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March 14, 1994


Dear Mr.             

Thank you very much for your January 6 and February 14 letters requesting further information about Andrew Balfour, who succeeded Samuel Dayton as postmaster of Salisbury, North Carolina, and Andrew’s mother, Elizabeth Balfour, who might or might not have been the first woman postmaster in the United States.

Your distinguished ancestors have provided me with an opportunity to do some very interesting research! The first reference to Andrew Balfour in the microfilm version of the Postmaster General’s letter books is on March 21, 1796, when he was appointed postmaster of Salisbury, North Carolina, by Postmaster General Joseph Habersham.  Andrew Balfour served as postmaster at Salisbury until around January 7, 1822, when his successor, Samuel Reeves, was appointed postmaster.

Lists of post offices, with postmasters, are available for 1811, 1813, 1817, 1819, and 1822. Each of them lists Andrew Balfour as postmaster of Salisbury. There is no listing of Elizabeth Balfour as postmaster of Salisbury.

However, it is clear from the Postmaster General’s letter books that Elizabeth Balfour was intimately involved in the business of the Salisbury Post Office. The first letter from Postmaster General Joseph Habersham to her is dated November 27, 1799, and replies to a letter she wrote to him on November 3, complaining about the mail contractor’s failure to deliver the mail to Salisbury the preceding day. The Postmaster General’s letters show that Elizabeth Balfour was several times responsible for submitting the post office’s financial returns and requesting that difficulties with the mail contractor be straightened out. Andrew Balfour was the contractor himself from at least 1809 through 1812 and was probably grateful for his mothers able assistance in running the office.

The July 23, 1807, letter addressed to ”E. Balfour Esq.” and December 7, 1809, letter addressed to ”E Balfour pm. Salisbury N.C.” have been dismissed in earlier correspondence from this office as clerical errors for ”A. Balfour,” and probably were just that. I suppose the April 14, 1813, one addressed to ”Mrs. E. Balfour P.M. Salisbury N.C.” can be explained the same way, although not as easily.

The question of whether Mrs. Elizabeth Balfour was the first female postmaster of the United States has been raised with this office at least three times since 1940. Our records show that Mrs. Sarah Decrow was appointed postmaster of Hertford, North Carolina, on September 27, 1792, and as such was the first postmaster appointed under the constitution of the United States (at least one woman was appointed postmaster under the colonial Post Office). Salisbury Post Office was not even established until June 12, 1792, with George Lauman as the first postmaster.

475 L’ENFANT PLAZA SW, Room 10340

Washington DC 20260-0012

(202) 268-2537

Fax; (202) 268-5413



The 1S48 article from the Charlotte Observer, which you enclosed is very confusing. I can’t dismiss it out of hand, because the basic genealogical information seems to agree with information in several published sources in the Genealogical Branch of the North Carolina State Library in Raleigh, North Carolina. Yet the 1784-1825 dates when Mrs. Balfour was supposedly postmaster at Salisbury do not at all agree with the appointment dates for Andrew Balfour. The story that her friends appealed to President Washington because of her financial straits after the murder of her husband in 1782 is certainly possible, although Andrew Balfour was not appointed postmaster of Salisbury until 1796, George Washington was President at that time.

The part about Mrs. Balfour’s accounts being only a half cent off looks like a nice bit of mythology: the December 1, 1800, letter from Postmaster General Joseph Haversham notes that she was 33 cents off in her calculations of what was due Andrew Balfour.

One of the nicest letters is a brief note from Postmaster General Gideon Granger on January 24, 1814, to Mrs. Balfour saying ”I [approve] most highly of your proceedings with the extra mail this is one of many instances in which your proceedings have called for my applause.” Many of the Postmaster General’s letters are routine business letters, but this highly individual and complimentary one was not.

I am enclosing photocopies of these letters from the microfilm and transcriptions of them, as well..

I hope this information is helpful to you. Please let me know if I can be of further assistance.



Paula E. Rabkin Research Associate, Postal History Corporate Information Services


IT711: P E Rabkin: per:03/10/94


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