Mary Katherine Goddard (1738-1816) was the only daughter of Sarah Updike (1700-1770) & Dr. Giles Goddard (1703-1757), postmaster & physician in Groton & New London, Connecticut. Sarah taught her daughter & her younger son William (1740-1817) to write and read Shakespeare, Pope, & Swift among others.
After serving as a printer’s apprentice in Connecticut, William Goddard decided to try his hand at publishing a newspaper with the help of his sister & mother. Their father had died in 1757, leaving an estate of 780 pounds sterling. In 1762, William began his publishing career in Rhode Island, creating the Providence Gazette and Country Journal by using 300 pounds given him by his mother to set up a printing press in Providence. Expecting to print lots of newspapers, in 1764, Goddard entered a partnership with 3 other gentlemen and used more of his father's estate to help establish & operate the 1st paper mill in Rhode Island on the Woonasquatucket River.
A year later, William Goddard became frustrated at his lack of financial success & gave up editorship of the Rhode Island newspaper. He claimed that 2 New York gentlemen "who wished to see me employed on a more extensive theatre" enticed him to leave Rhode Island. His practical mother & sister Mary Katherine kept publishing the Providence newspaper from 1765 through 1768; after all, they owned the printing press.
Before the Revolution, Goddard, who now had moved from New York to Philadelphia "to find a more adventageous situation," had to use private carriers to get news past the prying eyes of the English Crown post. After joining others to publish the Pennsylvania Chronicle and Universal Advertiser —a paper sympathetic to the revolutionary cause, the local Crown postmaster kept out-of-town newspapers from the press, depriving the publisher of critical news & information.
His mother, who had stayed in Providence operating the business she had paid for; finally sold the Providence press & followed him to Philadelphia with Mary Katherine. In Philadelphia, Sarah Goddard ran a bookstore until 1768, she died in 1770.
Mary Katherine published the Pennsylvania Chronicle and Universal Advertiser alone under her brother's name for the last year of its existence. Her erratic brother was too busy with politics to help in the everyday production. William was frequently jailed for public outbursts and rabble-rousing articles in the paper.
The Pennsylvania Chronicle and Universal Advertiser was driven out of business, when the Crown post refused to accept it for distribution in the mails. William Goddard retaliated politically by designing an American postal system founded upon the principles of open communication, no governmental interference, and free exchange of ideas.
Goddard presented his plan to the Continental Congress on October 5, 1774. The representatives were intrigued but tabled Goddard's plan; until the startling battles of Lexington & Concord in 1775. Soon after, on July 16, 1775, the new "Constitutional Post" was implemented by the Congress, ensuring communication between patriots & keeping the readers informed of events during the American Revolution. The new revolutionary post system forced the Crown post out of business in America on Christmas day, 1775, becoming the foundation of the United States' postal system. Once again pulling up roots, Willliam Goddard decided to attempt a new printing venture in Baltimore. By early 1774, Mary Katherine, who had been helping her brother & mother with their bookstore, newspaper, almanac, and printing ventures, moved south to help her brother; as he began to publish a newspaper in Baltimore.
The Maryland Journal was established by William Goddard August 20, 1773, the first newspaper to be printed in Baltimore. Goddard published the paper with the help of his sister until May 10, 1775, when Mary Katherine Goddard, became the editor & publisher. Until 1784, the newspaper appeared solely under her name.
Because of the new postal system, newpapers could now flow between the colonies without censorship; but new problems arose, as the Revolutionary War created a paper shortage for publishers. The war also sparked inflation leaving subscribers with little cash. To keep her newspaper publishing regularly, Mary Katherine accepted barter in beef, pork, animal food, butter, hog’s lard, tallow, beeswax, flour, wheat, rye, Indian corn, beans and other goods she could either use or sell in her shop.
In 1775, Mary Katherine took an additional job at the Baltimore Post Office. She became the first woman postmistress in the colonies.
The First Post Office in Baltimore. Photo from the Maryland Historical Society, also located in Baltimore, Maryland.
