This page last updated: 19 April 2008

::: PRE-POSTAL MAIL - Via Mexico :::

Back to Pre-Postal Mail.

Via Mexico map

Chart showing the sea and overland route via Mexico. Sending mail overland across Mexico was an opportunity discovered by residents of Hawaii in the late 1820's.

Spare use was made of this route until the early 1840's, owing largely to the unsettled political situation usually prevailing in Mexico. Santa Anna gave the country a degree of stability between 1841 and 1845, and in this period we see the heaviest use of this route. The high cost of postage (50˘ for the Mexican transit alone, plus charges for transportation and forwarding) was another deterrent to use of this route for mail for more than urgent commercial purposes. California residents also used the Mexican Route for their mail and some of the best information about details of this route is found in their communications, particularly the letters of Thomas O. Larkin (see the Bibliography at the end of this page). Monterey, the capital of Alta California, was a frequent stop-over for trips traveling from Hawaii to the Mexican Coast and several recorded "via Mexico" covers were transshipped at Monterey and forwarded to Mexico. [See Via California and Mexico Covers]. By 1845, the Mexican Route was being used extensively by Hawaiian residents. For example, the bark Eleanor Chapman left Honolulu on February 19, 1845, with over forty pounds of mail for America and Europe to go by Mexico. Travelers desiring a quick trip to the East also used this route.

Mazatlan and San Blas on the northern Pacific Coast of Mexico were the major ports where ships stopped. Mail arriving at Mazatlan was typically carried by the Mexican post office mule teams to Vera Cruz, Mexico's major Gulf of Mexico port, an overland journey of about 950 miles. At Vera Cruz, letters were put aboard one of several sailing packets operating between Vera Cruz and New Orleans, Mobile, Pensacola or New York. If a letter was sent to New Orleans it was carried on the Great Southern Route by steam packet to Mobile, post coach to Atlanta and a combination of rail and steam packet to New York. A letter sent to Pensacola would go by post coach to Atlanta. Transit times from Honolulu to New Orleans are recorded as short as fifty-seven days and as long as one hundred fifty-six days. A usual trip from the Gulf to the North-East would take about nine days – most letters taking about one hundred days to go from Honolulu to the North-East via Mexico and New Orleans. Transit times between Honolulu and New York by this Route are recorded from one hundred days to one-hundred and ninety-four days – most letters made the trip in about 110 days. The wide variation in transit times was due principally to dependence on unscheduled trading vessels for transportation in the Pacific. Still, compared to the Cape Horn Route where a letter would be expected to take about six months to reach New England, the "via Mexico" Route was swifter for all but the slowest of transits.

When war broke out between Mexico and the United States in 1846, this route virtually stopped. Although Hawaii was neutral, the disturbances in Mexico were such that people viewed it as an unreliable way to send letters - and based on newspaper accounts of unrestrained highwaymen robbing and killing travelers, they were right. A few correspondents hazarded to send correspondence by this route even during the war, hiding their letters in the British Consular mail bags sent from Honolulu to London. The Consular bags entered Mexico on British ships and crossed Mexico under the protection of the still functioning British Consular office's postal agency. Once in the West Indies, the private letters for New England were mailed by whatever ships were available. One such letter took thirteen months to be delivered in Boston – well after duplicates reached there via Cape Horn.

Once fighting ceased in the latter part of 1847, use of the route resumed until the quicker and more reliable steamer route via Panama and San Francisco went into operation in 1849.

42 - Jun 11 Hunnewell via Mexico with Scarborough

Datelined Oahu, June 11, 1842, by Peirce and Brewer to James Hunnewell of Boston. Hunnewell was a founder of the Peirce and Brewer business in Honolulu when he spent a few months there in 1817. The letter was carried to Mazatlan on the schooner Shaw, departing Lahaina on June 18, and delivered to the firm of W. Scarborough, whose oval forwarder handstamp was applied. The letter was carried overland to Vera Cruz outside the mail and sent by packet to New Orleans where it was postmarked and stamped with a blue "SHIP" and rated 27˘ in manuscript for the 25˘ zone rate for carrying the letter beyond 400 miles plus the 2˘ ship fee. The recipient noted its arrival in Boston on September 22, 1842, a three month trip instead of the six months usually required for a letter to reach New England via Cape Horn.

