A Place In Time

A Look Into Fort Snelling’s Past

Documents from the collections of the Minnesota Historical Society reveal tantalizing details of daily life at a military post in the mid-nineteenth century—what the weather was like, how long it took for letters to arrive, and what kinds of goods were on offer at the local store.

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Incoming Mail

Page from the Ledger
  • About
    This mail register reveals details about the rates and routes of letters sent from Fort Snelling during the winter of 1838. During this period, postal workers carried mail from office to office and did not deliver it to, or retrieve it from, individual households.

    The U.S. Post Office based its letter rates on both the number of pages being sent and the distance they were to travel. Thus, letters travelling 0–30 miles cost $0.06 per page, while letters travelling 400 miles or more cost $0.25 per page.
  • Date
    This column records the date each letter left the Fort Snelling office.
  • Destination
    This column shows each letter’s destination, which could be as specific as another office or as general as a cardinal direction, e.g., “Eastern.”
  • Cost
    These columns indicate how the mail was paid for. Most letters were paid for by their recipients at the time of delivery, but a few were paid in advance. Letters sent between government officials could be sent free of charge.
  • Chicago, Illinois
    This line shows that on December 4, 1838, the Fort Snelling post office sent $0.50 of unpaid letters, $0.50 of paid letters, and one free letter to Chicago, Illinois. $0.50 in 1838 currency is the equivalent of about $12.00 in today’s money.