Calvet M. Hahn – U.S. Express Company

Feb 1 , 1998

The Erie Railroad Connection Under Rice & Peck

February1998page1Circa 1855, the Erie R.R. decided to enter the express business itself, and set up the Erie R.R. Express under the supervision of a man identified by Stimson as H.D. Rice.  Both a handstamp and a label are known from this operation, figure2.  Sometime prior to mid-1858, this operation became Rice & Peck’s express, figure 3, but it was closed and turned back over to the U.S. Express Company August 1, 1858.  Mr. Rice had died prior to this date.

Who was Rice?  There was an H. F. Rice, also cited by Stimson, who had been a Harnden agent in 1841.  In 1844, this Rice bought out N.G. Howard’s interest in the express firm of Virgil & Howard, thus creating the firm of Virgil & Rice.  This Rice also partnered with Phineas S. Fiske in the Fiske & Rice Express Company that bought out Liberty Bigelow’s Bigelow Express Company in January 1851. (See my piece in Stamp Collector 5/18 and 5/25/1991 for details on the Bigelow Company as well as the express ‘sickness’ covers shown in the December 1997 U.S. Philatelic Classics New York Chapter ‘show-and-tell’ presentation I gave on ‘death’).   By late 1845, this Rice was no longer connected with the company, which had become Virgil & Company.  Later it became Pullen, Virgil & Co..  Sometime between 1854 and 1855 Fiske & Rice operated a United States & Canada Express Company, however, this operation also vanished by 1856.

Separately, both Rice and Fiske joined with Benjamin Cheney, one of New England’s better-known expressman.  The resulting Cheney & Fiske operation ran from 1850 to July 28, 1860.  There was also a separate Cheney & Rice operation, which focused upon carrying money, invoices and packages in New England and into Canada.  It subsequently merged into the British & North American Express Company.  Years later, in turn, that company became the Canadian Express Company.

In July 1854, the Northern Express Company was jointly owned by Cheney & Co., Fiske & Rice of Boston, and C. P. Geer of Rouses Point, N.Y., the border-crossing town for much mail.  This company connected with Pullen & Virgil.  I suspect that the two Rices mentioned by Stimson, H.D. and H.F. Rice, are related, if they are not the same individual with a middle initial misidentification by Stimson.

The Peck in the Rice & Peck express firm was Elijah Peck, one of Daniel Drew’s associates.  He served as part of Drew’s People’s Line of Steamboats in 1846, at which time he owned the Isaac Newton; again Peck was part of the Stonington Line, which Drew later controlled.  Drew became president of the New Jersey Steam Navigation Company in 1845 and remained in that position for twenty years.  The People’s Line, the Stonington Line and the New Jersey Steamboat Company were intimately linked through Daniel Drew.  Drew began loaning the Erie R.R. Company owners large sums of money in 1855; he foreclosed on the Erie in 1857.  Consequently, it is likely he was responsible for the decision to sell the Erie R.R. Company’s express operation back to the U.S. Express Company August 1, 1858.  With Rice’s death, Drew, who was a financial not an operations man, had no reason to keep Peck who was a steamboat man running an express.  The financial liability of the express to make good on any lost money parcels was the alleged reason for selling off the express.