Bradley Postal Map

Object Spotlight
Refer to caption

Abraham Bradley's postal map

Abraham Bradley, Jr., a lawyer and topographer from Connecticut, was hired as a clerk in the General Post Office by Postmaster General Timothy Pickering in 1791. Bradley quickly made his name as the office's authority on postal routes and schedules, many of which were devised by him. In 1796 Bradley published his first Map of the United States, Exhibiting the Post-Roads, the Situations, Connections, and Distances of the Post-Offices. At that time, barely 15 years after the end of the War of Independence, most citizens of the fledgling United States still had no real conception of the magnitude of their young nation. This colorful series of maps showed people a consolidated country, with national borders. They no longer lived among a scattered collection of states, but in a united land.

Post route map by Abraham Bradley

Some of Bradley's maps included detailed charts that listed stagecoach schedules along the nation's principle post road. Bradley's postal maps, with their schedule charts, were a perfect combination of his typographical skills and obsession for precision scheduling. These unique U.S. maps were on public display in almost every large post office in the country. They provided citizens with an impressive visual depiction of the scope of the United States at a time when the search for a national culture and national identity was at its height after the final and official separation from Great Britain. The inclusion of stagecoach schedules promoted, encouraged and broadened popular notions of the concept of time beyond seasonal and religious practices. Citizens began to consider (and later demand adherence to) weekly and daily notations of time, as measured by the institution of regularly-scheduled mail service.

Abraham Bradley spent most of his life–38 years–in the postal service. He worked for five different Postmasters General, serving as 1st assistant to most of them. In 1828, he was was Postmaster General John McLean's senior assistant. After Andrew Jackson's election to the presidency that year, Bradley's days with the Post Office Department were numbered. Neither Bradley nor McLean were supporters of Jackson, and by the fall of 1829, both were out of a job.

Written by Nancy A. Pope