While the name of Benjamin Franklin primarily calls to mind his services in the cause of American independence, he was also a printer, scientist, author, and philosopher. In addition, he served as Deputy Postmaster General for the colonies of British North America. Thus, his name is associated with the development of the Canadian postal system.
Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston on 17 January 1706. There he learned the printers trade from his brother, who owned a printing shop. He thus had a very early opportunity, in 1721, to publish some articles and stories in the New England Courant. In 1723, he left the city of his birth to settle in Philadelphia. A few years later, in 1726, he opened his own printing shop in partnership with Hugh Meredith. Then, in 1729, he purchased the Philadelphia Gazette and became sole owner of his printing shop. In 1732, he first published Poor Richards Almanac, which he continued until 1757.
These many accomplishments earned him a reputation in the community of Philadelphia. In 1736, he was elected to the Pennsylvania legislature. In 1737, he was appointed Postmaster in Philadelphia, an office he held until 1753. That same year, Benjamin Franklin and William Hunter, the postal administrator at Williamsburg, Virginia, were appointed Deputy Postmasters General for the colonies of British North America, the first persons ever entrusted with that office.
In the first year of his term, Franklin worked to reorganize and simplify the Post Office accounting system. In the following years he devoted himself to making postal service in the colonies more regular, and notably succeeded in speeding it up between Boston, Philadelphia and New York, the three major cities of the 13 colonies. Thanks to this major restructuring of the postal system, Franklin was able in 1761 to forward to the General Post Office in London the first profits generated by the Post Office department for the colonies of British North America.
After 1763, the jurisdiction of the two Deputy Postmasters General was extended to New France, now acquired by England after the signing of the Treaty of Paris. Benjamin Franklin and John Foxcroft, who succeeded Hunter after his death in 1761, were now responsible for a postal system ranging from Canada to Virginia. To ensure the development of postal connections in Canada, they appointed Hugh Finlay as Postmaster in Québec. Finlay was charged with introducing weekly postal service between the towns of Québec and Montréal, as well as a monthly postal link to New York, then a transit point for mail between the whole of the American continent and Europe.
For much of his mandate from 1757 to 1762 and from 1764 to 1774, Franklin resided in England to administer the postal affairs of the colonies. In 1774, amidst the agitation preceding the American Revolution, some of his writings and activities resulted in his being dismissed from his duties as Deputy Postmaster General.
Back in Philadelphia, he was named the Pennsylvania representative to the Second Continental Congress and Postmaster General in the revolutionary government. He would eventually have an important career as a diplomat and politician in the service of the new American republic.
Canadian Postal Museum research file, 21.2.5 Deputy Postmaster General: British Postal Administration pre 1851.
Hillman, Thomas A. Records of the Post Office (RG 3). Ottawa: National Archives of Canada, 1985.