Benjamin Franklin, Deputy Postmaster of British North America
Three post offices were opened in Canada by Ben Franklin – Montreal, Trois Rivieres and Quebec City. He also established a courier service between cities.
Long before Confederation, before the War of 1812, and even before the American Revolution, settled regions of Canada and the United States were known as British North America. Amenities and services were required. Colonists needed homes and transportation, and a method of conveying the important letters of homesteaders, politicians and the military. Expanding the postal system became a priority, adding to the number of offices already established along well-travelled routes. One of the men chosen for the extensive job was Deputy Postmaster Benjamin Franklin.
An American citizen, Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston, Massachusetts on January 17, 1706. His parents had emigrated from England to the colonies in 1683; they were members of the Puritan faith who did not share the views of the popular Church of England. Franklin’s father made his living as a candlemaker and a mechanic, his mother a homemaker raising 13 children.
Franklin a Child of Curiosity and Capabilities
An intelligent youngster, Franklin attempted to learn his father’s trade but found it unbearable. Instead, he took a job at his brother’s Boston newspaper. “While learning the business Franklin read every word that came into the shop and was soon writing clever pieces that criticized the Boston establishment,” said the Encyclopedia of World Biography. “He loved to read and even became a vegetarian in order to save money to buy books.” Franklin ran the newspaper after his brother was imprisoned for his written views, and then moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was 17 years old.
Continuing to learn the printer’s trade, Franklin moved to England in 1724 to gain more skill. Becoming a Master Printer, Franklin returned to the United States and opened two newspapers, the Pennsylvania Gazette and Poor Richard’s Almanac. The young man also developed an interest in invention and science, especially electricity. One of his inventions was a lightning rod, a metal rod fastened onto a building’s roof.
Canadian Post Offices Established by Deputy Postmaster Franklin
Politics also captivated Benjamin Franklin’s attention. Elected in 1751 to the Pennsylvania Assembly, he participated in the creation of laws and government procedures. Two years later, Franklin accepted the appointment of Deputy Postmaster of British North American. Touring the colonies as part of his duties, Franklin opened post offices, branches and routes. “In 1755 Franklin organized the first regular monthly mail packet service between Falmouth, England and New York,” noted Nova Scotia’s Electric Scrapbook in Postal Service in Nova Scotia, “and opened the first official post office – in what is now Canada – in Halifax, Nova Scotia.” (The local Halifax postal service had been started the year before by Benjamin Leigh.)
Continuing to improve postal service, in the 1760s Franklin established post offices in Quebec City, then Montreal and Trois-Rivières. “The system used the existing road between Montreal and Quebec,” said the Canadian Postal Archive Database in “United States Bicentennial: Benjamin Franklin.” Providing relatively easy access, “the road was already equipped with post houses at nine-mile intervals.” Developing his courier service, Franklin opened a twice-monthly summer run from Montreal to New York City, using Lake Champlain and the Hudson River route. The service ran only once a month in the winter.
Whales at Niagara Falls?
In moments of satirical fun, Franklin provoked wonder in the minds of those who knew little about Canada and Niagara Falls. He told newspapers that, “the grand leap of the whale in the chase up the Fails of Niagara is esteemed by all who have seen it as one of the finest spectacles in nature,” noted the Canadian Postal Archives Database.
Holding the post of Deputy Postmaster of British North America from 1753 to 1777, Franklin was released from duty for several reasons. One cause was his involvement in a postal scandal and another was for his prolonged absences from the job on diplomatic and other missions. (His work took him on overseas voyages eight times, not an easy trip in the late 1700s.) Neither was Franklin a young man – he was 71 when let go as Deputy Postmaster.
The Passing of a Statesman
Benjamin Franklin continued his work in political advancements well into old age. The revered statesman, scientist, inventor, printer and writer died in Philadelphia on April 17, 1790. Predeceased by his wife Deborah Reed Rogers in 1774, Franklin was 84 years of age when he died. The Franklins were married for 44 years and had three children, one of whom became Royal Governor of New Jersey. In 1976, Canada Post commemorated the 200th Anniversary of the United States of America with a 10-cent stamp with a portrait of Franklin and a map featuring the location of the Canadian post offices he established.
Many practical inventions devised by Franklin were used by people in the United States, Canada, and around the globe. Some, with modern advancements added, are still in use. A few are selected here from The Franklin Institute’s History of Science and Technology:
- Bifocal glasses
- Medical catheters
- The Franklin woodstove
- An early Odometer that attached to a carriage
- Lightning rod
- Benjamin Franklin Biography, Encyclopedia of World Biography Accessed August 4, 2011
- “Postal Service in Nova Scotia,” Nova Scotia’s Electric Scrapbook Accessed August 2, 2011
- “United States Bicentennial: Benjamin Franklin,” Canadian Postal Archives Accessed August 2, 2011
- “History of Science and Technology,” The Franklin Institute Accessed August 4, 2011
This article first appeared on Suite101.com in August 2011. Copyright Susanna McLeod