42 - Jun 11 Scarborough

Scarborough oval forwarding mark

43 - Nov 2 Hunnewell via Mexico - docket

Datelined at Honolulu on November 4, 1843 by Jules Dudoit and addressed to Hunnewell in Boston instructing Hunnewell to purchase insurance on Dudoit's brig Clementine, about to engage in a pearl "shelling" voyage to Gambier's Island. This letter was taken on the USS Cyane, departing Honolulu November 6 for Monterey in Alta California and thence to Mazatlan. The existence of a Mexican postmark suggests it was entered into the Mexican mail at Mazatlan and carried to Vera Cruz, where it was put aboard the packet for New York, arriving May 3, 1844. The boxed Vera Cruz mark is dated March 21. At New York, the letter was rated 20˝˘ in manuscript for the zone rate between 151 and 400 miles. Dudoit was the French consul at Honolulu.

44 - Mar 21 to Hunewell, Boston - boxed Vera Cruz

Boxed Vera Cruz postmark

45 - Sep 6 To Copenhagen via Mexico opened

Datelined at Honolulu, September 6, 1845, addressed to Holm & Sons, Copenhagen, care of C. J. Hambro, London and sent via Mexico, departing Honolulu on the brig Prince Albert for Mazatlan, departing Honolulu September 6. The presence of a Mexican postmark suggests the letter was sent from Mazatlan to Vera Cruz in the Mexican mail, postage paid and stamped "Franqueado" (Paid) at Vera Cruz on December 15. This letter was a long time in transit to Vera Cruz, a comment to the instability of the country following a revolution in which Santa Anna was deposed. The letter was delivered to the British postal agency connected to the British Consulate at Vera Cruz and received the postal agency postmark on January 1, probably the sailing date from Vera Cruz for the Royal Mail Steam Packet for London via Havana. At London, the letter was stamped February 10 (and manuscript rating marks applied - they were obliterated by pen and are difficult to read- the packet rate was 1 shilling, but the rates applied on this cover appear to be different) and forwarded to Copenhagen where it was received on February 17, 1846.

45 - Sep 6 To Copenhagen via Mexico - back
46 - Jan 1 Vera Cruz cds British
45 - Sep 6 To Copenhagen via Mexico - London

Backstamps on the cover to Copenhagen: From the left, the Mexican Vera Cruz Franqueado (Paid) mark dated December 15, the British consular stamp dated January 1 and the London postmark dated February 10.

42 - Dec 6 Inward via Mexico

An inbound folded letter to Hawaii from Sophronia B. Robinson at Bridgeport, Conn. datelined December 6, 1842. It is addressed to Rev. Dwight Baldwin at Lahaina and was received by him on July 8, 1843, and noted "by way of Mazatlan." The letter directs that it be sent "Via New York & Vera Cruz Packets" (probably a reference to the Hargous Bros. & Co. New York - Vera Cruz Line) and is addressed to Rev. Baldwin "care of Missionary Sandwich Islds. W. W. Scarborough, Puerto etc. [?] Mazatlan, Mexico." It received a boxed Vera Cruz handstamp dated April 24, and was rated 4 reales (the equivalent of 50˘) indicating it was delivered to the Mexican post office to be transported to Mazatlan. Hawaii covers exhibiting the Mexican rate are rare. This cover also is unusual because it is personal rather than commercial correspondence.

43 - Apr 24 Inward via Mexico - Vera Cruz box detail

Boxed Vera Cruz postmark

A List of the Recorded Covers by Way of the Mexico Route


  • Cutler, Carl C., Queens Of The Western Ocean, United States Naval Institute, Annapolis, Maryland, 1967. Commencing at page 400 is a list of packet services operating between New York and Mexico in the period when the Mexico Route was most used. Information about packets operating between Mexican ports and New Orleans or Pensacola is also found in this book. It is the best source I have seen on transit means for Hawaiian letters to and from the East Coast of Mexico and the United States.

  • Greenberg, Jack, ”From Padres to Wagon Wheels", Part III, Western Express, January, 1983.

  • Hammond, George P., Larkin Papers, University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1953.

  • Polland, W. Scott, "Mail Routes to California Before the Gold Rush", Western Express, July, 1964.

  • Reynolds, Stephen, The Friend, May 1, 1844; R.C. Wyllie, The Friend, Vol. II, No. VII, p. 63, July 1, 1844, reprinted as "Notes" at The Polynesian, July 6, 1844.

  • Schimmer, Karl H. and Heath, John M., Mexican Maritime Mail, James Bendon, Ltd., Limassol, Cyprus, 1997.

  • Westerberg, J.F., "Hawaii -- Overland Mail Via Mexico 1842-46", Collectors Club Philatelist, Vol. XXXIV, No. 1, p. 3-16, 43, Jan., 1955; reprinted (without end notes ) at Covers, Vol. XV, No. 8, p. 16-21, Aug., 1955. A pioneering research effort and essential piece for the Via Mexico route.

Back to Pre-Postal Mail.

Copyright © 1999 - 2008 POST OFFICE IN PARADISE. All rights reserved.