Haiti: the stories of an italian missionary and a scottish merchant
by Federico Borromeo d’Adda
The vastly differing documents discussed in this article are, as we shall see, drawn together by a rather thin thread: one is an 1845 letter from the United States to Haiti hand-stamped at destination with a reverse print postmark; the other document is an almost coeval letter from Haiti without postal marks of any kind applied at the point of departure.
I must start by outlining the situation of the Caribbean country at the time the above-mentioned letters were delivered. After the final expulsion of the Europeans carried out in 1804 by indigenous liberated slaves the country fell into total anarchy and what had been once one of the most prosperous and successful countries of the French West Indies became a battlefield for opposing factions.
As a result, governmental institutions, including the postal service, fell to a great extent into ruination.
To better appreciate the cataclysm which befell Haiti suffice to look back at the end of the 18th century when the French postal service on the island operated no less than 55 post offices.
After the declaration of independence and the ensuing instability and conflicts very few Europeans visited Haiti, a country that had isolated itself from the world. As far as the domestic postal system was concerned there were a number of sporadic and often-times fruitless attempt to revive a truly organized service.
Between 1804 and 1808, there existed a private postal service managed by the armed forces. In December 1808, President Pétion issued postal regulations which included two tariffs, both of two ‘Escalines’, the official currency of the time, regarding two postal routes: from Port-au-Prince to Cayes and from Port-au-Prince to Jérémie. A new postal law was promulgated in March 1819 by J.P. Boyer2 with the postal service under the management of a postmaster general as well as establishing four postal routes with Port-au-Prince as terminus linking it with Léogane, Grand Goâve, Jacmel and Petit Goâve.
In 1826, a new tariff denominated in centimes was introduced, but the service was so disorganized that its management was, once more, entrusted to the armed forces, which resulted in a not better performance.