In The Virginia Genealogist. Washington, DC: J. F. Dorman, 1957 - 2006. (Online database. AmericanAncestors.org. New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2009.) Name: Col. Abraham TRIGG; Record: 1997; Volume Name: 41 (1997); Page: 60. In find the following Quote:

Local Notices from The Virginia Independent Chronicle Richmond, 1789 (Continued from V. 40, p. 302) 15 April 1789 Aug. Davis, P[ost] M[aster], publishes a list of letters remaining in the Post Office, Richmond: ... Col. Abraham Trigg, Clerk of Montgomery County, care of Mr. Beckley, Clerk to the House of Representatives, Richmond, Virginia.

As I understand "care of" today, it means to deliver mail to someone by delivering it to the person in the care of who will take care of getting it to the intended recipient. E.g., a letter addressed to John Doe c/o William Henry, will go to William Henry so he can give it to John doe.

In the 18th century, perhaps the "care of" is the originator of the letter? Would like to know its meaning back then, does anyone have a source for this?

  • 2
    We should certainly be alert to changes of meaning. However, my personal view is that we have to assume current meanings until discrepancies start to appear. In this case, the letter is stuck in exactly the place that we would expect if the resident of Richmond hadn't come in to pick his mail up. In other words, that scenario matches the current meaning. If the old meaning were different, if c/o meant the writer, say, then why was the letter stuck in Richmond? Surely whatever mail system operated then would have moved the letter to the addressee's county? This is logic not knowledge.
    – AdrianB38
    Commented Nov 17, 2019 at 19:22
  • Logic not knowledge is why I didn't write it as an answer. Presumably a dictionary of American phrases might help if it gave quotations - I'm on the wrong side of the Pond to have one.
    – AdrianB38
    Commented Nov 17, 2019 at 19:25

1 Answer 1


The date of your notice is critical.

USPS Publication 100, The United States Postal Service An American History 1775-200 describes the early days of the Postal Service. Mail was delivered on post roads by stagecoach, and sometimes by riders:

In 1781, Congress ratified the Articles of Confederation. Article IX addressed postal issues: The United States in Congress assembled shall also have the sole and exclusive right and power of … establishing or regulating post offices from one State to another, throughout all the United States, and exacting such postage on the papers passing through the same as may be requisite to defray the expenses of the said office …

Publication 100 also says:

In June 1788, the ninth state ratified the Constitution, which gave Congress the power “To establish Post Offices and post Roads” in Article I, Section 8. A year later, the Act of September 22, 1789 (1 Stat. 70), continued the Post Office and made the Postmaster General subject to the direction of the President. Four days later, President Washington appointed Samuel Osgood as the first Postmaster General under the Constitution. A population of almost four million was served by 75 Post Offices and about 2,400 miles of post roads.

Your notice is in early 1789, under the previous Postmaster General (appointed under the Articles of Confederation). Free Home Delivery is far in the future (see Rural and Urban Origins of the U.S. Postal Service). Mail service in rural areas gives us a picture of what the mail service is like when a community doesn't have a modern-style Post Office Building with individual mailboxes to go to:

In 1890, three quarters of Americans lived in rural areas that were not covered by free delivery service. Rural Americans benefitted from cheap postage rates, but their access to postal service changed very little before the end of the century. Mail would arrive by post road at “fourth-class” post offices in nearly every village. These were not post offices in the modern sense. In the vast majority of cases they were simply a part of the local general store, newspaper publisher, similar business establishment, or even a private residence.

The notice says quite clearly that the letter is for Col. Abraham Trigg, Clerk of Montgomery County, care of Mr. Beckley, Clerk to the House of Representatives, Richmond, Virginia. We see to whom the letter is addressed and where the addressee should go to pick up the letter.

To do more research, you could look for maps of the post roads in Virginia like the one of New England shown on the page The Early American Postal System at ConstitutionFacts.com, or historical maps via the Library of Congress, the USGS Historical Map Explorer, or other historical map collections. Research in historical newspapers could show where the post roads were, uncover names of local postmasters, and other contemporary information. Search for historical journals and genealogical publications to gather information for context about early post offices and postmasters. The USPS's Publication 119, Sources of Historical Information on Post Offices, Postal Employees, Mail Routes, and Mail Contractors contains a timeline and research guide on undertaking research in the postal service and its employees.

Once you understand the development of the USPS over time, it becomes clear that the modern style (although not common) of addressing a letter to an addressee in care of a third party is the same system that was used since Colonial days.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.