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Local & Inter-island Mail

Hono 24Oct37

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 system, see:

Postal markings of Hawaii, including the town postmarks and cancels, are addressed in Postal Markings.

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