Antigua with Barbuda (q.v.) and the uninhabited island Redonda lies between 61° and 62° W and 17° and 18° N, some fifty miles east of St. Kitts. Area 108 square miles; the coast line is about 70 miles long and has fine natural harbours. The main ports being St. Johns, Falmouth and Parham.
Antigua was discovered by Christopher Columbus in November 1493 who named the island after a church in Seville. The Spaniards attempted to settle in 1520, but found the land too dry. In 1627 all the Caribbean Islands were granted, by Charles I, to the Earl of Carlisle. In 1629, a French Captain formed a settlement, but abandoned it through lack of water, and in the same year, the first English settler, Williams, formed an estate at Old Road.
In 1632, the British took formal possession of the island, it being colonised from St. Kitts by Sir Thomas Warner. From 1640 to 1654, the islands were frequently raided by the Caribs. In 1663, Charles II made a formal grant of the island to Lord Willoughby who became governor. In 1666, the island was invaded and plundered by the French but was restored to Britain by the Treaty of Breda in 1667.
Henry Falkingham was appointed Deputy Postmaster General on 10 September 1760 followed by William McDonough 3.5.1780, John McConnel 30.5.1787, Henry McConnell 9.7.1814, Mrs. McConnell, John Athill 4.5.1826, James Scotland 1847 and W. Mercer 10.5.1894. The Antigua Post Office came under local control on 1.5.1860.
It is believed that no official arrangements existed prior to 1860 for the collection and delivery of local letters throughout the island. No handstamps have been chronicled prior to 1780.
Up to 1702, letters were all carried by merchant vessels, but then the British Packet Ser¬vice started, being replaced about two years later by Edmund Dummer’s packet service. In 1705, Dummer was allowed to appoint his own postmasters, and he named Richard Bucke- redge as his postmaster in Antigua. About 1,500 letters were brought to England by each monthly packet, but only four out of each twelve arrived safely. The cost of replacing his lost ships was ruinous and Dummer gave up the service. It was not until 1755 that the British Packet service re-started, and meanwhile all mail was carried by merchant vessels.
Letters carried by merchant vessels were called “ship letters”. By the Ordinance of 1657 and the Post Office Act of 1660, ship letters were charged with inland postage. Shortly after¬ward, the Post Office offered to pay one penny for every letter brought by a private ship and handed by the Captain to the Postmaster at the port of arrival. Some letters were carried by private individuals travelling on a ship back to England, but this was unlawful.
Dummer’s packet service to the West Indies was first announced on 11 February 1702- 03. From the cessation of Dummer’s service, much mail was collected or delivered by the ships’ captains at the London coffee houses, the Antigallican Coffee House being popular with Antiguans. With renewal of the Post Office Packet Service in 1755, sailings were irregu¬lar owing to the hazards of war, piracy and weather. In 1757, Stratton and Sargent of Fal¬mouth, became the managers for the Post Office of the West Indian Packet Service. On 6 September 1768 the G.P.O. London announced that the mail for the West Indies would be made up on the first Wednesday of each month. In 1792 an experimental service saw a schooner collecting the Leeward Islands mail from the Packet Office in Barbados.
American and French privateers were a grave danger to trans-Atlantic shipping during the American revolution and the French harassment continued until the final defeat of Napoleon in 1815.
In 1799 a Ship Letter Office was opened in London, no vessel was allowed to unload its cargo until such letters as it had carried were handed in at the nearest post office.
With the introduction of steam, the packet service underwent a great change and the ships ceased to be owned by the G.P.O. and in 1818 the Crown took over as owners. This move was unsuccessful and the service reverted to private vessels who carried mail under contract. In 1840 the British Packet services to the West Indies ceased and sea mail was car¬ried on the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, except for two years from 1 July 1905 to June 1907, when the mail could be carried by any line.