• Section Contents
  • Introduction to New Netherland History
  • Wampum in New Netherland
  • Beaver in New Netherland

    Money Substitutes in New Netherland and Early New York: Commodity Monies


    In addition to wampum and beaver the inhabitants of New Netherland sometimes used other products as money substitutes. In a reply to one of a series of questions from the English Committee for Trade and Plantations in April of 1677, New York Governor Edmund Andros explained the New York economy was based on products derived from the land. He stated:

    Our product is Land Provisions of all sorts, as of Wheat exported yearly about sixty thousand bushels, Pease, Beefe, Porke, and some refuse Fish, Tobacco, Beavers, and Peltry or Furrs from the Indians, Deal and Oake, Timber, planks, Pipe staves, Lumber Horses, and Pitch and Tarr lately begun to be made...       (Andros Papers, vol. 2, p. 493)
    Because of the value and availability of these products several were utilized at times as money substitutes. Exchanges using these commodity monies differed from outright barter in that the commodities were considered acceptable by the public at large as payment for a debt and were consequently transferable from one individual to another.

    The earliest surviving group of records referring to commodities as a money substitute, that I have been able to find, are from the mid 1650's when wampum value was declining and some shopkeepers refused to accept it as payment. The use of commodities increased during the 1660's when the value of wampum and beaver plummeted. Commodities seem to have remained in general use, along with wampum and beaver, through the mid 1680's when it appears silver coinage became more readily available.

    Unlike New England, where commodities were rated specifically for tax payments, in New Netherland commodity money was in general use both for taxes and as a method of payment agreed to in business contracts, usually at the current market rate. The most common commodity monies in New Netherland were farm products. The fertility of the New Netherland area was recognized very early. In fact, the ship Wapen van Amsterdam (the Arms of Amsterdam), which left New Netherland for Amsterdam on September 23, 1626 carrying the first cargo of furs, along with strings of wampum and news of the purchase of Manhattan Island, also carried samples of the various grains and plants from the area. The possibility of a profitable grain production was mentioned in a 1638 report on New Netherland which stated, "Nothing comes from New Netherland but beaver skins, mincks, and other furs; considerable grain could be raised there in course of time." (O'Callaghan, vol. 1, p. 107)

    Wheat and Other Grains

    Several grains, especially wheat and rye, were produced and regularly used in the province to make both bread and beer. Wheat grew well in the area and within twenty years of colonization some wheat was being exported. As early as 1643 the West India Company colony in Curacao requested "flour and pottage" from New Netherland, beginning a trade that lasted into the British era. In the account of Father Isaac Jogues, who visited New Netherland in 1643-1644, the following information was related in the context of a discussion of Indian attacks:

    ...the natives, who in the year 1643, while I was there, actually killed some two score Hollanders, and burnt many houses and barns full of wheat. ... Shortly before I arrived there [at Fort Amsterdam on Manhattan Island] three large ships of 300 tons each had come to load wheat; two found cargoes, the third could not be loaded, because the savages had burnt a part of the grain. These ships had come from the West Indies, where the West India Company usually keeps up seventeen ships of war.      (Narratives, p. 260)
    Wheat production grew modestly during the 1640's, leading to the establishment of some flour mills in the New Amsterdam area. By the end of the decade there was enough of a surplus that, in February of 1648 the West India Company allowed New Netherland residents to export flour and fish along with other "country produce" to the company's colony in Brazil (Maika, p. 35). By the early 1650's grain was sometimes used as a money substitute to pay day loborers. In an ordinance of June 14, 1654 it was stated laborers were to be remunerated, "two guilders per day, in Corn, Beavers, or Wampum, to be paid promptly every week" (Laws, p. 162).

    Grains and other commodities were also accepted for tax payments, although there does not appear to have been an official tax payment commodity rate, rather transactions seem to have been at the fluctualting current market value. There is one interesting example where "country pay" or "country produce" as it was sometimes called, was used as for tax payments and was recorded in an ordinance. The inhabitants of the village of Breuckelen (Brooklyn) simply refused to pay a salary for their newly appointed but aged minister Johannes Theodorus Polhemius. It was said his sermons were too brief and his faculties were not what they were formerly. The controversy made its way to the Breuckelen court where a judgment was made to remunerate the minister. On February 13, 1657 an ordinance was approved requiring the inhabitants to pay Polhemius 300 guilders a year. A list of all 23 citizens with their assessed rates were included in the ordinance, most assessments were in the 6 to 10 guilder range, with two citizens at 12 and one a 15 guilders. Half the tax was due within eight days while the other half would be collected during the regular annual tax payment in May. They inhabitants were bound, "within eight days from now, to bring in and deliver into the hands of Mr. A. Cornelissen in Breuckelen, the half of this Assessment, either in Wampum or Country produce, such as Corn, Wheat, Peas, Maize, &c." (Laws, p. 304).

