The post office in Charleston — shown above circa 1860 — has gotten around. It moved into the historic Exchange Building in 1815, and by 1825 was said to be “best and most convenient in the United States.” In 1831, its postmaster Thomas Bacot pioneered sending the U.S. mail by railroad.
As the issue of slavery began to tear at the bonds of the Union, the U.S. postal service felt the effects. Southerners resented Abolitionist literature being mailed in from the north. In Charleston, a mob managed to seize and burn one shipment of pamphlets, but when they returned for a second batch, they were met by the postmaster, Alfred Huger, brandishing a shotgun and swearing to defend the mail with his life.
But Huger’s dedication was to the sanctity of the mail, not the Union. In 1860, when South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union, Huger stayed on as postmaster. He quickly had new stamps printed to tide Charleston’s postal patrons over until the Confederacy could establish its own postal service.
A 5-cent Charleston postmaster provisional
During the Civil War, and especially during the bombardment of Charleston (1863-1865), the post office had to move often. By the end of the war, Huger and his staff were working out of a church.
The empty Charleston Exchange Building in 1865
After the war, the Exchange Building was repaired; the post office returned in 1875 and remained there (displaced briefly by an earthquake in 1886) until 1896. Amazingly, the Exchange Building still stands in Charleston today, restored and indomitable.