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Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The Rocky Point Post Office and Its Stamp on History

By Michael M. DeBonis
Copyright © 2020All rights reserved by the author.

The British Penny Black
When we think of the United States Postal Service, we think of it firstly as a communications
network and secondly as a courier business. The Postal Service of modern America was forged and founded in the fire of the bloody Revolutionary War (1775-1783), on July 26, 1775, by an act from the second Continental Congress (, 1). It selected Pennsylvanian and newspaper mogul Benjamin Franklin as the United States’ first Postmaster General (, 1).

Franklin was America’s first great polymath; he was renowned worldwide as a scientist, inventor, journalist, and printer. He is regarded by contemporary American literary scholars, and as one of the finest prose stylists in the history of the United States. Yet, his role (and importance) as the first steward and director of the U. S. Postal Service is not fully known, or appreciated, by his own people. Despite being famed as the writer of Poor Richard’s Almanac and his Autobiography, Franklin was also, by 1753, chosen by the English crown as one of two Postmasters General for British North America (, 1). And before this, Benjamin Franklin served the public as Postmaster General of Philadelphia (, 1).

During his tenure as first U. S. Postmaster General, Franklin “…made numerous improvements to the mail system, including setting up new, more efficient colonial routes and cutting delivery time in half between Philadelphia and New York…”(, 1). He additionally “…debuted the first-rate chart, which standardized delivery costs based on distance and weight,”(, 1). Franklin occupied his position until the end of 1776 when the Continental Congress put him on a boat bound for France, where he would serve the fledgling American nation as a diplomat (, 1). Franklin “…left a vastly improved mail system, with routes from Florida to Maine and regular service between the colonies and Britain,” (, 1).

Franklin and his successors hence created a very viable and well-functioning postal service, which greatly facilitated communication and commerce amongst the thirteen new states, and, by such actions, greatly added to America’s national security and military readiness.

But Benjamin Franklin’s fertile imagination could only catch glimpses of the United States Postal Service’s true potential, namely as an outstanding agent in commemorating and spreading the great people and events of American history and documenting them brilliantly by way of numerous U.S. postage stamps. Modern self-adhesive postage stamps would be created only about sixty years after Franklin’s death in 1790 (Bruns, 476). These stamps were the legendary “Penny Blacks” printed by Great Britain and were initially for sale at most U. K. post offices on May 1, 1840 (Bruns, 476). The Penny Blacks are considered the world’s first modern (self-adhesive) postage stamps (Bruns, 476) and each stamp boldly depicted a bright white-sketched likeness of Queen Victoria’s visage, in profile, as a foreground, and then shown against a stark black background (Bruns, 476, and Kehr, 738). This cameo-similar rendering of Britain’s distinguished monarch was in use “…for over 60 years…”(Bruns, 476).

“The United States issued its first official postage stamps (5- and 10-cents denominations) on July 1, 1847”(Bruns, 477). These stamps portrayed images of Benjamin Franklin (on five-cents stamp) and George Washington (on ten-cents stamp), and they were issued and created by a March 3, 1847 act of Congress (Bruns, 477 and Kehr, 738). Such postage stamps from both the United States of America and Great Britain would quickly establish philately (the aesthetic, scholarly, financial, and historical collection of stamps), as a unique field of endeavor and it would globally transform how people came to see the world in cultural and geographic terms. Postage stamps (as well as other revenue stamps) sharply defined any Western nation’s political, historical, and artistic values, via how the symbolism, designs, and personages illustrated on these stamps were printed and shown to their respective publics.

Modern American philately is a direct historical descendant of Western sigillography (the study of ancient seals, stamps, and symbols). It is a sibling historical discipline concerning American and European numismatics (the careful study and collection of coins and paper money) and heraldry (the systematic formulation and meaningful descriptions of coats of arms). Postage stamps, by being created by established world governments, must then be considered as official state and legal documents of their specific home countries, and as such, are to be correctly deemed as part of the pubic and historical records of modern times. This also is to say that mail stamps convey (more often than not) messages much more significant than “Proper postage paid.”

