Money Money Money

Check your pockets, how much money do you have? What coins or paper money (dollars) do you have? Do you get an allowence? If you do, how much do you get? The last time you went shopping how much did you spend?

If you were living in colonial times you wouldn't be able to answer these questions because the colonists didn't have any money, paper or coins. Remember, the colonists didn't have stores to shop at and trade was the name of the game in the colonies. If you did have money it was very different from today.

The first settlers in the Middle and New England Colonies used wampum (shell beads) as a means of exchange with the local Native People. Wampum beads were made from mussel shells (like clams) which were pierced and strung on a hide necklace.

Colonists needed other supplies which they got from England. For these items the colonists traded a variety of products such as beaver skins, tobacco, musket balls, nails, and run. Each of these products had a specific value and they were often called "country money". Barter was another common name for trade and is often referred to in stories you might read.

Coins and currency (another name for paper money) was in very short supply in the colonies for two main reasons. First of all, England wanted to make sure that the colonists only traded with England. This was to keep the balance of trade in favor of England didn't even want the colonists to trade with each other. Second, England herself was short of money and wanted to keep what she had.

Occasionally a few coins made it to the shores of the colonies. The coins were English, Spanish, Dutch, French, and even Portugese. Study the coins from these different countries. How are they different/same? The problem with having all these different coins is that in your pocket? Right, each coin has a different value in its country of origin. In the colonies it would have no value unless one were buying goods from the country when the money was made.
There was one coin that did become popular with almost all the colonists and stayed that way for almost two hundred years. It was Silver Spanish Milled Dollar or Piece of Eight. Early coins were valued by their weight and metal content. By dividing the coin a person could spend part of it in one place and use the rest for something else. The Spanish Milled Dollar was often divided into eight pieces called "reals" or "bits". Have you ever heard someone call a quarter two bits? That expression came from the Piece of Eight. One bit was worth about 12 l/2 cents so two bits was worth 25 cents.

The shortage of coins in Colonial America made doing business very difficult. Some of the colonies began writing/printing their own form of paper money in the late 1600s. This started when traded good didn't have exactly the same value. Let's say you had some cotton you wanted to sell/trade and it was worth about $100. The local merchant offered to trade for flour, tools, and seed. This all added up to $75. That meant you had $25 left. To remember you were still owed $25 so the Merchant writes you a paper note or money note for the $25 which you can spend later or use to pay taxes. By 1764 England put a complete ban on the colonies printing their own money, angering the colonists and causing many problems for trade. This was a significant factor in provoking the American Revolution.

Do you think there were any banks in the Colonies? If you answered "NO" you are correct. There were no banks like we have today. There were "money lenders" and other people who were willing to lend money. If you wanted to buy land you either raised the money yourself or traded for it. Farmers often bought things on credit based on their crop yield. It wasn't until after the American Revolution that banks became popular.


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