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  • OTLT.USA
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  • OTRI.USA
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  • OTVI.USA
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  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXSEA
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    6.000
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    0%
  • OTLT.USA
    2.856
    -0.001
    0%
  • OTRI.USA
    8.460
    -0.060
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  • OTVI.USA
    12,563.800
    7.670
    0.1%
  • TSTOPVRPM.ATLPHL
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  • TSTOPVRPM.CHIATL
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  • TSTOPVRPM.DALLAX
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  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXDAL
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  • TSTOPVRPM.PHLCHI
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  • TSTOPVRPM.LAXSEA
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    125.000
    6.000
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FreightWaves ClassicsInfrastructureInsightsNewsTrucking

FreightWaves Classics/Infrastructure: New York to Boston mail delivery began in 1673

The first regular overland mail-delivery service in what is now the United States began on January 22, 1673 (349 years ago tomorrow). More than 100 years before the American Revolution, a post rider departed New York City on horseback for Boston. Francis Lovelace, the Royal Governor of the New York Colony, acted on a directive from England’s King Charles II to establish closer communications among North America’s northern colonies. Lovelace worked with Connecticut Colony Governor John Winthrop and Massachusetts Bay Colony Governor John Leverett to establish a reliable postal route throughout their respective jurisdictions.

Although the name of the first rider to use what became known as the Boston Post Road is unknown, the instructions given him by Lovelace for the inaugural journey still exist. Lovelace instructed the rider, “You are to comport yourself with all sobriety and civility to those that shall entrust you. You are principally to ally yourself to the Governors, especially Gov. Winthrop, from who you shall receive the best direction to form ye best Post Road.”

A map of the Boston Post Road routes. (New England Historical Society)
A map of the Boston Post Road routes. (New England Historical Society)

The first trip made on what became the Boston Post Road lasted two to three weeks. The rider – traveling a total of 250 miles along mostly desolate trails in the wilderness – made mail deliveries in such communities as New Haven, Hartford, Brookfield, Worcester and Cambridge before finally reaching Boston. He and subsequent postal riders employed axes to mark trees along the route to help guide other mail carriers.

The Boston Post Road was a critical part in more closely linking what previously had been isolated settlements in the northeastern region of the British colonies. The Boston Post Road also led to the establishment of similar routes in other locations along the eastern seaboard. In the longer term, segments that constituted the Boston Post Road evolved into early turnpikes and then into some of the first highways in the United States.

History

Although known collectively as the “Boston Post Road,” there were actually three different routes. The three major routes were: the Lower Post Road (now U.S. Route 1, or US 1, which ran along the shore via Providence, Rhode Island); the Upper Post Road (now US 5 and US 20 from New Haven, Connecticut by way of Springfield, Massachusetts); and the Middle Post Road (which diverged from the Upper Road in Hartford, Connecticut and ran northeastward to Boston via Pomfret, Connecticut).

In some towns along the route(s), the area along or near the Boston Post Road has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Post Road was often the first road in the area, and certain buildings of historical significance were built along it. The Boston Post Road Historic District includes part of the road in Rye, New York; it has been designated a National Historic Landmark. The Post Road is also famous for milestones along its route from the 18th century; many are still in (or near) the places they were originally set. 

Early Boston Post Road markers in Milford, Connecticut in 1949. (Photos: connecticuthistory.org)
Early Boston Post Road markers in Milford, Connecticut in 1949. (Photos: connecticuthistory.org)

Originally called the Pequot Path, the Upper Post Road was used by Native Americans long before Europeans settlers arrived. 

What is now called the Old Connecticut Path and the Bay Path were used by John Winthrop to travel from Boston to Springfield in November 1645. These paths form the original route of the Upper Post Road.

Post riders evolve into stagecoaches

As noted in the final photograph in this article, the route of the Boston Post Road was modified by Royal Deputy Postmaster General Benjamin Franklin in 1753. Along the Upper Post Road, the trail first used by post riders was widened and smoothed over decades; horse-drawn wagons or stagecoaches were able to use the road over time. When most of us think of stagecoaches we picture a scene from the Wild West. But the nation’s first successful long-distance stagecoach service was launched along the Upper Post Road in October 1783.