The great State of New York has its history closely interwoven with the history of American philately. This is so because New York State’s history is America’s history. To make this observation and conclusion unambiguous and properly contextualized, consider the following:
The Roosevelt Blue

  • From at least 1778, and forward, New York State’s great Excelsior seal became the official and supreme symbol of New York State, both on its flag and on its legal documents (, 1). It remains so to this day, and the seal of the great State of New York’s custodian is New York’s Secretary of State (, 1). New York State’s notaries public often use, as part of their notarial seals, the official New York State coat of arms engraved on their stamps, and they are entitled to do so by NY State law, being all empowered by New York’s Secretary of State. NYS notaries public (however) are not required by NYS law to use New York State’s official coat of arms when working with legal documents, as this is optional (NYS Notary Public License Law, 24). Many American philatelic designs closely mirror American state seals.
  • American President (and former NY State Governor) Theodore Roosevelt, a great polymath like Franklin, had his visage proudly imprinted of several U. S. postage stamps, specifically the exquisite Roosevelt Reds and the Roosevelt Blues, of the early and mid-20th century. Both stamps vividly celebrate the life and times of “T. R.”
  • A distant cousin of Theodore Roosevelt, U. S. President (and another former NY State
    Franklin D. Roosevelt inspecting his
    stamp library.
    Governor) Franklin Delano Roosevelt was amongst the twentieth century’s foremost authorities, designers, and collectors of philately. FDR was an expert’s expert on mail stamps in general, and he was a huge proponent of using revenue (and postage stamps) to strongly advocate for American history and culture (e.g., the “duck stamps” of the U. S. Dept. of Wildlife Conservation). His illustrious and copious collection is now part of his Presidential Museum in Hyde Park, New York. 

As previously mentioned in this text, modern American philately has its lineage directly rooted in European sigillography. How do we know this? Written historical documents tell the tale, and they do not lie. One of humankind’s earliest written documents is the clay inscribed ancient Egyptian Palette of King Narmer, a royal proclamation, dating to circa 3,500 BC (King, 10). The regal visage of Narmer, standing in victory over his newly conquered foe, is unique in historical annals for two reasons: The first reason being that it portrays ancient Egypt’s very earliest (known) and official pharaoh. The second reason is that Narmer is shown to be uniting upper and lower Egypt by the result of his conquest, thus becoming Egypt’s undisputed ruler. Whether or not, the recently discovered “scorpion” seal of King Scorpion predates the reign of King Narmer is open to debate in historical circles, revolving around the specialized field of Egyptology.

In any event, Narmer’s image on his palette is one of history’s most antique seals, stamps, and sigils (used synonymously here with the term symbols). Notarial seals and stamps are nearly as old as regal (and state) ones. Thus the scribes of ancient Egypt, who all held venerated positions in ancient Egyptian society (King, 8), passed on their stenographic and notarial professions to those royal, state, and municipal scribes of classical Greece and Rome. From there, historically, Greece and Rome (and especially the Roman Catholic Church and the Byzantine Empire) passed on the notarial trades to the states of mediaeval and Renaissance Europe. And America’s European forbearers brought notarial practices with them to the New World. On Columbus’ first sailing expedition to the Americas, a Spanish royal notary was present to copy down and verify Columbus’ discoveries in the Caribbean, “On October 12, 1492, Rodrigo de Escobedo, of Segovia, was the first notary in North America. He sailed on the [Spanish] flagship Santa Maria, as Secretary of the Fleet, landing with Christopher Columbus, and recording the event in legal documents. He witnessed documents as a royal notary for King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile.” (Lucas, 1).

Thus, we can say, with absolute certainty, that notarial stamps (first being created over 4,700 years ago) are substantially older than postage stamps, which all came about much, much later, at nearly 200 years before our present time. And postage stamps and notarial stamps, although sharing a common ancestor (sigillography) and although being closely related, are not the same. Postage stamps are mainly philatelic stamps, while notarial seals are purely sigillographic ones. Their difference can be succinctly summarized by both of these stamps’ functions. Notarial seals and stamps witness and attest the legal veracity of a signer’s name on written instruments. In contrast, postage stamps and seals (minus their historical and cultural roles) are designed to facilitate the transport of written documents only.

The first of three American (but New York-oriented) philatelic stamps to be discussed here is the unambiguously brilliant Roosevelt Red stamp, which was “…issued on November 18, 1955, in New York City, the place of Roosevelt’s birth,” (Rod, 1). “The 6-cents stamp was very versatile when issued, as it met both the two-ounces first-class letter rate and the one-ounce domestic airmail rate” (Rod, 1). The unmitigated ruby-like beauty of this stamp vigorously burns the young Theodore Roosevelt’s 42-year-old mien upon the eye of its looker, very much radiating the lofty rouge fire of early morning dawn. The intensity of “TR’s” eyes and countenance is both overwhelming and sincere, but it is not superfluous. Roosevelt’s exterior image reflects the true inner vibrancy of his singular character and soul. President T. Roosevelt is in total control of his person, and his gaze is the gaze of sunrise, bearing novel energy to the U. S. Presidency, which was lacking from many years before his tenure as Commander-in-Chief (1901-1909). The likeness of Theodore Roosevelt on the Roosevelt Red is “…reproduced from a photograph of a Philip A. De Laszlo painting.” (Rod, 1). This fact is soundly verified by the U. S. Stamp Gallery (Editors, 1). The Roosevelt Red boldly celebrates the life of the 26th President of the United States. At the time of his Presidency, Roosevelt “…was a widely respected historian, naturalist, and explorer…”(Rod, 1).

