In July 1775 the Second Continental Congress established the US postal system. Enslaved men, who worked for transportation contractors were among the first postal service mail carriers. Women began carrying mail in 1845.
The first black woman to carry mail for the United States postal service was Mary Fields, “Stagecoach Mary.”
Fields was born into slavery around 1832 in Hickman County, Tennessee. After becoming a free woman she went to work for St. Peter’s Catholic School in Montana. She provided protection for nuns at the school, drove their supply wagon, and made necessary repairs to keep the school running.
Although known for her kind heart, Fields had a temper and stood her ground when confronted. When one confrontation ended with her shooting a man in self-defense, she was fired by the Bishop.
Fields relocated to Cascade County and opened a restaurant, which soon failed. She was not considered a good cook and often fed many that had no means to pay. She then opened a laundry. Fields was beloved by the people in the town. When her laundry burned down the townspeople pitched in and helped her reopen it.
In 1895 she got a job delivering mail for the United States Postal Service. Fields was more than sixty years old at the time. She drove the mail stagecoach and delivered mail between Cascade, St. Peter’s Mission and remote homesteads until she was almost seventy. She never let the weather or the rugged trails keep her from doing her job.
Field, who was often described as a “cigar-smoking and crack shot who was as tough as any man around” died of liver failure in 1914.