Under Mary Katherine Goddard, the Maryland Journal openly expressed the colonials' thirst for freedom from the crown, although she was willing to take a risk and publish a variety of political perspectives. Mary Katherine published reports of Massachusetts of April 19, 1775, triggering the Battles of Concord and Lexington. Her editorial of June 14, 1775, proclaimed, "The ever memorable 19th of April gave a conclusive answer to the questions of American freedom. What think ye of Congress now? That day. . . evidenced that Americans would rather die than live slaves!"
During the lean years of the Revolution, Postmistress Mary Katherine Goddard opened a book & stationary store in Baltimore, and kept her printing press busy publishing books & almanacs as well as her newspaper.
In January 1777, she printed the first copy of the Declaration of Independence to include the signers' names, before any other newspaper in the United States. In the summer of 1776, the signers were aware that they were committing treason and submitting to an overabundance of caution, omitted their names from the original publication of the document. Six months later, finally garnering the courage to publicly stand by their professed ideals, the Continental Congress authorized Goddard’s Maryland Journal to publish the Declaration with its signers’ names.
Mary Katherine Goddard's almanacs were also popular in the Chesapeake. In her 1782 Maryland and Virginia Almanack, Mary Katherine wrote, "From the extensive sale of this Almanack last year, the publisher would presume to think that her endeavors, in some measure, met with the approbation of the Public. Nothing can be more flattering than this idea, which cannot fail to excite in her the highest sense of gratitude, attended with future diligence and perseverance."
After he married, her mercurial brother decided that he wanted to return to the Baltimore publishing business and to run the newspaper and the press himself in 1784. He had never been successful at any occupation and was jealous of his sister's success. Wrenching control of the press was not without turmoil. Mary Katherine Goddard filed 5 lawsuits against her brother before severing her interest in the printing enterprise, which she had successfully managed for 10 years. After all, she still had her position as Baltimore's postmistress to rely on for income.
However, in September 1789, Samuel Osgood, the newly appointed national Postmaster General, decided that inexperienced political appointee John White of Baltimore should replace Goddard. The Assistant Postmaster General Jonathan Burrall was dispatched to Baltimore to give Mary Katherine Goddard the news; but unable to face her in person, he sent a note to her office. She was ordered to turn over her office to White, and told, "a younger person able to ride a horse" was needed.
Over 200 merchants & residents in Baltimore sent a petition and letters objecting to her removal to the Postmaster General. They received no reply. Believing she was still capable at age 51; just before Christmas, she wrote to President George Washington to have the order reversed. She wrote the letter in the 3rd person.
Baltimore, Decemr 23d 1789.
The Representation of Mary Katherine Goddard, Humbly sheweth--That She hath kept the Post Office at Baltimore for upwards of fourteen years; but with what degree of Satisfaction to all those concerned, She begs leave to refer to the number & respectability of the Persons who have publickly addressed the Post Master General & his Assistant, on the Subject of her late removal from Office; And as Mr Osgood has not yet favoured between two and three hundred of the principal Merchants & Inhabitants of Baltimore with an answer to their last application, transmitted to him by Post on the last Day of November ultimo, nor with any Answer to sundry private Letters, accompanying the transcript of a like application, made to Mr Burrell when at Baltimore: She therefore, at the instance of the Gentlemen thus pleased to interest themselves on her behalf, lays before your Excellency, Superintendant of that department, as briefly as possible, the nature & circumstances, of what is conceived to be an extraordinary Act of oppression towards her.
That upon the dissolution of the old Government, when from the non importation Agreement and other causes incident to the Revolution, the Revenue of the Post-Office was inadequate to its disbursements, She accepted of the same, and at her own risque, advanced hard money to defray the Charges of Post Riders for many years, when they were not to be procured on any other terms; and that during this period, the whole of her Labour & Industry in establishing the Office was necessarily unrewarded; the Emoluments of which being by no means equal to the then high Rent of an Office, or to the Attention required both to receive & forward the Mails, as will evidently appear by the Schedule, here unto annexed, and therefore, whoever thus established & continued the Office, at the gloomy period when it was worth no Person's Acceptance, ought surely to be thought worthy of it, when it became more valuable. And as it had been universally understood, that no Person would be removed from Office, under the present Government, unless manifest misconduct appeared, and as no such Charge could possibly be made against her, with the least colour of Justice, She was happy in the Idea of being secured both in her Office, and the Protection of all those who wished well to the prosperity of the Post Office, & the new Government in general.
