A Look at Money in the Colonies

By Bob Josuweit
History Committee

Philadelphia was a major seaport in colonial times. Sailors would come in from many ports, not only on the east coast but from around the world. Native Americans were in the area. They exchanged wampum for goods and services. Can you imagine all of the ships coming from in cities along the east coast? The Church records are full of stories of sailors wanting to get married before their ship went to sea.

American merchants and traders in the 1600s relied heavily on the barter system. They traded one commodity for another: furs for rifles, salted fish for shoes, grain and tobacco for cloth. The British government prohibited the colonists from accepting cash for American exports, although the same colonists were often forced to pay cash for their imports. This left them with very few coins to meet the ever-increasing demands of the expanding colonial economy. Colonists had to rely on foreign coins, which were often of Spanish origin.

As the colonies grew so did the types of paper money. In 1770, George Washington recorded his trip expenses in the currencies of Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Once the Revolutionary War was declared, each colony felt free to produce its own paper money.

It wasn’t till after the Civil War ended that national bank notes provided the U.S. with a more uniform currency. These notes were accepted throughout the country at face value. State banks’ notes stopped being issued in 1865.

So you can see many people, business, and churches had to exchange funds by what ever method was available to then.

 

Written by Amy Grant

Amy Grant is a graphic designer and web developer. She is the founder of the Southwark Historical Society, a volunteer based group that studies the Southwark Historical District located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.