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The Stamp Of History
The Jamaican Postal Service

Images of stamps from the collection of Joe Mahfood
Letter from 1790 bearing the postal stamp of the time.

By Dr. Rebecca Tortello
With special thanks to Joe Mahfood for his invaluable assistance).

IN 1663 during the reign of Charles II, Jamaica's Lt. Governor Thomas Lynch was ordered to make arrangements for a post office under the management of the Postmaster General of London. Jamaican residents were anxious over the slow rate of mail delivery. In 1671, Gabriel Martin was appointed Postmaster General of Jamaica and Jamaica chalked up another historical 'first' ­ the first English colony to have a post office. Martin established two ­ 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). He was granted a monopoly to supply horses to carry mail to and from these posts, but the joy of internal mail service (which never seemed to be organized outside of the capital city) was short-lived. Records show that at some point soon after people were 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.

A few decades later, James Wale or (Wales) was appointed Postmaster General but was soon accused by Port Royal merchants of overcharging and dismissed. In the 1690s, all West Indian post offices came under the jurisdiction of New York Postmaster General James Neale who held this position until his death in the early 18th century.

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 a given year out of 12 monthly packets sent, an average of 4 would arrive successfully. Often the mail would contain prayers for safe arrival and abbreviations such as QDC the Latin version of WGP (for Quam/Quem Deus Conservet or Which/Whom God Preserved) and a handstamp noting the letter's point of origin. It 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. The packet service method was revived briefly during the late 1700s with the postal service operating ten packet boats (man-of-wars) on two West Indian routes with Kingston serving as one of the main naval bases for the West Indian fleet.

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. Letters were generally mailed under the seal of the general post office and delivered to the ship's masters with the ship's name written in the corner of the envelope. The straight JAMAICA handstamp was introduced in 1746 and in 1776 the main post office moved to Kingston's Harbour Street and the postal service operated as a branch of the British Post Office ­ that
Images of stamps from the collection of Joe Mahfood.

was to change in the 19th century.

THE 19TH AND 20TH CENTURIES: JAMAICANIZATION AND THE USE OF STAMPS By the 1840s steamship service had arrived and stamps had been created. Prior to the use of stamps, recipients paid for mail on delivery, so if they refused to pay then no revenue was collected. The brainchild of English Schoolmaster Rowland Hill, the first stamps, the one-penny black and the two-pence blue, each carrying a likeness of Queen Victoria, noted a set rate regardless of distance travelled and went on sale in 1840.

In 1858 Jamaica was given control of her own postal service ­ the issuing of her own stamps was soon to follow. During the period 1858-1860 stamps of Great Britain were used, cancelled with specific Numeral Obliterators, identifying country and town of mailing. Jamaica used these and other British stamps until 1860, when the island began to produce its own with a distinctive pineapple watermark. The stamps were, however, still made in England. Watermarks are mainly for security purposes, making forgery more difficult. Until 1900, when Jamaica's first pictoral stamp of Llandovery Falls was issued, all stamps bore pictures of Queen Victoria wearing a laurel. In 1877 Jamaica joined the postal union and by 1903, bicycles were being used to deliver mail. Daily service intra-island and direct fortnightly service between Jamaica and the United Kingdom had begun. Mail was becoming faster and more efficient and mailboxes were appearing all over, even on passenger trains.
Images of stamps from the collection of Joe Mahfood.

In 1907, following the massive earthquake that demolished much of downtown Kingston, the postal service was only briefly interrupted. It resumed under a Lignum Vitae tree in the yard where the exe cutive branch of the postal service had once stood. Soon after, the main office moved to King Street. A year later, in 1908, the COD system was established. By 1924 there was a post office every 17.8 square miles and soon after Jamaican postcards began to be issued. Before then, British postcards had been the only option.

There have been a few other brief periods with breaks in service: in 1916, by World War I and in the 1940s by World War II. In 1919, work stopped due to a strike.

Today the main office stands on South Camp Road and is known as the Postal
Images of stamps from the collection of Joe Mahfood.

Corporation of Jamaica Ltd. (Postal Corp). It is the responsibility of the Post and Telecommunications Department, a division within the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Science & Technology. The Postmaster General of Jamaica is assisted by two deputies, a senior management team, a team of 11 regional managers and close to 2,800 employees.

In the year 2000-2001, the Postal Corp delivered over 39 million pieces of domestic mail, and processed and delivered over 31 million pieces of mail to overseas destinations.

The corporation is proud to offer services such as Zip Mail©, a next day guaranteed local mail service with tracking facility, DHL and Express mail to the USA, UK, Caribbean and Canada, as well as a Caribbean mail hub at the Norman Manley International Airport. Also offered are the following commercial and government services: pension, social benefits and bill payments, gaming products, phone cards, money transfer, fax and photocopy services, newspapers, magazines, internet access, small business loan generation, loan repayment and collections and automated banking.

With the advent of the Postal Services Act (slated to come into effect in 2004) the Post Office will become a statutory body with full powers under the law, capable of regulating the courier sector and setting market rates for its products and services. Future plans include providing a state-of-the art courier service, private letter boxes at more convenient locations islandwide, commercialised philatelic products and a Postal Museum in Falmouth's recently-restored Georgian Post Office.

* The first stamps were much like those in use today. They differed only in that they carried no country name and were intended only for domestic use.