The second (U. S.-New York State-related) postage stamp I will mention in my text is the much earlier created Roosevelt Blue. It illustrates Theodore Roosevelt as a “…hero of the Spanish-American War and the Battle of San Juan Hill…”(Juell, 1) on an exquisite appearing 5 cents stamp. Unlike the Roosevelt Red, which was crafted by Victor S. McCloskey, Jr. and Charles R. Chickering, of the U. S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing, (Rod, 1) the Roosevelt Blue was designed by artist Claire Aubrey Huston and engraved by one John Eissler (Juell, 1). “Issued in 1922, the stamp was commonly used on letters to foreign destinations” (Juell, 1). On the Roosevelt Blue (named so for the stamp’s pervasive blue ink), Theodore’s facial expression is starkly studious, dignified, and stubbornly rugged. This is a portrayal of Teddy Roosevelt made towards the end of his second Presidential term in office. The image was taken from a photograph of Mr. Roosevelt shot in 1907, by the firm of Harris and Ewing (Juell, 1).

Roosevelt’s demeanor sublimely glows in sapphire luster, as he cleverly peeps out of his picture. His look is of a man, certain of his person, place, and purpose. Theodore Roosevelt was a great reformer, anti-trust crusader, and conservationist. He was responsible (almost single-mindedly) for the development and construction of the Panama Canal (U. S. Stamp Gallery, 1) and the establishment of the U. S. Park System (Kenmore Stamp Co., 1). The omnipotent-like ruby color of the Roosevelt Red (noting the origin of this stamp’s name) monopolizes Teddy’s face and presence there, and it is not lost to the human eye. But the Roosevelt Red, being dissimilar to the Roosevelt Blue, in this respect, shows Theodore Roosevelt as the young firebrand he was in 1901 when first assuming the mantle of Chief Executive of the U. S. Constitution. TR’s subtly frenetic visage in the later 1955 Roosevelt Red stamp stands opposed to the much more experienced, sager, and cooler demeanor he exhibits in the 1907 image of the Roosevelt Blue (issued in 1922).

No American did more in the twentieth century to modernize the United States Postal Service than did Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The 32nd President of the United States (and like his cousin, Teddy, a proud New Yorker) “…implemented numerous stamp-related initiatives during his terms of office, including the establishment of first-day ceremonies, and the introduction of philatelic windows at local post offices,”(Ghedini, 1). FDR also “…reviewed and approved more than 200 postage stamps during his Presidency…”(Ghedini, 1-2) and “…personally submitted several hand-drawn designs that went on to become stamps.”(Ghedini, 2).

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, “As part of the Works Projects Administration, …maintained hands-on participation in the construction of 406 post office buildings nationwide.” (Ghedini, 2). FDR’s love for philately came early on in his life (Ghedini, 2) as familial relations “…regularly sent him foreign postage stamps while engaged in trade overseas.”(Ghedini, 2). The young Franklin Roosevelt “…embraced the hobby as a means to bolster his interest in geography and world history by [his] documenting various facts related to each stamp’s origin and its significance to the issuing country’s heritage”(Ghedini, 2). Later in his life, after being badly paralyzed by the Poliovirus, FDR would credit “…his involvement in the hobby as having saved his life.”(Ghedini, 2). And as U.S. President, F. D. Roosevelt personally engineered the design and imagery of more than one major postage stamp, and he superbly mobilized the USPS to sell and market them (Ghedini, 2). These novel practices forever upgraded the USPS and did much to enrich and disseminate the study of philately, around the world (Ghedini, 2). FDR’s innovations with creating new U. S. postage stamps and his tremendous expansion of the USPS generally spanned his very difficult years in guiding America through the national tragedies of the Great Depression and WWII.

The final U. S. postage stamp, based upon an esteemed New Yorker, to be discussed here will be 2019’s Walt Whitman Stamp. The USPS issued Whitman’s stamp on September 12, 2019 (Walt Whitman Initiative, 1). Walt Whitman was one of America’s finest poets of the nineteenth century who “…is considered by many to be the father of modern American poetry “(Walt Whitman Initiative, 1). Whitman brazenly novelized free-verse poetry in English with outstanding and profound results. The 2019 Whitman Stamp brilliantly commemorates Whitman’s life as both a Civil War-era poet and a nurse. Whitman followed the Union Army during several terrible campaigns during the Civil War (1861-1865), and he spent much time helping Yankee and rebel soldiers recover their health. Walt’s momentous and visionary contribution to American literature was his epic poetry anthology Leaves of Grass.

