Datelined October 24, 1837 and sent from Honolulu, Oahu, to Lahaina, Maui by Mrs.
Samuel Castle to the future Mrs. Lorenzo Lyons and hand carried by Rev. Andrews.
Early Domestic Mail
Oral messages delivered by specially skilled messengers were the earliest form of
domestic "mail" before Westerners began to settle in the Islands. Early settlers
communicated in writing with others in neighboring towns or on other islands by
having friends carry messages. Inter-island schooners, whale ships and trading
ships were the principal means of travel from one island to another. Missionaries,
harbor masters, customs collectors, store keepers and ship chandlers accepted mail
for deposit and forwarded letters as opportunities to do so arose. The system
depended on people with good intentions handling mail on an informal, voluntary
basis. Unless a letter was carried directly by a trusted friend, it stood a good
chance of being lost or forgotten.
Organic Act of 1846
An initial effort to give stability to transmitting domestic mail was written into
the Organic Laws of 1846. That law required customs collectors in the port towns
where they were established to act as postmasters. Ports with customs collectors
were Honolulu, Hilo and Lahaina. By 1850, customs collectors were also established
on Hawaii at Kawaihae and Kealakekua and on Kauai at Waimea. Customs collectors
were directed to list letters they received, post the list so people could see it
and claim their mail and to "facilitate, by all means in their power, the speedy and
safe transmission of the letters, packages and papers by them received for persons
residing at a distance from their respective post offices." For their effort,
customs collectors were to receive 6¢ for each letter "transmitted in the government
mail bag from one post office to another." Moreover, each transit office was to
collect another 6¢. If a letter weighed more than an ounce, it was to be charged
25¢ "for each successive transmission." Letters received from abroad were to be
charged 6¢ if the addressee was at the port of entry, or 12¢ if the addressee was
somewhere else. This law was of little or no use because customs collectors had
little "power" to transmit anything and individuals still lacked trust in the
official delivery system. The exorbitant postage rates fixed in 1846 were never
charged in fact. In September, 1848, the Polynesian (the government's own newspaper)
noted "Our citizens are willing to pay postage on letters and they have a right to
demand the reform of the present loose system."
Honolulu Post Office
Establishment of a Post Office at Honolulu on December 21, 1850, did little at first
to improve how domestic mail was conveyed. Initial acts creating the Honolulu Post
Office addressed only the handling of mail between the Honolulu post office and
ships bound to a foreign port. However, by 1851, Honolulu's first postmaster, Henry
Whitney, began to put his attention to developing mail routes through the islands
and appointing postmasters at its principal country towns. Still, Whitney was merely
the Postmaster of Honolulu and there was no central authority for operating a postal
system beyond Honolulu. Customs collectors continued to be responsible ex-officio
postmasters but their work as such was secondary to their principal job of
collecting duties on whale oil, whale bone and other freight being landed or
transshipped at their port. In 1853, Whitney complained about the inter-island mail
system: "The mail communications between the several islands, by means of the small
native schooners, is so irregular as to be a matter of complaint and annoyance to
those residing on the other islands; but there is little or no chance of improvement
until some more regular inter-island conveyance is established."
Establishment of the First Country Offices
Country offices as they were called then were the post offices outside Honolulu.
Sometime before October, 1851, G. D. Gower was appointed postmaster at Lahaina and
that fact was reported in the Interior Minister's March, 1852, report. Stamps were
available for sale at the Lahaina post office in October, 1851. By December 31,
1852, there were eight "branch post offices." These offices were at Lahaina (C. S.
Bartow), Hilo (Benjamin Pitman), Kawaihae (George S. Kenway), Kealakekua (Preston
Cummings), Nawiliwili (Judge Wideman), Koloa (Dr. Smith), Hanalei (Abner Wilcox) and
Waimea (Paul Isenberg). The last four offices were on Kauai. The three postmasters
on Hawaii (Hilo, Kawaihae and Kealakekua) were also customs collectors but with
direct reporting responsibility to Whitney for postal affairs. The four Kauai
postmasters (Nawiliwili, Koloa, Waimea and Hanalei) and Bartow at Lahaina were
appointed part time postmasters. On August 22, 1854, three more post offices were
established on Maui (Wailuku under E. Bailey, Makawao under A. H. Spencer and
Ulupalakua under James Torbert).
Subsequent Development of the Domestic Mail System
From these beginnings, Hawaii's postal service continued to grow, albeit with some
contractions when economic conditions sagged and the population dwindled, to a well
organized and respected system. To delve further into Hawaii's domestic mail
Postal markings of Hawaii, including the town postmarks and cancels, are addressed
in Postal Markings.