Mary Bassett Pratt Morgan 1810-1890
My great-great-grandmother, Mary Morgan, a woman of many talents, led a more than interesting life. For instance, she held the post of postmaster.
I have told you the story of the antique chest she brought along when her family moved from New Hampshire to Ohio and showed you the lace collar she made on a loom. I have told you about her love of reading and the shock when her second husband forbade her continuing the subscription to her beloved Godey’s Ladies Book. And my brother told the story of the demise of Mary’s second husband, Jesse Morgan.
But there is so much more to tell you and show you about Mary Bassett Platt Morgan.
A Lady Postmaster*
*Did you know that women who run a post office are always called post MASTER? Always have been and still are.
Although she inherited quite a bit of property from her first husband,Mary kept working hard all her life. As a two-time widow, she became a postmaster in Killbuck Township (and the town of Oxford which later became Killbuck) Holmes County, Ohio from 1862, when she was 52 years old until 1878, when she was 68 years old. During that period, there were three years when she did not serve as postmaster, and I wondered if politics had anything to do with her replacement by J. Duncan, a prominent name in Killbuck.
I knew that before the Civil Service Act in 1883, such appointments were political, but I did not know exactly how that would affect my great-great-grandmother. I found this explanation on the website of the U.S.P.S.
Since Mary served under Republican Presidents (Lincoln, Grant and Hayes) and Democratic President Jackson, and since she served under five terms of Republican Congressmen and four terms of Democratic Congressmen, I have to believe that patronage did not play a part in her getting the job. Perhaps Killbuck was just too small to bother with patronage, and the Postmaster General did the appointing.
Duties of the Postmaster
Can you name the first Postmaster General of the United States? The person responsible for the system that stands today? (See the end of this post)
When a person arrived at the post office to mail a letter, Mary would write (or stamp) the name of the Post office and the amount of postage. During the time that Mary Morgan was a postmaster, the cost of mailing was three cents per 1/2 ounce for any destination in the United States.
She bundled letters according to their destination, or a clearing house they would transit on their way. When letters arrived, she checked to be sure the postage amount on the letter was correct. By the way,most of the time, rather than stuffing a letter in an envelope, the sender merely folded it and wrote the mailing information on the back.
This is a scan of a photocopy, so quality is not great, but it shows the outside of an 1845 letter, folded for mailing.
The Pay of the Postmaster
I was surprised to learn that the amount the postmaster earned was a percentage of the postage sold at his/her post office. “The 1852 Laws and Regulations describe the compensation as a percent of the quarterly sales: for sales under $100, 40 percent; sales from $100 to under $400, 33-1/3 percent; sales from $400 to under $2,400, 30 percent; and for sales over $2,400, 12-1/2 percent.” (The preceding is from NGS news magazine, January,February, March 2007.)
From the Register of Civil, Military and Naval Service records I learned some of the amounts Mary earned:
- 1863: $52.27
- 1865: $45.45
- 1869: $35.00
- 1870: $70.40
- 1875: $97.61
- 1877: $141.06
I’m guessing that during the Civil War, correspondence increased as families wrote to soldiers and the final three years here reflect the rapid growth of the Killbuck area after the Civil War.
Post Office as Meeting Place
There was no mail delivery in small towns, because the revenue did not justify hiring people. People not only went to the post office to mail their letters, they also went there to pick up their mail. if they did not pick up their mail, the postmaster would place an ad in the newspaper listing the people for whom mail was being held. Many times, as I research my ancestors looking for newspaper articles, I see familiar names in the “held mail” ads.
My mother said that because everyone knew that my great-grandmother (daughter of Mary Morgan) was a great reader, and her son, a New York City lawyer, sent her copies of the New York Times, the newspaper would be passed around by everyone who cared to read it when it arrived at the post office. So the post office was not only gossip central, it was also a lending library.
Of course, the postmaster saw a lot and was expeted to be discreet. Once my dad, writing to my mother from one of his road trips, wrote “Hello, [name]” on the bottom of the postcard, because he knew that the postmaster at the time had a habit of reading the mail. She did not speak to him for months. I can’t believe that Mary Morgan would have been guilty of such transgressions.
When I was growing up, there still was no door-to-door delivery, or R. F. D. (rural free delivery) in Killbuck, so I would walk down to the post office and turn the combination on Box #103 to get our family mail. I don’t know how many years my grandmother had that box, but I believe it was probably issued with the very first locked boxes in Killbuck. I know she had it in the 30s and 40s and still in use by my aunt after grandmother died in the 1960s. When we moved to Killbuck, our family used the same box number. When my aunt and uncle relocated from the country to town, they also used that box.
Going to the post office reminded me of a direct link between my great-great-grandmother Mary Bassett Morgan in the 1870’s through my great-grandmother Harriette Morgan Stout to my grandmother Vera Stout Anderson and my mother, Harriette Anderson Kaser all the way to me in the 1950’s.
And that history goes back to when Benjamin Franklin was the very first Postmaster General of the United States in 1775.
NGS news magazine, January,February, March 2007. pg. 33-37, “The Mid-195th Century Postmaster and His Duties”, by Claire Prechtel Kuskins.
Appointments of U. S. Postmasters, 1832-1901; Vol. 1, 1832-1872 Vol. 25A 1857-1873; Vol. 38 1873-1891; Ohio, Holmes County, Killbuck
Register of Officers and Agents, Civil, Military, and Naval in the Service of the United States, 1863-1859, Vol I, Postal, Ohio
WIkipedia Ohio’s 14th Congressional District