That She has sustained many heavy losses, well known to the Gentlemen of Baltimore, which swallowed up the Fruits of her Industry, without even extricating her from embarrassment to this day, although her Accounts with the Post Office were always considered, as amongst the most punctual & regular of any upon the Continent; notwithstanding which She has been discharged from her Office, without any imputation of the least fault, and without any previous official notice: The first intimation on that head being an Order from Mr Burrell, whilst at Baltimore, to deliver up the Office to the Bearer of his Note; and altho' he had been there several days, yet he did not think proper to indulge her with a personal Interview, thus far treating her in the Stile of an unfriendly delinquent, unworthy of common Civility, as well as common Justice. And although Mr White, who succeeded her, might doubtless have been meritorious in the different Offices he sustained, yet, She humbly conceives, he was not more deserving of public notice & protection in his Station, than She has uniformly been in hers: It must therefore become a matter of serious Importance & of peculiar distress to her, if Government can find no means of rewarding this Gentleman's Services, but at the Expence of all that She had to rely on, for her future dependence & subsistence.
That it has been alledged as a Plea for her removal, that the Deputy Post Master of Baltimore will hereafter be obliged to ride & regulate the Offices to the Southward but that She conceives, with great deference to the Post Master General, this is impracticable, & morally impossible; because the business of the Baltimore Office will require his constant Attendance, & he alone could give satisfaction to the people, if therefore the duties of the Assistant, Mr Burrells' Office are to be performed by any other than himself, surely it cannot well be attempted by those who are fully occupied with their own; and as two Persons must be employed, according to this new Plan, She apprehends, that She is more adequate to give Instructions to the Riding Post Master, how to act than any other Person possibly could, heretofore unexperienced in such business.She, therefore, most humbly hopes from your Excellency's Philanthropy and wonted Humanity, You will take her Situation into Consideration; and as the Grievance complained of, has happened whilst the Post Office Department was put under your auspicious Protection, by a Resolve of Congress, that Your Excellency will be graciously pleased to order, that She may be restored to her former Office, and as in duty bound, She will ever pray &c.
Mary K: Goddard
George Washington promply responded.
New York January 6th.1790
In reply to your memorial of the 10th of December, which has been received, I can only observe, that I have uniformly avoided interfering with any appointments which do not require my official agency: and the Resolutions and Ordinances establishing the Post Office under the former Congress, and which have been recognized by the present Government, giving power to the Post-Master General to appoint his own Deputies, and making him accountable for their conduct, is an insuperable objection to my taking any part in this matter.
I have directed your Memorial to be laid before the Post-Master General who will take such measures thereon as his Judgment may direct.
I am, Madam. Your Most Obedt. Servt. Go: Washington
Puffing himself up, Postmaster Samuel Osgood responded the next day giving no reason for the appointment of White except the following: "From mature Consideration, I am fully convinced that I shall be more benefitted from the Services of Mr White than I could be from those of Mrs Goddard."
After receiving Washington's dismissive letter, she pressed her appeal for reinstatement & for payment of a claim against the United States in both the Senate and House of Representatives. She was unsuccessful in obtaining either compensation or reinstatment.
The 1790 Maryland Census reported she owned four slaves and had one other free person living in her household. From 1790 to 1802, she operated a bookstore in Baltimore.
By the canvass of the 1810 Maryland Census, Mary Katherine Goddard was living with just one female slave in her household. Mary Katherine died in Baltimore in August of 1816, at the age of 78, leaving all her personal possessions & real property to her African American servant Belinda Starling & releasing her from slavery.