Buffalo postal history began on the Canadian side of the Niagara River in the town now known as Niagara on the Lake then known as Niagara, West Niagara, then Butlersburgh and Newark. It had a British post office located there as early as 1789 that was known as Niagara. It was the seat of government for Upper Canada from 1793 – 1797, the seat then moving to York (Toronto). After the British had relinquished control of Fort Niagara in 1796 under the terms of the Jay Treaty, the fort was occupied by American troops on August 11, 1796. Postal services in the United States at that time were better than in Canada. As early as 1792 attempts were made by landed interests in Western New York as well as by Canadians to influence the U.S. government to extend a postal route beyond Canandaigua to Niagara. The US government established a postal route from Canandaigua to Fort Niagara in 1797 with mail delivery every 14 days.
The first mail arrived at fort Niagara on Oct 7, 1797. It was a 6 day round trip – Jasper Marvin is said to be the first post rider. This post office was also known as Niagara. A medical officer, Dr. John Gorham was appointed postmaster on October 30, 1797. The existence of two Niagara post offices, not even a mile apart, must have caused considerable confusion. And to make the situation more complex, the American postmaster arranged a place in the Canadian village of Newark or Niagara where American mail would be delivered or accepted under the charge of the British postmaster Joseph Edwards. The British post office ended with the burning of the village of Newark in 1813 and did not reopen until 1816 when a mail stage began to travel from York to Niagara.
During the War of 1812, when the British took control of Fort Niagara onDecember 19, 1813,that PO ceased to exist. A post office at Youngstown was opened in Jan 1815.
In the Buffalo directory of 1828 and subsequent directories is the following statement: The first mail received here was in March 1803, on horseback. It was conveyed from the east once in two weeks in this manner, until 1805 when a weekly route was then established and continued until 1809. In 1810 the mode of conveyance was changed and a stage wagon was used.
On March 26th 1804 Congress passed an act in relation to post routes that provided for the post route from Canandaigua to Fort Niagara to pass though Buffalo Creek. Since there was no road from Buffalo Creek to Fort Niagara, this new route required the post rider to cross the Niagara River on the ferry at Black Rock and travel north on the Canadian side of the river, then cross back again. Once a week a post rider came from Canandaigua to Buffalo Creek with a pair of saddlebags and the mail, and once a week returned from Fort Niagara.
By 1810 a road had been built from Buffalo to Fort Schlosser (Niagara Falls), which was the southern end of the Portage Road to Lewiston and Fort Niagara. Erastus Granger (second cousin of Postmaster General Gideon Granger) reached Buffalo Creek on horseback on the 30th of March 1804. On December the 9th 1803, before leaving Washington DC, he was confirmed by the US Senate as Surveyor of the Port at Buffalo Creek. He also agreed to establish a post office there and was soon commissioned (September 3, 1804) Postmaster at Buffalo Creek. He was also assigned as Indian agent and on December 20th 1805 was confirmed as collector of the Port of Buffalo Creek.
In early 1805 Erastus Granger was still residing for a period of time at Crows Tavern and opened the Buffalo Creek Post Office at that location. Crows Tavern was on Exchange Street (then Crows Street). Pitt Petrie believes the post office was opened in December 1804 and says post office receipts for the first 7 months totaled $11.84. A record of the receipts obtained from the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society show no receipts for the year 1804, but receipts of $90.83 for the year 1805. It is possible the December 1804 receipts are included in this figure.
In 1806 Erastus Granger bought land on Main Street near present day Forest Lawn Cemetery and built his home there. In September of that year he moved the post office to that location. The post office was then moved back to Main Street between Exchange and Seneca Streets into Vincent Grant’s store, in which Granger had become a partner.
The above cover is the earliest cover I have seen from this office and was manuscript postmarked May 5, 1805 at a triple rate of 60 cents. The cover is addressed to New York City and is datelined May 20, 1805 from Fort Erie, Ontario Canada. The cover is signed by Alexander Mac Donell and instructs the recipient to forward the enclosed at the earliest conveyance. On the bottom of the letter is written in a different handwriting “letter for the Earl of Selkirk forwd 5 June by packet.”
