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Rural Free Delivery Cover from an Ex-Farmer Minister, 1907

We take for granted the delivery of mail to our home and business addresses, but that was not always the case, especially in rural areas.

It wasn't until the advent of Rural Free Delivery, or RFD, in 1896 that the post office began to deliver mail directly to homes in rural areas. Before RFD, farmers and rural residents had to travel to the nearest town with a post office to pick up their mail or pay someone to pick up the items for them. RFD was very successful, and by 1902, it would become a permanent service and the word "free" was dropped (i).

The RFD postal carrier, according to one article I found, "was in himself, a small mobile post office. He delivered and picked-up mail, sold money orders and stamps, and could register letters." When the carrier would pick up outgoing mail, he would cancel the stamp with an RFD postmark. The use of RFD postmarks was officially discontinued in 1905, but their use was not forbidden, so RFD covers postmarked after 1905 exist.

The cover in Figure 1 is one such example. It has an RFD postmark dated April 1, and we know the year was 1907 based on the enclosed letter (Figure 3). The cover was picked up on an RFD route in Newfield, New York, a town near Ithaca. Its destination was Memphis, New York, about 61 miles north of Newfield, which is near Syracuse.

The envelope is franked with a two-cent stamp, which was the going rate for a first-class letter in 1907. The stamp is US Scott #319 (or some variation of that number because it came in a number of shades of red that I am not good at discerning; all varieties of #319 are common). It is affixed to the envelope upside down and is a poor example of this issue - printed well off center and with a straight edge.

There is a faint postmark on the back of the cover. Someone wrote "Tompkins County" next to it, which is Newfield's county (Figure 2). The postmark, I believe, is actually a receiving postmark from the Memphis post office. You can just make out the "EMP" of Memphis.

The letter was addressed to David Tillotson of Memphis. A search on turned up a "David Sanford Tillotson" who was born in Plainville, New York, about 7 miles from Memphis, in 1857. Mr. Tillatson was a farmer and lived his entire life in the area.

His first wife, Elizabeth Bunnel, died in 1886, a little more than a year after they were married. It appears she had twin boys on May 14, 1886, but one died just a day later, and Elzabeth passed away nine days after that. Childbirth was risky in the late 19th century - for mother and child - and I can't imagine the agony that Elizabeth went through. David must have been devastated.

In 1889, David married again, this time to Cynthia Locke. The two of them had seven children, all of whom lived well into adulthood. David and Cynthia are pictured in Figure 4. They were married for 36 years until David's death in 1925 at age 68. Cythnia lived another 11 years and passed away in 1936 at the age of 77. They are buried next to one another in the Plainville Rural Cemetery.

The enclosed letter reads, as near as I can tell:

Newfield NY


Mr. Tillatson,

Dear Bro. I send you the shipping bill of my goods. I think they will get there Wednesday. I shipped to Cato for there was (sic) two transfers to get them to Memphis and that would double the cost, so thought I would take chances on the coach. I will want 4 teams two of them with hay racks the weight 6480 lbs.


AC Wiley

Based on this letter, I assume there was another enclosure, namely a shipping bill for items that the writer - AC Wiley - sent to David Tillotson. Mr. Wiley shipped the items to Cato, New York, about 14 miles from Memphis and seven miles from Plainville, because that was cheaper. I don't know what the items were. Agricultural-related goods perhaps? What AC Wiley was trying to convey in the last sentence or two also is a mystery to me.

Who was "AC Wiley"? That might have been Albert C. Wiley who was born in New York in 1854 and was living in Newfield in 1905.

Albert Wiley's istings do not have the city in which he was born, but the 1855 New York State census shows an "Albert C. Wiley" living in Woodhull, New York. Woodhull is just southwest of the Finger Lakes Region, the general locale of both Newfield and Memphis. He and his family were living in Woodhull in 1860, but by 1870, 16-year-old Albert and his family were residing in Deerfield, Pennsylvania in Tioga County, some 30 miles south of Woodhull, just across the New York-Pennsylvania stateline.

That was one of many moves Albert would experience in his life. He married Frances Leach in 1878, and by 1880, at the age of 26, Albert was a farmer in Troupsburg, a stone's throw from Woodhull, and lived there with Frances and their 10-month-old daughter. The records of the 1890 US census were lost in a fire, but New York State conducted a census in 1892, and Albert, Frances and their now three children still lived in Troupsburg. His occupation was still reported as "farmer."

But by 1900, they were living in Arcadia, New York (or Newark, New York, which was a village within the Town of Arcadia), about 85 miles northeast of Troupsburg. He was in a different profession, as well: he was a minister, specifically pastor of the Christian Church of Newark. (Could that be why he refers to David Tillotson as "Dear Bro."? Does "Bro." stand for "Brother" in the religious sense?)

It's the 1905 New York census that shows Albert living in Newfield, some 65 miles southeast of Arcadia and from where he posted this letter. I do find it peculiar that while he was serving as a minister (presumably that is what he was doing in Newfield), Albert would have been engaging in some sort of business transaction with David, especially if it was agricultural-related. Then again, Albert had grown up a farmer so maybe he retained a connection. On the other hand, the goods that Albert shipped to David may have been totally unrelated to farming.

Albert didn't remain in Newfield very long because by 1910, he resided in Lysander, New York, which is just 10 miles from Memphis - David Tillotson's hometown. He continued his work as a clergyman or minister.

Albert passed away at age 63 in 1917 at the home of his daughter in Rochester, New York. His obituary in the August 17, 1917, issue of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle was brief. It stated he was survived by his wife Frances and three daughters and that he would be buried in the Newark Cemetery in Newark, New York.

Frances would live until 1939 when she passed away at age 83. She too was buried in the Newark Cemetery.

I wish I knew more about Albert C. Wiley. Assuming this person is the "AC Wiley" who wrote this letter and that the census evidence is tracking the same "Albert C. Wiley" from 1855 to 1910, why did he and his family move as frequently as they did and what motivated him to become a minister sometime in his 30s?

Figure 1 - Front

Figure 2 - Back

Figure 3 - Enclosure

Figure 4 - Per the source on L-R Herbert Tillotson, Cynthia Locke Tillotson, Franklin Tillotson holding Mildred, Jeanette Tillotson, David Sanford Tillotson. In the front, Marjorie(L) and Jane(R). Year unknown.

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