A Bird’s Eye View of Eastern Long Island-Calvet M. Hahn

Oct 1 , 1997

First Postal Services


There was no formal postal service on Long Island during the colonial period.  This did not mean mail was completely ignored.  There were military couriers, similar to the arrangements between New York and Albany, that most probably went by boat to the naval post at Sag Harbor.  By 1765, a 239-mile long post road was established to Sag Harbor that went via Brooklyn, Jamaica, Southaven, and Griffins to Riverhead, Southold, Shelter Island, Hog Neck, North Haven, Sag Harbor, and Southampton and back along the south shore to New York.  However, it does not appear to have been a formal system.  In fact, as late as May 21, 1791, John Van Nostrandt of 3 Peck Slip in New York advertised his Brooklyn and Jamaica stage would carry letters at 3d each.

There are surviving letters from the colonial and revolutionary period that traveled on Long Island.  They might be carried on the boats servicing the oyster grounds at Oyster Bay or the fishing ports at the eastern end; they could also go by horse and rider along the island’s trails.  By the Revolution, there were regular stage wagons going at lest as far as Jamaica if not further east.  Letters left at the New York postoffice (such as the Brown or Nicholl correspondence) were carried privately to their destinations; none, to my knowledge, ear postal markings.  This is also true of the Gardiner letters.   In the immediate post-Revolution era, an old, respectable Scot named Dunbar rode a private volunteer post from New York to Babylon on the south shore, Brookhaven in the center returning back along the north shore.  Although he charged, again I record no letters showing his or other postal markings.

On August 19, 1794, a proposed formal postal route was put forth by Postmaster General Timothy Pickering who wrote New York’s postmaster Sebastian Bauman,,

“I sent to your care ten packages for as many post offices to be established on Long Island.  I suppose that divers of them are very unimportant in themselves yet they will be an accommodation to their neighborhood particularly as stations for the delivery of newspapers. As fast as conveyances present, be pleased to forward them.  I have left out Winnacomack as you advise and put Smith Town in its place…P.S. the postmasters for which packets are now sent are: Jamaica, Queens County Court, Jerico, Huntington, Smith Town, Corum, Suffolk C. H.  Southampton, Bridgehampton, Sag Harbor.”

On September 25, 1794, a further letter formalized the new appointments and listed the postmasters,

“Upon recommendations of David Gelston, Esq., I have appointed the following persons postmasters on Long Island: Joseph Robinson at Jamaica; Nathaniel Townsend, Queens County C.H.; Ebenezer Platt, Huntington; Benjamin B. Blydenburg, Smith Town; Goldsmith Davis, Corum; Josiah Albertson, Suffolk C.H.; Uriah Rogers, Southampton; Hugh Gelston, Jr., Bridgehampton; Henry P. Dering, Sag harbor…The first mail must be sent unlocked as the postmasters will not have any keys until they receive the packet.  You will observe I have not appointed any postmaster at Jerico and Inakomak.  I am informed that these are two inconsiderable places that do not lie on the direct road from New York to Sag Harbor.”

Brookhaven was added as an office on October 1, 1795 with Applos Wetmore as postmaster, but was called Middletown until January 1, 1796.  The original Huntington office was renamed Winnacomac on May 24, 1799, with Moses Blackley as postmaster while a new Huntington office was established June 3, 1799 with Timothy Williams as postmaster.  Winnacomac, in turn, became Dix Hills post office July 20, 1799, still with Blackley as postmaster.  On May 25, 1801, a new north shore office was added at Satucket with Zacheriah Hawkins as postmaster.  This later became the rare Drown Meadow office (1810-1836) and is now Port Jefferson. On September 2, 1802, a series of south shore offices were erected.  A new office was established at Huntington South, with Abraham Thompson as postmaster.  This became the modern Babylon.  Westhampton was also set up as a post office with John Howell as postmaster while Patchogue was erected with Nathan Mulford as postmaster.

By the early 1800s there was a stage leaving Brooklyn Thursday morning and reaching Easthampton Saturday night.  Mail delivery was casual.  If a town were slightly off the track, the letters to addressees there were left under a designated rock à la Cape of Good Hope early postal service .  By 1825 ther4 were some 23 postoffices on the Long Island run.  One way mail was delivered was via boat.  The 168-ton steamer American Eagle ran along the north shore from 1834 to 1858 while another vessel that carried letters was the Sloop Swallow which is known to have carried a letter from New York to Southold on the north fork July 16, 1842.

A major Long Island transportation advance was the opening of the L.I. Railroad.  Chartered April 24, 1834 it was in operation between Brooklyn and Hicksville March 1, 1837 with the 10-mile stretch from Brooklyn to Jamaica being over the chartered Brooklyn & Jamaica line, leased in 1836.  Stopped by the panic of 1837, the started up again in 1840 and July 27, 1844 the first trip was made from Brooklyn to Greenport.  From Hicksville it ran via Farmingdale, Deer Park, Thompson, Suffolk Station, Lake Road, Medford, Yaphank, St. George’s Manor, Riverhead, Jonesport, Mattituck, Cutchogue, Hermitage, Southold, to Greenport.