He was born in Philadelphia and educated at Princeton University. He established a publishing business in New York in (1770), but quit that business after five years. He was appointed first postmaster of the city under the Continental Congress, made (1776) surveyor general of the Continental Post Office, and in 1782, succeeded Richard Bache as the United States Postmaster General and served as such until 1789. During his tenure as Postmaster General,under the new Federal Constitution, the Post Office establishment was reorganized and, the old horse and mail was first carried in stagecoaches on main routes, displacing the old horse and rider system. Afterwards, he helped to establish the Insurance Company of North America in Philadelphia.