraordinary; a fabulous museum. I’ve been a little intrigued with postal history since, and have found a post master or two in my line, also! (No carriers just yet, but I’ve been working with very small towns…) Thanks for sharing this! ~ Jen

    • Jen,
      Thank you for stopping by and your comment! I wasn’t aware there was a Post Office Museum in Washington D.C. I know the whole working for the infant postal system fascinate me too. I want to follow up on my ancestor with a postal job. I think that’s #1,214 on my to-do list! But I’ll get to it. LOL!! Thanks again for your comment.

  4. This is fascinating! I never would have guess this history. You showed great initiative in finding out that the Post Office would respond to questions about their history. You’ve settled this issue! I do wish that Congress would now ask employers to consider especially war veterans, who even in this recession have disproportionate difficulty finding jobs. Thanks for your research.

  5. My gg-grandfather’s brother was a mail carrier in Chicago after the Civil War. He was injured during the war and imprisoned in Libby Prison; he always had a limp afterwards.

    • Jennifer ~ Thank you for stopping by and commenting! Another CW vet who worked for the postal system! I have done some research recently on Civil War prisoners of war. I learned so much and have a new respect for the men who survived prisons. Their strong will and character was phenomenal! Thanks again for commenting!

  6. Hi Cindy, I worked as a postmaster in Iowa and Illinois for over thirty years and am now retired and pursuing genealogy as a hobby. The law passed by Congress in March of 1865 required preference to be given to veterans. With many of the veterans from the Civil War being released in 1865 (the war ended in April), this new law from Congress affected the hiring of Civil War vets. No, there was no “requirement” to hire them but they were to be given preference, which, in practice, is pretty much the same thing.

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