Woody/Wooddy Mail Contractors & Postmasters

            Congress was given the power "to establish Post Offices and Post Roads" by the United States Constitution in 1787. This led to the establishment of the U. S. Post Office Department as a federal agency and the office of the Postmaster General. Benjamin Franklin was the first Postmaster General. Until 1969, the President or Postmaster General appointed local postmasters, usually after consulting with outgoing postmasters and/or local officials. The position of postmaster for a larger city was considered prestigious and these appointments were part of the political patronage system; however, postmasters of smaller towns were often part time jobs for merchants and shop keepers.
            Although a few postal routes were specifically designated as "post roads" (e.g. Boston Post Road), most were simply a collection of shorter routes interwoven into a connecting system for the movement of mail. The Post Office Department defined these routes and advertised for private individuals to submit bids for route contracts that typically had a duration of four years. These individuals became known as "mail contractors" and the routes, bids and successful bidders were published by several publishers. The famous "Pony Express" of the 1850s and 1860s is a well known example of a mail contractor system. Most of these contractors were also engaged in the transportation of people and goods and many were stable and coach owners. In the early days of the business, the mail contractors used horses, gigs and coaches, depending on the route and the amount of mail. Later, steam boats and railroads took over the long distance mail contracting business and, still later, the airlines. Some of the early postmaster and mail contractor records have survived and can be an important source of information, especially in areas that suffered from a catastrophic loss of pre-Civil War records.

            Many of the members and descendants of related Virginia Woody/Wooddy families were involved in the delivery of mail as postmasters and mail contractors. It seems to us that there were many more of these connections than can be attributed to coincidence. Sometimes the family connection is obvious, as in the case of the Hanover and King William County, Virginia Wooddys. These Wooddy families entered into the mail contractor business in the early 1800s and this business connection lasted at least through 1885. The business was probably initiated by John Wooddy (c1760-1822) of King William, since on December 23, 1806, John advertised a passenger coach service between Richmond and Tappahannock. This service was probably an expansion of his mail contractor business, but it is possible that the passenger service led to the mail contractor business. The earliest official record of Woody/Wooddy Mail Contractors is a 1816 list that includes John Woody, born Virginia, James Wooddy, born Virginia and William Woody, born, Virginia. The 1821 image on the right is entitled a "List of proposals made on the Post Master General's advertisement of July 15, 1818 and decided on October 12, 1818" and is perhaps the most interesting since John J. Wooddy (Richmond to Cartersville), John Wooddy, sen. (Richmond to Tappahannock), John Wooddy 3d (Petersburg to Halifax Court House) and James Wooddy (Richmond to Farmville) are included.  A list of successful 1822 contract bids includes J. R. Wooddy (Richmond to Charlottesville route), James Wooddy (Hanover Court House to New Kent Court House route) and William Wooddy (Snicker's Gap, Virginia to Uniontown, Maryland route). A 1824 list of mail contractors has James Wooddy, born Virginia, John Wooddy, born Virginia, William Wooddy, born Virginia and James M. Wooddy. Based on the 1816 and 1824 lists, the 1822 J. R Wooddy was very likely John Wooddy of King William. A similar 1825 list omits John Woody/Wooddy and, since John of King William died in 1823/1824, we conclude this the same person. Also, since William Wooddy is included on the 1825 list, we conclude that this person was the son of Post Master William Wooddy Sr. of Loudoun County, Virginia, who died 1821/1823. William Sr. had moved from Hanover County to Loudoun County, where he was post master from 1802 until 1823. His son, William Jr., moved to Baltimore, Maryland about 1816, so William Jr. probably continued with his father's business for a period. In addition to these individuals, bids for latter contracts were submitted by D., James Jr., John T., Pleasant D. Woody/Woody. 

On the left is an image of a newspaper advertisement from the January 4, 1831 Richmond Enquirer. Pleasant D. Woody was the son of James P. Woody, the brother of the above mentioned John Woody of King William. Note that Pleasant D. had contracted for the transportation of mail between Richmond and Tappahannock and that he would also transport passengers and their baggage in "new stages" with "good gentle horses, and steady, sober drivers". The stage was scheduled to leave Richmond on Tuesdays and Fridays at 5 A.M. and arrived in Tappahannock at 7 P.M. It returned to Richmond on Wednesday and Saturday at the same times. Today's road distance for this trip is about 45 miles, so the trip averaged about 3.5 mph if an hour lunch stop is deducted from the fourteen hour schedule. The one way fare was $3.50.

            One very interesting connection relates to an October John Wooddy in 1809 Augusta Georgia News Advertisement.28, 1809 Augusta, Georgia newspaper advisement shown on the right. This is the area that Henry Talley Wooddy is first found. Henry Talley died at a young age in Chesterfield County, Virginia, across the James River from Richmond. Henry T. was surely related to John and it is possible that he first went to Georgia when he was employed in the Mail Contractor business. We do not know why Virginia Mail Contractors were in Georgia, but we assume that they had been employed by other holders of contracts.

            Other related Woodys/Wooddys were postmasters and mail contractors in their communities. The 1837 obituary of John Wooddy of the Lynches Creek, Williamsburg District of Georgetown, South Carolina identifies him as the post master of that place. In addition, as this Cheraw Gazette newspaper advertisement shows, John seems to have provided coach services between Cheraw and Georgetown. This was a distance of about 110 miles and the service was probably associated with a mail contractor contract. John was first recorded in Pittsylvania County, Virginia, but his father, James, was recorded in Cumberland County, Virginia. Similarly, William Banks Wooddy Jr. was appointed post master of Washington County, Arkansas in 1830. William's father was recorded in 1765 Goochland County, Virginia and also lived in Henry County, Virginia for some time.  In 1839, Henry B. Wooddy bid on a mail route from Chambers County, Alabama to West Point, Georgia. Henry B. was the grandson of Henry Tally Wooddy who lived in Oglethorpe, Georgia, but died in Chesterfield County, Virginia across the James River from Richmond. Although the exact family connection of these men to the Hanover and King William Wooddys discussed above is not known, yDNA has proven that they were close relatives.

            The Great Philadelphia Wagon Road and similar "roads" were the main north-south travel routes of Colonial America and the early United States. The images below depict recreations of these so-called roads that were conglomerations of relatively wide unpaved trails that were mainly derived from ancient Indian paths. As shown on these maps, the routes ran from Philadelphia Pennsylvania to Augusta, Georgia and traversed the intervening states of Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. Feeder roads extended the routes to nearby towns and cities. For instance, the Three Notch'd Road connected Richmond to the Wagon Road that passed through Staunton in Augusta County, Virginia. As can be imagined, travel by foot, horseback, wagon and carriage was extremely slow, tedious  and difficult; however, these roads were used by multitudes of people mainly migrating from north to south.
They were also used by the long distance mail contractors. Because of the distances evolved and time consumed, the contractors were away from home for weeks and months at a time. The route or its feeders passed relatively close to the homes of the Hanover area, Virginia Woodys/Wooddys and to the many of the locations that they migrated to in the late 1700s and early 1800s.


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Revised Nov 16, 2019