Not only is this a great find for the fact it is a very early Buffaloe Creek cover, but it was written by and sent to very prominent men. The cover was written in Fort Erie Canada and carried across the border to be posted in the US. It was written by Father Alexander Mac Donell a Scotsman who was the chaplain of the Glengarry Fencibles, a Scottish regiment in the British Army. When the regiment was disbanded Father Mac Donell appealed to the British government to grant a tract of land to its members. In 1804 the British government provided the members a 160,000 acre tract in Upper Canada. Father Mac Donell accompanied them to Canada and established churches, schools and organized the settlement. During the War of 1812 he raised another regiment for the defense of Canada, the Glengarry Light Infantry Fencibles. In 1826 Father Mac Donell was erected to Bishop of Upper Canada and later given the title of Apostle of Ontario.
The enclosure is written to the Earl of Selkirk, (Thomas Douglas 5th Earl of Selkirk) who was also a Scotsman. He became the earl in 1799 after the death of his father. He used his inherited wealth to settle poor Scottish farmers in Belfast, Prince Edward Island in 1803 and Upper Canada in 1804. He traveled extensively in North America and died bankrupt in 1820.
In1809 Oliver Forward came to Buffalo with his wife (Sally Granger) and became assistant postmaster and customs collector. They lived in the house at 102 Pearl Street just below Swan Street and the Buffalo Post Office was moved to that location. During the War of 1812 the post office at Buffalo was the most important in the newer west. The Postmaster general established a special system of postal routes known as Express Mail which consisted of a relay of post riders. One of the routes ran from Buffalo via Avon, Bath and Williamsport to Washington DC. This system was able to deliver mail from Washington to Buffalo in 4 1/2 days. A second Express route ran from Buffalo to Detroit and a third from Buffalo to Sacketts Harbor and Plattsburg. The Army of the Center also had express service to Buffalo. Civilian mail was carried on these express deliveries without any extra charge. The express service was discontinued on 1 February 1815.
On the 26th of September 1812 Caleb Hopkins signed a one year contract to carry mail between Buffalo and Erie PA 2X/week for $1,300.00.
On December 31, 1813 the British burned the village of Buffalo including the Forwards house and post office. For a while until the war scare was over the Post office was operated at Harris Hill and then moved to Grangers home “Flint Hill” on Main Street.
On 17 May 1814 a notice was posted in the Buffalo Gazette that the post office had been relocated to the new Grants store. Later that year Oliver Forward rebuilt and moved the post office back to Pearl Street.
On the 18th of April, 1814 Congress established a post route “from Sheldon, by Willink and Hamburg, to Buffalo” and it appears from books of the Post Office department that mail service, once in two weeks, leaving Sheldon every other Friday at 6 a.m. and arriving at Buffalo the next day at 10 a. m., and leaving Buffalo the same day at 12 p. m. and arriving at Sheldon the next day at 8 p. m.
Military Express sent June 1815 from Buffalo to Manchester (Niagara Falls) from Nathanal Sill, an employee of Porter & Barton Co. to Augustus Porter informing him of the return of the 10th Regiment and the need for their provisions.
On February 1, 1815 postal rates increased by 50%.
In 1815 the mail was carried from Buffalo to Erie once a week, leaving Buffalo on Saturday at 12 p.m. and arriving at Erie on Monday at 6 p.m. and leaving Erie on Tuesday at 6 a.m. and arriving at Buffalo Thursday by 10 a.m.
In 1816 the mail between Buffalo and Youngstown was carried twice a week, twelve hours being allowed for the trip either way.
On March31, 1816 – postal rates returned to1799 schedule.
On May 1, 1816– new first class postage rates for single sheet 1- 30 miles – 6cts, 31-80 miles – 10cts, 81-150 miles – 12 ½cts, 151-400 miles -18½cts, > 400 miles -25cts.