Large sections of the three segments of the Boston Post Road are still called the King’s Highway and/or the Boston Post Road. During the 1800s, turnpike companies took over and improved segments of the Post Road. Much of the Post Road is now U.S. Route 1, U.S. Route 5, and U.S. Route 20. The Upper and Lower Boston Post Roads were designated U.S. Routes 1 and 20 in 1925. In the nearly 100 years since then, Route 20 has been substantially modified.

A wood engraving of a relay stagecoach on the Boston Post Road. (T.D. Thulstrup/Lucille Lucas Gallery)
A wood engraving of a relay stagecoach on the Boston Post Road. (T.D. Thulstrup/Lucille Lucas Gallery)

On Manhattan Island 

Much of the route in Manhattan (where it was known as the Eastern Post Road), was abandoned between 1839 and 1844. During that period, Manhattan’s street grid was laid out as part of a plan that had been first advanced in 1811.

The Boston Post Road in 1923 in Larchmont, New York. (Photo: Larchmont Historical Society)
The Boston Post Road in 1923 in Larchmont, New York. (Photo: Larchmont Historical Society)

The Bronx

In the Bronx, a British map from 1776 is labeled the “Road to Kings Bridge, where the Rebels mean to make a Stand.”  The Boston Post Road came off the Kings Bridge and quickly turned eastward, with the Albany Post Road continuing north to Albany, New York. It passed over the Bronx River on the Williams Bridge, and left the Bronx, becoming Kingsbridge Road in Westchester County. 

The Upper Post Road was the most traveled of the three routes, because it was the furthest from the shore and therefore had the fewest and shortest river crossings. It was also considered to have the best taverns, which may have also contributed to its popularity. The Upper Post Road roughly corresponds to the route of U.S. Route 5 from New Haven, Connecticut, to Hartford; Connecticut Route 159 from Hartford to Springfield, Massachusetts; U.S. Route 20 from Springfield to Warren, Massachusetts (via Route 67); Massachusetts Route 9 from Warren to Worcester; an unnumbered road (Lincoln Street in Worcester, Main Street in Shrewsbury, and West Main Street in Northborough) to Northborough; and U.S. Route 20 from Northborough to Boston. A series of historic milestones erected in the 18th century survive along its route from Springfield to Boston.

Lower Post Road

The Lower Post Road ran along Long Island’s shoreline all the way to Rhode Island and then turned north through Providence to Boston. Today, this is the best-known of the routes. The Lower Post Road roughly corresponds to the original alignment of U.S. Route 1 in eastern Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

A map of the three Boston Post Road routes in Connecticut. (Image: Connecticuthistory.org)
A map of the three Boston Post Road routes in Connecticut. (Image: connecticuthistory.org)

Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, the Norfolk and Bristol Turnpike was established in 1803 as a straighter route between Pawtucket, Rhode Island and Roxbury, Massachusetts, mostly west of the Post Road. 

In the colonial era, the Post Road began in Boston at the Old State House, the government center of the 18th century city. 

Middle Post Road

The Middle Post Road was the shortest, fastest and newest portion of the route. From Hartford, it ran into the Eastern Upper Highlands, an area with large Native American populations. During King Philip’s War of 1675, travel in these areas was often dangerous for settlers. Until the establishment of the colonial postal system, that area was relatively unpopulated, and the Middle Post Road was established as the fastest route. Interestingly, this area of Connecticut is still underpopulated compared to other portions of the state. Accordingly, portions of the original Post Road have been preserved for a variety of circumstances. 

A historical marker explains some of the history of the Boston Post Road. 
(Photo: New England Historical Society)
A historical marker explains some of the history of the Boston Post Road.
(Photo: New England Historical Society)

Scott Mall

Scott Mall serves as Managing Editor of FreightWaves Classics. He writes articles for the website, edits the SONAR Daily Watch series, marketing material for FreightWaves and a variety of FreightWaves special projects. Mall’s career spans 45 years in public relations, marketing and communications for Fortune 500 corporations, international non-profits, public relations agencies and government agencies.