Walt Whitman
2019 USPS stamp
The 2019 Whitman Stamp shows a silver-haired and bearded Whitman, neatly resting his head on his
left hand, while Whitman’s Merlin-like visage deeply looks at his viewers, ruminating on various things (Walt Whitman Initiative, 1). What Walt Whitman is thinking in this picture, we cannot know. But his gaze here is a benign one. The 2019 Whitman Stamp is “…based on a photograph [of Walt Whitman] taken by Frank Pearsall in 1869,”(Walt Whitman Initiative, 1) five years after the brutish Civil War terminated. Behind the meditating poet extends the flowering purple branch of a lilac bush, as one sigil, with a hermit thrush (another sigil) sitting on it (Walt Whitman Initiative, 1). Both the lilac bush and the hermit thrush quietly and symbolically allude to Walt Whitman’s somber and majestic elegy written for Abraham Lincoln, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” (Walt Whitman Initiative, 1). The Walt Whitman 2019 Stamp was designed by artists Sam Weber and Greg Breeding (Walt Whitman Initiative, 1). “The words THREE OUNCES indicate its usage value” (Walt Whitman Initiative, 1), and the Whitman Stamp is unique for its high aesthetic appeal. As of June 2020, the Whitman Stamp is still available for purchase at most U.S. Post Offices.

The history of the Rocky Point Post Office begins in post-Civil War New York State. While the Era of Reconstruction bitterly gripped the still badly wounded USA, which was only then starting to heal from The War Between the States, a prosperous Long Island farmer petitioned the Federal Government to create a post office at Rocky Point, on February 24th, 1872 (Aurucci-Stiefel, 1). The Brookhaven Town farmer’s name was Sylvester D. Tuthill (Aurucci-Stiefel, 1). Tuthill’s petition was subsequently granted, as he was sworn in as the first Rocky Point Postmaster on March 6th, 1872 (Aurucci-Stiefel, 1). Tuthill ran one of the tidiest farms in Suffolk County (Aurucci-Stiefel, 1), and his business interests ranged from agriculture to public service and sailing (Aurucci-Stiefel, 1).

While visiting New Orleans in Louisiana in late February of 1885, Sylvester Tuthill died (Aurucci-Stiefel, 1). Shortly after being buried at nearby Yaphank, NY, his wife was sworn in as rustic Rocky Point’s second Postmaster and first Postmistress, on March 17th, 1885 (Aurucci-Stiefel, 1). Ann Eliza Tuthill “…continued [on as Postmistress] just short of 16 years” (Aurucci-Stiefel, 1). Ms. Tuthill “…lived to age 75 and is buried with her husband in the Yaphank Cemetery” (Aurucci-Stiefel, 1). The Tuthill’s ran their pastoral north shore Long Island post office from the dining room of their home, as affirmed by their great-grandson Samuel Tuthill (Aurucci-Stiefel, 1). In the late nineteenth century, “It was common practice to operate a post office from a farmhouse or a general store,” (Aurucci-Stiefel, 1). John E. Laws, one of the Postmasters of Rocky Point, who succeeded Ann Eliza Tuthill, continued this procedure in the years just before World War I (Aurucci-Stiefel, 1). Laws operated his post office from a small building on his property, at the south side of what is now NYS Route 25A, near modern-day Hallock Landing (Aurucci-Stiefel, 1). Irene Hallock Dickinson, an old resident Rocky Point, verified this point of fact, as do also maps of Rocky Point, dating from the early 20th century (Aurucci-Stiefel, 1).

Frank H. Tuthill, of Rocky Point, NY, succeeded John Laws as Rocky Point Postmaster, and he was appointed as such on August 15th, 1913 (Aurucci-Stiefel, 2). “He followed in the tradition of his parents, Sylvester and [Ann] Eliza Tuthill, who [first] introduced the post office to Rocky Point”(Aurucci-Stiefel, 2). Frank Tuthill ran the Rocky Point Post Office from his residence (Aurucci-Stiefel, 2), and he altered his home’s architecture to do so (Aurucci-Stiefel, 2). During his lifetime, Frank Tuthill held many governmental Long Island offices (Aurucci-Stiefel, 2) such as Brookhaven Town Trustee, Trustee of Rocky Point School District No. 9, and Rocky Point Postmaster (Aurucci-Stiefel, 2). When he died in June of 1926, Frank Tuthill had perpetuated a family legacy, which was devoted to the U. S. Postal Service “…for over forty years.” (Aurucci-Stiefel, 2). William H. Fry replaced Tuthill in July 1926.