Black Rock Post Office 1/29/1817 -9/1/1869 discontinued, located on Niagara Street near West Ferry. Town of Black Rock absorbed by Buffalo in 1853. James Barton was postmaster 1817-1828, son of Benjamin Barton, Lewiston Postmaster.
Black Rock 1825 sent by James Barton Postmaster.
On the third of March 1817, a post route “from Moscow by the state road to Buffalo” and one “from Canandaigua, by Bristol, Richmond, Livonia and Genesee to Shelton” were established.
On May 6, 1818 Julius Guiteau became Buffalo Postmaster. Mr. Guiteau at first had the PO on Main Street opposite Stevenson’s livery stable, then took it to his drugstore Guiteau and Keese on the west side of Main Street about the middle of the block between Erie and Swan Streets. In 1829 the post office was relocated to 14 Ellicott Square corner of Main and South Division Streets to offices “which had been fitted up at no inconsiderable expense in a style equal, if not superior to any office in the country” as quoted by the Buffalo Patriot.
About the first of the year 1819 the post office at Buffalo was made a distributing office, and it has continued to be a distributing office ever since.
From 1820 to 1824 mail from NYC to Buffalo, Niagara and Erie left NYC to Albany, then Utica, to Canandaigua, to Buffalo, then north to Niagara and west to Erie. Thus mail leaving NYC on Monday would arrive at Buffalo on Sunday and Erie three days later.
On March 3, 1823 a post route was established “from Buffalo in Erie to Olean in the County of Cattaraugus passing through the towns of Boston, Concord and Ellicottville.”
On the July 14, 1824, the mail routes by which the Buffalo office is supplied, and the service thereon , were as follows; Canandaigua to Buffalo, three times a week, Niagara to Buffalo three times a week, Erie to Buffalo twice a week and Moscow to Buffalo once a week.
On April 25, 1831 Judge Samuel Russell became postmaster. The post office was kept in the same place (northwest corner of Ellicott Square) for a short period at the commencement of Judge Russell’s term of office. It was then removed to the northwest corner of Main and North Division Streets. After Judge Russell’s death his son Henry P Russell became postmaster on July 26, 1834 for a short time until Orange H Dibble became postmaster on 28 August, 1834.
During the period 1830 to 1845 the postal system adopted transportation by steamboat and railroad. Steamboat transportation was used on Lake Erie during navigation season. Between 1829 and 1851 the Buffalo PO used four different Steamboat markings on mail. Steamboat markings were applied to letters that were transported by a steamboat outside of closed mail sacks. When a letter was handed to steamboat employee for transport the receiving person was required to hand the letter in at the first PO on his route. The letter was then marked as such to show how it was received. The steamboat employee was paid 2cts/letter or 1cts/letter on Lake Erie.
Cover from Detroit to Albany September 1850. Cover was carried by a non contracted steamboat to Buffalo where it was deposited at the Buffalo post Office and the boat was paid 1ct. The Buffalo Post office postmarked it with a rate of 10cts. and applied the Steamboat marking to show how it was obtained. It was then carried overland to Albany.
On the 15th of June 1832 a post route was established “from Buffalo, Erie County, by aurora, Wales, Holland, Sardinia, china, Fredonia, Caneadea and Belfast to Angelica in Allegany County”.
By act of July 7, 1838 all railroads then existing (in which the Buffalo and Niagara Falls Railroad must be included), or thereafter to be completed in the United States, were declared post roads, and the Postmaster General was thereby authorized, under certain restrictions, to contract carrying the mails thereon.
On August 28, 1834 Col Orange H Dibble becomes Buffalo postmaster. The post office was removed by Mr. Dibble about 1837 to the Old Baptist Church then standing at Seneca and Washington Streets. The first floor was fitted up for public use with four stores provided. The second floor became the post office and was entered by a long flight of stairs. The third floor being used for offices. The building was used as a post office for several years; the post office then was removed to the northwest corner of Washington and Seneca Streets until 1858 when the new federal building was built on the site of the old Baptist Church. (BME 20 Dec 1885)
The USPO operated a second form of Express Mail from 1836 – 39, a fast mail service was operated from New Orleans to as far north as Boston with a branch going to St. Louis. While the charge for a single letter by regular mail was 25cts, the charge for this Express Mail service was 75cts for a single letter. The most popular route for Express Mail was from New Orleans to New York.
