Sunday, March 25, 2018

You've Got Mail

You can see from the folds on the right side, how small
Rebecca folded her letter before addressing it to "Mrs Lydia
McDonald ohio Muskingum County union Town post office"

Rebecca Scholfield Dolson wrote to her sister, Lydia Scholfield McDonald, from her new home in Clark County, Illinois in 1828. Since there were no mailboxes in which to drop her letter, Rebecca would have taken her letter to her local post office. The postmaster wrote the date on which Rebecca handed him the letter. He then sent the letter by a stagecoach (more likely a series of such coaches) dedicated to postal delivery, to the post office near Lydia's home. It would not have been delivered directly to Lydia.

 Although the Constitution adopted in 1789 provided for the establishment of a U.S. postal service, the only people to enjoy mail delivered to their address in 1828 were those who lived in one of forty cities. Mail destined for other places was sent to the local post office. If you lived in a rural area, like Lydia did, you only got mail when you had a reason to go into town.

Until 1847, when postage stamps came into general use, the recipient, not the sender, paid the postage due. We don't know how much Lydia paid to pick up Rebecca's letter. There was no uniform fee; postal costs depended on the distance a letter traveled and its size. Postage stamps came into being because the post office lost money by having the recipient pay; some couldn't and others wouldn't. It made sense for the letter to be paid for at the start of its journey.

Rebecca didn't put her letter into an envelope. They were hardly ever used in the early part of the 19th Century. The common practice was to fold the letter, seal it with wax, and write the recipient's name on the outside. When the letter was delivered to the post office, the postmaster confirmed receipt by writing the name of the post office under the address, and then he put the letter in a box for safe-keeping until Lydia, or someone in her family could claim it. Lydia got her letter, but if it had sat in the post office for some weeks, the postmaster would have placed a notice in the local newspaper telling Lydia that she had mail.

Below is a transcription of the letter Lydia received, complete with all of Rebecca's quirky spellings:

Ilinoys Clark County
Dear Sister with pleasure I embrace this opportunity to inform you that wee ar both well at present hopen these few lins will find you all in the same helth wee hav nad no Sickness Sence wee have bin here It is a very helthy place I am vary well [illegible] when I thin About you all Sum tims I think I never well See enney of you a gain But Benjamin tells me that he well fetch me to See you all in two or three year I have no hope of Seein enny of you come to See me I think if you all knode what a fine place this is you wood leve where you live wee had no neighbours when wee first come here bout now wee have a plenty wee are dooin vary well in the way of property wee have a fine stock round us and nice young orchard Set out Bout Sume times I set and think About you all and the wattre runs Mity free tha puts in mind of what unkil William used to Say a bout me tell Thomas I am Much a blige to him for comin to See me as he promised bout won thing I now if he don’t see fet to come he must Stay this is the Second lettrer I rote Since I got enny if you git this I want you to write as Soon as you Can for I want to here from you all [illegible] more if I cant git to see you I wish to be remembered to Sister ann And family and to broher Lemuel and Thomas and to aunt Elizabeth and aunt Rebecca and to poor old Mother in perticler tell ann to write me the next letter if it was posabel for you to move I think you would Dough better than you can whre you leve ther cant be no better palce for [illegible] Stock than this nothing more at present but remainin your loven Sister until Death if you cant read this letter fetch it to me and I will reade it for you
                                                                                                            June the Sixth

Rebecca Dolson                                                                      Lydia McDonald

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