It was common in the 19th century for newspapers to publish lists of letters that had been received in the local post office. There was no free rural mail delivery until late in the 19th century and many cities didn’t have mail delivered to their homes either. The purpose of this listed published in a Warsaw, Illinois, newspaper in 1859 was to let people know they had a letter at the post office.

The hope was that even if people were not subscribers to the newspaper that someone who knew them would see their name in the newspaper and make them aware that they had mail. This 1859 notice even provided an additional piece of information: which letters were German.

It’s not specifically stated in this list exactly what is meant by “German Letters.” The reference could have been to items mailed from Germany or simply have been to items that had German handwriting on them. My inclination is to assume that “German” is referring to their origin. But that could be incorrect.

I can’t assume that the recipient of the letter was a native of Germany either–at least just on this reference. What’s safe to assume is that the person to whom the letter was addressed had an associate of some type who lived in Germany and that that person thought the recipient was living close enough to Warsaw, Illinois, that they could get mail addressed to them there and likely did business there (at least occasionally). It does not mean that the person was living in the village of Warsaw at the time this notice was published.




2 Responses

  1. The letters would have arrived by boat in one batch if they came from Europe, and their origin would be the only thing known.about them. Maybe they are called German to distinguish them from inland letters. Does anyone know whether it was the sender or the recipient who paid the postage? In England, I know, the sender bore the cost. I should think the existence of this list was a a great boost for the newspaper’s circulation.

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