This page last updated: 4 November 2016


JUNE 2, 1898 TO JUNE 13, 1900

FO mark Hono 9Jun98

When American troops en route to the Philippines during the Spanish American War arrived at Honolulu on June 2, 1898, the town threw open its doors and welcomed them with open arms. From this point forward, American troops were present in Hawaii. Their letters home formed a distinctive postal history until June 13, 1900, when Hawaii's postal system merged into the United States Postal Service.


Expedition followed expedition full of volunteer infantrymen from various state militias as well as regular Army Infantry. Hawaii had been seeking annexation to the United States since 1893 but the American Senate stubbornly resisted. With Hawaii now a strategic re-coaling station in the mid-Pacific, the Senate finally was turned in favor of the idea and a treaty of annexation was signed. Formal annexation ceremonies were held in Honolulu on August 12, 1898, and the stars and stripes were raised above Hawaii. Mail from soldiers up to the date of annexation forms the First Period of Soldier Mail. Click here for a study of First Period Soldier Mail.


Two days after the annexation ceremony, troops of the New York Infantry Volunteers arrived at Honolulu to establish a garrison. Manila fell August 12 and Spain relinquished the Philippines to the United States. But in early 1899, American troops began fighting a guerrilla war against the Philippine Insurgents, a war that lasted into 1902. Garrison troops and soldiers on troop ships bound for Manila continued to send their mail home. Mail from soldiers in Hawaii up to June 13, 1900 form the Second Period of Soldier Mail. Once the Territory of Hawaii government commenced, the United States domestic 2 rate applied to Hawaii and soldier mail became indistinguishable.

For almost two years following annexation the United States Congress debated terms of the Organic Laws to govern Hawaii. Meanwhile, Hawaii's existing internal governance structure was left in place, including its postal system. Hawaii remained a member of the Universal Postal Union and postage rates between Hawaii and the mainland United States remained unchanged. Thus, a letter still cost 5 per half ounce, prepaid in Hawaiian (not United States) stamps, although domestic United States postage was only 2 per half ounce. Unpaid or underpaid letters were taxed double the deficiency to the addressee. With annexation soldier mail came under special regulations promulgated by the United States. Specifically, a soldier could send a letter home for only 2 per half ounce, prepaid with either United States or Hawaiian stamps or collect, so long as it was properly endorsed as a soldier letter and signed by a staff officer, surgeon or chaplain. Letters could be sent collect or underpaid and recipients of soldier letters were taxed only the exact amount of unpaid postage. A proper endorsement was not always necessary for soldier mail from Hawaii, as will be seen. However, the 2 letter rate makes soldier mail distinctive until June 13, 1900.

Much soldier mail of the second period was sent by garrison soldiers. Initial contingents of the New York Infantry Volunteers and the U. S. Volunteer Engineers arrived on August 14, 1898, to establish a garrison at Honolulu. Click here for a study of garrison mail.

Mail from troops en route to Manila or from sailors aboard naval ships on station at Honolulu or passing by make up the balance of the soldier mail in the second period. Click here for Spanish American War Soldier Mail Naval Markings.


Newspaper Wrappers

Scott 75 wrapper

Newspaper wrapper franked with a 2 Hawaiian brown (Scott No. 75). A member of the fourth expedition on board St. Paul sent this paper home. It was left before annexation, but mailed afterward. There was no special rate applicable to newspapers sent by soldiers so they were charged at the ordinary UPU rate of 2.

YMCA Corner Cards

Y.M.C.A. support for soldiers passing through or garrisoned at Honolulu was evident in the variety of corner cards on envelopes furnished the troops. Some examples:

YMCA - 1
YMCA - 2

July 6, 1898

August 4, 1898

YMCA - 3
YMCA - 4

September 3, 1898

September 22, 1898

YMCA - 5
YMCA - 6

December 4, 1899

Letterhead of stationery; September 29, 1898 at Camp Otis

Advertising cover

HawHot 7Nov99

Postmarked November 7, 1899 (on the front) this advertising cover for the Hawaiian Hotel in Honolulu shows on the back of a soldier letter from an officer en route to Manila.

Boys in Blue Post Cards

Hilo 4Dec98 BIB pc
Hilo 4Dec98 BIB pc - back

Front and back of a Boys in Blue post card postmarked at Hilo on December 2, 1898 and at Honolulu on December 4, this post card shows the soldiers milling about the Iolani Palace in Honolulu. This card was sent from a tourist rather than from a soldier because the Camp Waiakea troops left Hilo in late November, 1898.

Fumigated Mail

Hono 27Apr00 fum

Postmarked April 27, 1900 at Honolulu, this cover shows slits in the corners, made to let fumigation gas into the envelope. Plague first hit Honolulu in December, 1899. Initial steps to quarantine Honolulu were lifted when it appeared the danger passed. In January, the plague was back with a vengeance. Troops of the 6th Artillery participated in enforcing the quarantine in the infected areas of city, particularly in Chinatown. Where a plague case was found, the house and sometimes a whole city block was burned. One day in January, an attempt to burn one block blew out of control and large areas of Honolulu burned. During the plague quarantine, troop and supply ships bound for Manila diverted to Hilo or simply passed Hawaii altogether. Regular steamers stopping at Honolulu were required to stand off the wharf to land or receive mail, passengers and goods. Baggage and outgoing mail had to be fumigated and passengers had to pass a period of quarantine. After a month without a new case of plague, the quarantine was lifted on April 30, 1900 and mail fumigation no longer was required. People nonetheless continued to slit their envelopes in case another case of plague was discovered and quarantine re-imposed before the letter was away on a ship.

Mainland Postmarks

Mainland transit marks found on soldier mail will tell whether the ship was sent to San Francisco or Puget Sound. Even mail bound for San Francisco sometimes got put aboard a steamer bound for Tacoma, Washington or Vancouver, British Columbia. Here are examples of some mainland transit marks:

San Francisco

SF cds 2Dec99 sold
SF machine - 2 - 15Aug98

Circle Date Stamp, December 2, 1899

Machine cancel, wave with "2"
August 15, 1898

SF strgt machine - 1- 23Feb99
SF strgt machine - 3- 11Dec99

Machine cancel, straight line with "1"
February 23, 1899

Machine cancel, straight line with "3"
December 11, 1899

Tacoma, Washington

Vancouver, British Columbia

Tacoma - 1
Vanc cds 3Nov98

July 15, 1898

November 3, 1898

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