This mail was carried day and night by special riders and was in reality a “pony express” although that term was not applied to it. It was authorized by an Act of Congress in July 1836, and the mail carried between New Orleans and New York was marked “Express Mail”. There were other routes established in 1837; Columbia S.C. to Charleston; Cincinnati to Montgomery Ala.; Dayton to St. Louis and Washington to Cincinnati.
Eleysville Post Office (Main Street near University)7/29/1840 - 7/23/1849 - Changed to Buffalo Plains.
On October 12, 1841 Charles C Haddock becomes postmaster. He removed the post office to a new building at the northwest corner of Washington and Seneca Streets. This building served as the post office until the new federal building was completed in 1858 at the northeast corner of Seneca and Washington Streets.
Independent carriersof express and mailbegins in Buffalo with;
Pomeroy & Co 1841-1844
Pomeroy’s Letter Express May 1, 1844 – August 1844
Hawley & Co 1842-1844?
Miller & Co 1843 - 1844?
Livingston, Wells and Pomeroy April 27, 1844 – April 9, 1845
Livingston Wells & Co. April 9, 1845 – November 9 1847
Wells & Co Express February 23, 1844 – March 18, 1850
Wells Letter Express July 12, 1844 – November 11, 1844
George E Pomeroy founded Pomeroy & Co. Express in the spring of 1841 and advertised an express service operating between Buffalo and Albany to handle small packages, samples and bank notes to begin on July 28, 1841. Henry Wells and Crawford Livingston joined in the fall of 1841. Henry Wells had left Harnden’s Company to become a messenger and partner with Pomeroy. In 1842William Fargo became a messenger, and then in1843an agent for Pomeroy & Co. at Buffalo. Pomeroy attempted, without success, to secure a post office contract to handle the mails. By August 17, 1842 the service was extended to NYC with the addition of mail matter on a bi-weekly schedule. By spring 1844 competition along the NYC – Albany – Buffalo route was eliminated. Pomeroy had now connecting service with Wells & Co. Western Express for points west of Buffalo , Smead’s Canada Express for points north of Rochester, Thompson & Co. Eastern Express to Boston and Virgil & Co. from Troy to Montreal.
On April 27, 1844 Pomeroy & Co. was dissolved and succeeded by Livingston, Wells & Pomeroy. Although George Pomeroy maintained an interest in the firm, legally the partners were Crawford Livingston, Henry Wells and Thaddeus Pomeroy. George Pomeroy left Pomeroy & Co.to shield itagainst lawsuits brought on by the government for handling mail. George Pomeroy began Pomeroy’s Letter Express on May 1, 1844 to handle mail between Buffalo and NYC. The cost was 6 1/4 cents /stamp or 20 stamps for $1.00. The government had brought suit against Pomeroy’s Letter Express, but the company won the court case in July 1844. The government then pressured the stage lines and railroads to discontinue handling independent carrier mail. Without stage and railroad transportation Pomeroy’s Letter Express was discontinued in August 1844 with covers known as late as 16 Sep 1844. On April 9, 1845 Thaddeus Pomeroy withdrew from Livingston, Wells & Pomeroy and it became Livingston, Wells & Co. Crawford Livingston died in 1847 and on November 9, 1847 it became Wells & Co. In the meantime Butterfield and Wasson began competing with Wells on the NYC to Buffalo route and in 1849 they received an exclusive contract with the New York Central RR shutting Wells out. Wells & Co, Butterfield Wasson and Livingston & Fargo became American Express on March 18, 1850.
