Adams County was established by an act of the Illinois legislature on January 18, 1825. Later that year the site near cabin of John Woods was chosen as the county seat.
The Quincy post office was officially established on March 15, 1826 with the appointment of Henry H. Snow as the first postmaster. The mail was kept in a pine box in the cabin of John Wood, making his cabin the first site of the Quincy post office. Five years after Snow was appointed postmaster, Robert Tillson became the second postmaster of Quincy on May 10, 1831. He remained postmaster until 1843.
Tillson went into partnership with Charles Holmes in 1828 to establish a mercantile business located on the north side of the public square. The following year they erected a frame building on the northwest corner of Fourth and Maine known as the Tillson-Holmes store. That building was the post office while Tillson was postmaster. The corner became known as “the old post office corner”.
We complain about the cost of postage continuing to increase in recent years. But the cost of mailing a letter in the first half of the 18th century was expensive. When the Quincy post office was established, the basic postal rates were those established by an Act of Congress dated February 1, 1816 (with a slight modification of one of the rates in 1825). These same rates continued in effect until 1845, twenty years after the establishment of the Quincy office.
In the early days the postal rates were determined by distance. For a single sheet letter the rates were as follows: Distances less than 30 miles: 6 cents; 30 to 80 miles: 10 cents; 80 to 150 miles: 12 ½ cents; 150 to 400 miles: 18 ¾ cents; over 400 miles: 25 cents.
If a person wanted to write to the folks back East, it would take 25 cents postage. In the 1840s most laborers were only making 50 cents a day, although those working on a heavy duty project such as the Eire Canal might be making double that amount.
Prior to July 1, 1845, postage rates depended upon the number of sheets of paper that were mailed. Therefore, the use of envelopes was rare before 1845. People wrote their letters on a large sheet of paper, folded the paper, sealed it with wax, and addressed it on the outside of the page.
The first U.S. postage stamps were not issued until 1847 and stamps were not required until 1855. The postage rate, town of origin, and other markings were shown by manuscript or hand-stamped markings on the folded letter (or envelopes once they came into use). Since there were no stamps on these letters, they are generally referred to as “stampless covers”.
Prepayment of letter postage was not required until 1855. Therefore the sender could pay the postage or else send the letter unpaid with the postage to be collected from the addressee.
The folks back East were so anxious to hear from their family and friends out West that they were willing to pay the postage to hear the news. The unpaid postage also had the advantage of no one being out the money if the letter never made it to its destination for some reason.
When stamps began to be used in 1847, the postage was automatically prepaid with stamps unless it incurred additional charges, for example if the letter had an erroneous rate resulting in postage due.
Most of the stampless letters during the time until 1855 appeared to be sent unpaid. In the author’s collection of 52 stampless covers originating in or addressed to Quincy, only six were sent paid. These six letters were either legal or business correspondence.
While the early Quincy town markings were the manuscript type, Quincy was using a town handstamp by 1835. The same Quincy town mark was used until 1850. While the early markings were in black ink, red and blue inked markings are also prevalent.
The postmasters in the smaller post offices were compensated by a commission on the collected revenue of that office. This commission had some dependence of the amount of the revenue and it changed over time. But the commission was in the neighborhood of 40%. The rest of the money then went to the Post Office Department. Consequently the net proceeds to the department provide a good insight into the activity and size of a post office.
The growth of the early Quincy post office can be seen by these net proceeds for various fiscal years (ending March 31): 1827 – $6.58; 1828 – $22.24; 1829 – $46.49; 1830 – $136.51; 1831 – $109.51; 1833 – $187.66; 1835 – $278.65; and 1839 – $884.72.
Since the early stampless covers were folded sheets, many of them have their original contents. These letters often provide interesting insights to early local history.
Although we might expect Quincy to have been the first post office in Adams County, this was not the case. According to the official records of the Post Office Department the Mill Creek Post Office was established in Adams County on December 12, 1825, three months earlier than the Quincy Post Office.
The postal revenue of both the Quincy and Mill Creek post offices were very small in the early days. The revenue to the Post Office for the fiscal year ending March 31, 1827 was $6.58 for Quincy and $3.50 for Mill Creek. The following fiscal year ending March 31, 1828 showed revenue of $22.24 for Quincy and $2.43 for Mill Creek. Quincy was starting to increase in activity while the Mill Creek post office was diminishing. The smaller post office closed a few months later.
References – The Quincy Post Office Prior to 1840
Duncan, Wilbur H., “List of Post Offices and Postmasters of the Area of Present Day Illinois for the Period 1800-1830”, unpublished typed list of five pages, on file at Illinois Historical Survey, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Vertical File Number ILL-384-5. (Photocopy held by author)
“How Much Did Things Cost in 1850’s USA?”, Accessed July 31, 2015, http://anotherandrosphereblog.blogspot.com/2013/03/how-much-did-things-cost-in-1850s-usa.html
National Archives and Records Administration, U.S. Appointment of U. S. Postmasters, 1832-1971, Volume 12B, NARA Microfilm Publications M841, Record Group 38, Washington, D.C. (Copy of microfilm held by author)
“Net Amount of Postage Accruing at Each Post Office, for the Year Ending March 3, 1827”, (Document No. 68), American State Papers, Post Office Department, 1789-1833, Washington: Gales and Seaton, 1834, [Reprint: Holland, Michigan: Theron Wierenga, 1981], 179.
“Net Amount of Postage Accruing at Each Post Office, for the Year Ending March 31, 1828”, (Document No. 73), American State Papers…, 208.
Phillips, David, American Stampless Cover Catalog, Volume 1, Fourth Edition, North Miami, Florida: David G. Phillips Publishing Co., 21-24.
Redmond, Pat H., History of Quincy and Its Men of Mark, Quincy, IL: Heirs & Russell, 1869, 13, 169-179.