* The first official name for stamp collecting was first timbromania, from timbre, French for stamp. In 1864 the word philately, the current official term for stamp collecting, was used. It comes from two Greek words that mean "the love of tax-free things."

* The most expensive stamp is the 1919-1921 1s inverted frame (£13,000 - £18,000),19 are known. The rarest stamp is the 6d "Freedom from Slavery" stamp (£14,000), of which there are 8 known copies ­ 4 in the Queen's collection and 4 in the hands of private collectors.

* The Jamaican Philatelic Society currently has 28 members and publishes newsletters about 6 times per year. It meets the 2nd Saturday every month at 10:00 am, at the Geography Room of the Geological Department at UWI. For more information contact Ewan Cameron, P. O. Box 472 Kgn. 8. 977-5640.

SOURCES: Collett, G. W. (1929) in W. Buckland Edwards, C.S. Morton and L.C.C.Nicholson (eds). Jamaica ­ Its postal history, postage stamps and postmarks. London: Stan Gibbons. Foster, T. (1968). The Postal history of Jamaica - 1662-1860. London: Robson Lowe Ltd., Mahfood, J. (1998, March). Jamaica: Stamp of approval. British Caribbean Philatelic Journal, 38 (1). 14-16, Senior, O. (2003). The Encyclopedia of Jamaican Heritage. Kingston: Twin Guinep Publishers. http://www.auctionusers.org/ newsletter/0006-stamps.shtml, http://www.jamaicapost.gov.jm/

Coming June 7: The series explores the people who came - The English, The Scots and Welsh.

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Complete List of Past Pieces
Port Royal Earthquake
Port Royal Earthquake : I Was There
June 20, 1965: Martin Luther King Jr. visits Jamaica
Bog Walk Tube
For Your Listening Pleasure
The Road to Freedom
Birth of Independence
Hurricane of 1780
Tragedy at Kendal 1957
The Ward Theatre 1912
The Guarded City: Port Royal 1690
The Triumph of Will:1960s
The History of Our Parishes
Jamaica and the Great War
Jamaica's Grand Hotels
Celebrating Christmas Jamaica 'Style'
Disaster - The Earthquake of 1907
The Great Exhibition of 1891
The Mutiny On The Bounty & The Arrival of The First Breadfruit 1793
The Fall Of A Gentle Giant: The Collapse of Tom Cringle's Cotton Tree
Jamaica's Botanical Gardens
All Hail The State Visit Of Emperor Haile Selassie I
Jamaican Healer And War Heroine Mary Seacole
Mistresses Of The Sea: Female Pirates Mary Read and Anne Bonny
The Capital City: A Historic Look At Kingston
Riots Here: Send Help At Once
A Historic Portrait of the Town Where Jamaica's Tourism Began
Devon House -The first 500 years in Jamaica
Jamaican Coffee - A beverage of distinction
Jamaican Rum - A kill-devil of a drink
Jamaica Festival - What a Bam Bam
Captivated by Jamaica - Sir Hans Sloane's Passion for Jamaica
Captivated by Jamaica Pt II - Noel Coward, Errol Flynn and Ian Fleming
The Founding Of The BITU & The JLP
The Founding Of the People's National Party
Lewis Hutchinson: The Mad Master
A Pioneer, A Survivor: Dr. Cicely Williams

Henry Morgan: The Pirate King

Claude McKay: Jamaica's First Poet Laureate
Frazier versus Foreman on the Sunshine Island 1973
The Magical Spiderman: Anancy
The Case Of The Shark Papers
Katherine Dunham - Matriarch of Modern Dance
Money - The Roots of Jamaican Currency
Simon Bolivar: El Liberatador
Old Time Tellin's: A Closer Look At Jamaican Proverbs
Recollections of World War II
Place Names - A Window to Jamaica's History & Character: Wnat's In A Name?
The History Of Spanish Town
A Cultural Explication Of Empire: Lady Nugent's Journal
The History Of Falmouth: Boom Town Of The 19th Century
Dreamers Among Us - Famous Jamaican Scientists- Prof. Louis Grant 1913 - 1993 Part I
Dreamers Among Us - Famous Jamaican Scientists-Part II
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Jews In Jamaica
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Chinese
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Lebanese
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Indians
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Irish
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Africans
Out Of Many Cultures: The People Who Came - The Germans
Colourful Characters - Jamaican Birds
The Stamp Of History: The Jamaican Postal Service
The People Who Came - The English
Old-time Jamaican weddings
In this place dwelt Horatio Nelson
Printing in Jamaica
Museums in Jamaica
Gibraltar Camp: A Refuge From War
The history of the Salvation Army in Jamaica CHRISTIAN SOLDIERS
Somewhere beyond the sea
A fascination with football
Jamaican Horse racing History
A Time to Live...Jamaican Birth Rituals
A Time to Die Death rituals
Deadly superstitions

Feedback To the Series

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"I think these proverbs are very, very good especially for me who always like my roots and culture so much. Indeed I appreciate things of like this that not only educate but keeps one in line with their past. Once again thank to you all for this great effort. Now I know where to procure educative information. I am really impressed. Go my Jamaica. " - Motumbo, Costa Rica

The First 500 years in Jamaica

We're taking you for a stroll down memory lane for the next six months. Along this journey,we will relive several events which
significantly impacted on the social, political and economic development of Jamaica. As we travel share your experience with us...

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A Jamaica Gleaner Feature originally posted May 03, 2004.
Copyright 2001-4.. Produced by Go-Jamaica.com