We look back at the establishment of the postal service in Jamaica. This is a special reprint of “Pieces of the Past” by Rebecca Tortello.
The 17th Century: The Beginning
In 1663, during the reign of Charles II, Jamaican residents were anxious over the slow rate of mail delivery. Jamaica’s Lieutenant Governor Thomas Lynch was ordered to make arrangements for a post office under the management of the Postmaster General of London. In 1671, Gabriel Martin was appointed the first Postmaster General of Jamaica, making us the first English colony to have a post office. Martin established two post offices: one in St Jago de la Vega (present day Spanish Town) and one at the port of Passage Fort (once located at the mouth of the Rio Cobre in St Catherine).
However, the joy of internal mail service was short-lived. Records show that at some point soon after, people became displeased with Martin’s work and returned to the old habit of having sea captains carry mail while authorities tried to establish an organized internal and external service. Jamaican residents would send letters in duplicate and triplicate out of consideration for losses at sea due to storms, and/or capture by enemy ships or pirates.
The 18th Century: Service Expands
In 1705 one enterprising Mr Dummer started a packet service that ensured the delivery of some 1,500 private letters to England, even though in any given year, only an average of four out of 12 monthly packets sent would arrive successfully. The mail would often find its way to an institution known as the Jamaican Coffee House, in St. Michael’s Alley, Cornhill, London. This Coffee House was usually the first stop for ships’ captains upon arriving in London, so as to deliver mail and give news to the West Indian merchants gathered there.
After Dummer’s death in 1713, regular mail service did not resume until 1745, although in 1711 the act establishing General Post Offices for all Her Majesty’s Domains was passed. This created post offices throughout the West Indies under the control of London’s General Post Office. Jamaica’s post office was re-established in 1720, but the planters had grown so accustomed to merchant sea captains carrying their mail that they greeted its arrival with a good measure of doubt.
During this century, bolstered by the island’s growth due to sugar cultivation, Postmaster General Edmund Dismore (appointed in 1754) oversaw the creation of some 34 post offices throughout the island in Spanish Town, Bailles’ Town, Old Harbour, Clarendon, Vere, Goshen, Lacovia, Black River, Savanna-la-Mar, Salt Spring, Lucea, Buff Bay, Port Antonio, St. Ann’s Bay, Port Maria among others. Head offices were located at Yallahs, Morant Bay and Martha Brae. Many of these remain active locations today.