This page last updated: 10 November 2000

Map of Islands Wilkes

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 Lahaina, Wailuku and Kahului and the landings at Lahaina, Maalaea Bay and Kahului.

  • 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 Kawaihae and 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.


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.


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 in 1856.

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. See Rates.

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 Town Postmarks.

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