Friday, July 29, 2011

Cavendish Semiquincentennial: 18th Century Money

While working on props for the Cavendish Chronicles II (August 27 and 28) the question came up about what the early settlers would have had for money. For a variety of reasons, money was almost always in short supply during the early colonial period. The lack of coins and currency forced the colonists to barter. The English leaders felt that colonial exports, such as animal skins, dried fish, and tobacco, should be paid for in English goods. Colonial exports would be accepted in return for an equal value of such goods as fabrics, window panes, pewter dishes, and mirrors. This barter arrangement - an exchange of goods or services without using money - seemed ideal to the British but was increasingly unpopular with the colonists, who preferred coin for their exports to gain more independence over their buying power. Federal Reserve Bank of Boston

According to Leslie V. Brock There was no colonial coinage nor did the sterling coin of Great Britain circulate in the colonies. Consequently, it was necessary for the colonies to amass a supply of coin through the medium of trade.

The money metal of the eighteenth century was silver, not gold. The chief coin of the colonies was the Spanish milled dollar (piece of eight), worth 4s. 6d. sterling. There were supplementary gold coins in circulation: the Johannes of Portugal, which circulated after 1722 and was worth 36s. sterling, and the Spanish Pistole, which was worth 12s. 2.8d. sterling, and had a substantial circulation in Virginia prior to the French and Indian War. The silver was chiefly derived from the West Indies trade. It was a saying in New England in the early eighteenth century that the "Fishery was then the NE Silver Mine."8 The gold came in as a result of trade with the south of Europe. The colonies retained the British monetary units: pounds, shillings, pence (1£ = 20s.; 1s. = 12d.). The foreign coins in circulation in the colonies had values placed upon them by the several colonial legislatures. They did not, however, long circulate at their sterling values. Either to retain their coin or to draw it from their neighbors, colonies raised the value at which it circulated within their boundaries. An upper limit to these values was set by the Proclamation of Queen Anne of 1704, which placed a maximum of six shillings on the Spanish milled dollar. Gold coins, however, were not within the scope of the proclamation. Throughout the colonial period, specie in the colonies tended to be in short supply.

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