On February 23, 1844 Henry Wells, William Fargo and Dan Dunning formed Wells & Co. Western Express, the express operated west of Buffalo to Cleveland, Detroit, Cincinnati, Saint Louis and Chicago. The express service took over the routes previously controlled by Hawley & Co. and Miller & Co. The mail carrying portion was separated from the express business and was called Letter Express. Advertisements began to appear July 12, 1844 announcing service by Pomeroy’s Express to points west for 12 1/2 cents or two stamps. Letter Express adhesives were issued and are recorded primarily on mail from points west of Buffalo to the east. Letter Express ceased operations around November 11, 1844. The post office could not interfere with Letter Express to the extent it had with Pomeroys Express because Letter Express could avoid using steamship lines with mail carrying contracts. However, at the close of navigation season, when stage lines had to be used, it was necessary to give up the Letter Express in order to use
the stage lines with government mail contracts for carriage of their regular express business. The latest recorded usage is November 29, 1844. In 1846 Henry Wells sold his interest in Western Express to William Livingston and the Company became Livingston & Fargo. Henry Wells had joined Crawford Livingston in NYC and formed Livingston & Wells.
Top cover carried by Pomeroys (Letter) Express July 23, 1844 Buffalo to NYC, then turned over to Boyds City Express Post.
Bottom cover carried by Wells & Cos Express May 1849 Buffalo to NYC.
On March 18, 1850 a group of businessmen met at the Mansion House in Buffalo to form an association. They were Henry Wells, Johnston Livingston, John Butterfield, James Wasson, W.A. Livingston, William Fargo and James McKay. Out of this meeting would be born American Express. Two more years later in 1852 Wells and Fargo presented an idea to expand American Express to California but the idea was turned down. Henry Wells and William Fargo secured financing and started Wells Fargo & Co.
Local carriers that operated in Buffalo;
Cutting’s Despatch Post 1845-1848
Spaulding’s Penny Post 1847 – 1849
Hinwood & Co Despatch 1849 - ?
City Despatch office 1850/1 - ?
On May 1, 1845 Thomas S. Cutting opened on the eastside of Washington Street between Swan and Seneca Streets an “Intelligence Office and General Office”. Through this office he offered a variety of services to include the sale and renting of houses, collection of rents, procuring of help – particularly domestics, sale of stocks, agent for public singers and others and the delivery of mail within the city. By January 16, 1847 he was advertising the establishment of a “Despatch Post” for delivery of letters and parcels to any part of the city. Later he began using the term “Penny post”.
Enos Wilder Spaulding opened his “Spaulding’s Penny Post” on July 4, 1847. Spaulding installed collection boxes at hotels and later at different parts of the city. On June 1, 1848 he announced the purchase of Cutting’s Despatch Post. Spaulding left the business in October 1849 when he moved to NYC.
EW Spaulding, 4 Seneca St, mail delivery within city limits – 50c/ quarter – 2c/ letter)
Spaulding’s business was taken over by William Hinwood & Frederick Robinson and continued under the name Hinwood’s & Co Dispatch. It appears to have lasted but a short time as the 1850/1 city directory only lists Fred W. Robinson, City Dispatch office and then no further mention of either.
Cuttings Despatch Post
The third form of US Express Mail began 20 July 1842 on the Albany-Buffalo and NYC route to compete with the independents. Railroads were used for this service. At that time the rail line from Albany went as far as Attica with the last 31 miles completed on 24 Nov 1842 and the opening of the Buffalo and Attica line on January 8, 1843. In 1851 the Hudson River Road was completed to NYC and the Buffalo and State Line completed to Pennsylvania in 1852.
In 1843 as the last link of railroads was completed between Albany to Buffalo, there was then, or soon after, continuous mail transportation by rail from Boston through Worchester, Springfield and Albany to Buffalo. The completion of the Hudson River RR in 1851 gave direct RR communication with NYC, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington DC.
The early government mail system did not consist of the home delivery that we take for granted today. Mail was delivered from post office to post office and the fees charged for delivery service were high. Both the lower postal fees enacted in 1845 and 1851 and free home delivery was brought about by competition with private enterprise. The independent and local carriers were responsible for this competition.