From the time of Fry and forward, the Rocky Point Post Office had one outstanding Postmistress after another, amongst them: Carol A. Fry, Anne Cardona, Mary Mushler, and Gladys Behn (Aurucci-Stiefel, 3). Ms. Behn was replaced by Margaret Doherty (Aurucci-Stiefel, 3). From the Roaring Twenties to the current day, as Rocky Point grew in population and settlement size, the Rocky Point Post Office dramatically modernized itself in two ways:

  • It ceased operating from family-owned general stores/homes from around the mid-twentieth century onwards, eventually finding a permanent location on NYS Rte. 25A, in Rocky Point, in a state-of-the-art mail-handling building.
  • In 1984, the Rocky Point Post Office added an auxiliary branch on the grounds of McCarrick’s Dairy Farm, to properly accommodate the mailing demands of an expanding Suffolk County hamlet (Aurucci-Stiefel, 3).

Other more contemporary Rocky Point Postmasters and Postmistresses are Joseph J. Terranova, Frank J. Kolb, Carmine Pluchino and Margaret Young (Aurucci-Stiefel, 3). The current location of the Rocky Point Post Office, besides boasting an excellent postal staff, is itself a building dedicated to its local history. Natalie Aurucci-Stiefel, the Chief Historian of the Rocky Point Historical Society and some of her dedicated Historical Society members, artfully decorated the Rocky Point Post Office with antique pictures of Rocky Point and old photos of the Tuthill family, Rocky Point’s first Postmasters. They also created a beautiful wall painting of the fabled RCA Radio Central, which was “…the world’s largest transmitting station, from 1921-1978,” (Rocky Point Historical Society, 1) and itself was based in Rocky Point, New York. Aurucci-Stiefel is a tremendously dogged and thorough historical researcher and genealogist. It is due to her superlative efforts and those of her inspired colleagues from the Rocky Point Historical Society that visitors to the Rocky Point Post Office may learn something of Long Island’s history.

About the Author: Michael Mauro DeBonis is a poet and a historian from Long Island, NY.  A graduate of Suffolk County Community College (A. A. in Liberal Arts) and SUNY Stony Brook (B.A. in English Literature), Michael’s work first appeared in The Village Beacon Record and The Brookhaven Times Newspapers.  Mr. DeBonis is a diligent student of New York State and American history.  His latest writing (poetry and prose) can be found in the New York History Review and elsewhere.


Natalie Aurucci-Stiefel. “The Post Office at Rocky Point,” The Rocky Point Historical Society, Rocky Point, New York (September 2019).

Franklins R. Bruns. “Postage Stamps,” Encyclopedia Americana, vol. 25, New York, NY, USA: The Americana Corporation, copyright 1970.

Gloria Ghedini. “Book Review of Anthony Musso’s ‘FDR and the Post Office: A Young Boys Fascination; A World Leader’s Passion,’” The Branch, Poughkeepsie, NY, February 2010.

History.Com. “U. S. Postal System Established,” Editors, November 24th, 2009-July 28th, 2019.

Rod Juell. “5 Cents Roosevelt,” Arago Philately.Com, May 6th, 2006.

Earnest A. Kehr. “Philately,” Encyclopedia Americana, vol. 21, New York, NY, USA: The Americana Corporation, copyright 1970.

Kenmore Stamp Co. “6 cents Theodore Roosevelt,” Editors, 2019.

Charles King. Hieroglyphs to Alphabets. New York, NY, Crane Russak & Company, copyright 1977.

Jerry Lucas. “Notary with Christopher Columbus 1492,” ABC Legal Docs.Com, 2015.

NYSED.Gov. “New York State Flag and the Great Seal of the State of New York,” Editors, NYSED.Gov-NYS Library, September 25, 2019.

“New York State Notary Public License Law,” Editors, Passbook Exams, National Learning Corporation, copyright 2010, Syosset, New York, USA.

Rocky Point Historical Society. Rocky Point Historical Society.Org Home Page, 2020.

Steven J. Rod. “6 Cents Roosevelt,” Arago Philately.Com, May 16th, 2006.

U. S. Stamp Gallery. “Theodore Roosevelt,” Editors, U. S. Stamp Gallery.Com, 2019.

Walt Whitman Initiative. “USPS Walt Whitman Bicentennial First Day of Issue Stamp Ceremony,” Editors, September 12th, 2019.

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