Map of the Islands taken from the Wilkes Expedition (1841):
- At the upper is the island of Kauai with its principal
harbors being Waimea and
Koloa on the south coast,
Nawiliwili on the east coast and
Hanalei on the north coast. Just to the left of
Kauai is the small island of Niihau, privately owned.
- The first major island east southeast of Kauai is
Oahu, on which the principal city and harbor of
Honolulu is located on the south coast.
- To the right of Oahu is a cluster of islands, the largest of which is
Maui, and also including
Molokai, Lanai and
uninhabited Kahoolawe. Lanai lies just to the west of Maui and Molokai is just to the
north of Lanai. On Maui are the principal towns of
Wailuku and Kahului
and the landings at Lahaina,
- Farthest south and east is the large island of Hawaii,
with more land mass than all of the other islands combined. Hawaii frequently was
(and is) known simply as "The Big Island." Hilo
was the principal town on Hawaii and the harbors of
Hilo were the main landings.
Mahukona, a bit to the north of Kawaihae, eclipsed
Kawaihae in the 1880's when Mahukona became the terminus of a railroad. The
southern landing at Punaluu was popular with
visitors traveling to see Kilauea Volcano.
See other maps at Maps of Hawaii.
Beginning with the 1846 Organic Acts, vessels engaged in the inter-island, or "coasting,"
trade in Hawaii were required by law to carry free of charge such inter-island mail as
was given to them by a customs collector. In 1865, coasting vessels were directed to
keep letter bags open on board in prominent locations. Ships masters and pursers were
made involuntary and unpaid mail agents. As steamers emerged to carry the bulk of the
mail, subsidies were granted to encourage steamer traffic. Steamers also were required
to carry the mail at no charge.
Click here for details of inter-island routes, vessels and
steamship companies and covers evidencing inter-island routes.
OVERLAND MAIL ROUTES
Starting in 1856, funding for overland routes enabled Henry Whitney and local
postmasters on the major islands of Kauai, Maui and Hawaii to pay for overland
transportation of mail. Mail routes designed by Whitney were announced for Kauai, Oahu
and Maui in January, 1856. For Hawaii, routes were announced in May of that year.
Overland routes brought direct mail service to many remote parts of the islands.
Carriers traveled by foot along some of the lengthy routes and even took to the water
in canoes in one or two places. The overland carriers' sometimes Herculean task is
told in an account of the carrier's haggard appearance at Waimea after struggling on
foot with nearly 100 pounds of mail along the lengthy Hilo to Kawaihae trail on Hawaii
and in another story about the carrier on the Napali Coast of Kauai bringing mail wrapped in
banana and taro leaves through the treacherous wet stretch from Kalalau Valley. Where
possible, routes were traveled on horseback. Carriage roads were developed in a few
places in the 1870's. As Hawaii experienced the benefits of an expanding economy and
population in the late 1870's and during the 1880's, overland routes were extended and
road improvements made traveling easier. Railroads entered the picture in the early
1880's when the Hawaiian Railroad was opened on the Big Island and the Kahului Railroad
began operation on Maui.
Click here for more detail on the Overland Routes.
COUNTRY POST OFFICES
Postoffices outside of Honolulu frequently were called the "country" post offices.
With the Organic Acts of 1846, customs collectors at various ports were assigned
responsibility for receiving and dispatching mail. No additional remuneration
accompanied these new duties and they took second place to the more important work of
collecting port charges and duties. Further, only primitive and irregular means
existed to support dispatching mail from one place to another. The absence of reliable
attention to the mails and the lack of any mandate to use the customs collectors
exclusively meant anyone who knew better sent their mail privately.
In the 1850's post offices emerged as operations distinct from the customs offices.
Lahaina on Maui was listed as a post office in 1851. On the Big Island, Hilo and Kawaihae had
post offices in 1854. Waimea, Koloa and Hanalei were opened as post offices on Kauai
Until August, 1859, Hawaiian domestic mail was free and regulations covering the nature
of mailable matter were loose so postmasters and letter carriers frequently were called
upon to handle boxes of fruit, hats and packages of almost any kind. Also, until
August, 1859, mail could be handled privately. When the domestic postage rate was
imposed in August, 1859, greater control over what could be mailed began to occur and
people could no longer carry unstamped letters from town to town.
Local postmasters served either gratuitously or had their postal duties coupled with
some other paying government job. Store keepers and missionaries frequently accepted
the responsibility. Store keepers thus attracted a certain level of guaranteed traffic
to their establishment and missionaries used the service to reach out to their flocks
and potential converts. Until 1865, local postmasters were allowed to send foreign
mail without being charged the Hawaiian 5¢ foreign mail rate and, after August, 1859,
were allowed to send domestic mail free. The free frank privilege ended in 1865.
As time passed into the late 1870's, country offices proliferated and the postmasters
were held to a higher standard of accountability (and often were paid a small stipend
for their work) but in most country offices, the post office was an adjunct of some
other commercial enterprise, usually a local store or plantation office.
Details of the country offices are described under the specific island headings in