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Via Panama Direct

Chart showing the route via Panama before 1849.

Panama offered the shortest land route from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Starting in 1849, almost all correspondence between Hawaii and the Eastern United States or Europe traveled across the Panama Isthmus. That route via San Francisco is covered on another page. Before 1849, occasional use was made of the Panama transit. Of the only three covers identified as going via Panama before 1849, two were in 1847, when the route through Mexico was usually blocked.

Mail arriving at the port of Panama on the Pacific coast was taken by mule to the top of the cordillera and then by river boat to Chagres, the port city on the Caribbean Coast. How mail was handled from Chagres to the United States is unclear. The Royal Mail Steam Packet extended a line to Chagres in 1846. Some connections to New York must have existed, perhaps from Havana. On the Pacific side, the Pacific Steam Navigation Line connected Panama City with Valparaiso and intermediate ports. However, the Hawaiian letters are thought to have been taken directly to Panama City.

Oct 6 by Georgian

Datelined Kailua, October 6, 1847. The letter begins "I have just learned that an opportunity presents to send letters via Panama." At the top right corner is a notation "Via Panama By Georgian." The Georgia was listed as sailing for New London on October 5 (arriving there May 5, 1848) and the ship Georgian sailed November 9 for Valparaiso and Tahiti. My guess is this letter went by the Georgian. The Georgian returned to Honolulu July 11 from Tahiti. I suspect the Georgian made the trip to Valparaiso going by Panama and returned from Valparaiso, going by Tahiti. The letter entered the United States mail at Newport, Rhode Island and was postmarked there on March 11, 1848 (proving a faster transit than was possible around the Cape by the whale ship Georgia) and also was rated "12" for the 10 zone rate then in effect to carry a letter beyond 300 miles, plus the 2 ship fee. How the letter was taken from Chagres to Newport is unknown.

BIBLIOGRAPHY


  • Kenton, Phil, Crossroads At Panama, Rossiter Postal History Journal, Vol. 1, 2000, The Stuart Rossiter Trust Fund, Bristol, UK.

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