    During the 1660's several contracts survive, especially from the western part of the province, in which wheat was the money substitute. On June 10, 1661 Tjerck Claessen de Witt acknowledged he owned Philip Pietersen Schuyler 256 guilders for a horse. The payment was to be made as follows: "which aforesaid sum of two hundred and fifty six guilders, or 32 beavers, [valuing a beaver at 8 guilders], he promises to pay to the aforesaid Schuyler, or to his order, the quantity of fifty skipples of good winter wheat at current beaver's price, and the remainder of the sum in April anno 1663, also in wheat at the same price ... to be delivered here in Beverwyck without costs or damage;" (Pearson, Records, vol. 3, p. 71). In another example, on January 9, 1662, Jan Andriessz (John Andrews) from Dublin, Ireland agreed to sell a farm in Catskill to Jan Cloet for four hundred skipples of good winter wheat and a horse named Ante. (Pearson, Documents, vol. 3, p. 142)

    As with beaver pelts, wheat and other crops were seasonable products payable at harvest, wheat payments where made in the spring or autumn depending on whether the commodity was summer or winter wheat. Most contracts payable in wheat actually specify the payment was to be in was winter wheat, as in the two examples in the paragraph above, or they make the fact evident by a springtime payment date. However a few contracts clearly refer to summer wheat. For example, on May 22, 1662 Gysbert Cornelissen van den Berch purchased a farm for 90 skipples of wheat payable in three installments to be paid punctually during the autumns of 1662, 1663 and 1664 (Pearson, Documents, vol. 3, p. 157). In addition to wheat some contracts were made for oats and at least one was for rye. Several horse sales or horse rentals were paid for with oats, for example, on March 18, 1662 Andries Herbertsen signed a contracts that he had been renting a horse since September 15, 1661 and would continue to rent the horse for three years at the rate of 24 skipples of oats annually (Documents, vol. 3, p. 147). Apparently if oats were not available, rye might be used as a substitute, for on November 8, 1661 Sixt van der Stichel purchased a horse, saddle and bridle from Arent van Curler for 140 skipples of rye, that were to be delivered to van Curler in the spring of 1662 (Documents, vol. 3, pp. 135-136).

    The above contracts were based on the payment of a predetermined amount of grain (as 90 skipples of wheat), however this was not always the best way to deal with commodities. Wheat and other farm products regularly fluctuated in value depending on the success of the crop, thus several contracts stated the price of the debt in guilders or beaver, and, if wheat was listed as an acceptable payment option, it was usually stated to be acceptable at market value. In these contracts each skipple would be counted at market value towards the total guilder amount. From a contract of October 28, 1660 in Beverwyck we find 300 skipples of winter wheat were purchased at 3 guilders a skipple, thus giving us a firm per skipple value (Documents, pp. 41-42). In the De Witt-Schuyler contract of June 10, 1661, mentioned above, in which a horse was purchased for 256 guilders payable in two payments of wheat with the first payment being 50 skipples. Assuming the contract was based on two equal payments of 50 skipples each, the wheat price would be 2.56 guilders (just over 2 guilders and 11 stuivers) a skipple, or slightly lower than the 1660 rate. In the sale of a bakery on April 27, 1662 the supply of wheat on hand that was sold along with the other contents of the store and was valued at 2 guilders and 10 stuivers a skipple (Documents, vol. 3, pp. 179-180). Thus for 1660-1662 we see some fluctuation each year, the higher 3 guilder price of 1660 falling by 9 stuivers in 1661 and dropping an additional stuiver in 1662.

    By 1663 wampum had dramatically dropped in value (from 3,000 - 3,200 white beads per beaver pelt in June of 1660 to 9,600 - 11,520 white beads per pelt in January of 1663). With this precipitous decline in the value of wampum we begin to see commodities actually taking the place of the wampum in contracts. Beaver had always been the standard New Netherland money substitute of choice with wampum used as the conventional alternative for smaller payments or as a substitute when there were not enough beaver pelts available. However in late 1663 we find grain mentioned as the preferred alternative. On December 6, 1663 Philip Pietersen Schuyler hired Paulus Cornelissen as his attorney to sue Tjerck Claessen de Witt for "the sum of two hundred and fifty six guilders, or 32 beavers, or the value thereof in grain," for not paying for the horse he had contracted for in 1661 (Documents, vol. 3, pp. 261-262). On May 13, 1664 Maritie Meynderts rented half of a jointly held farm near Schenectady "for the sum of one hundred and eighty beavers, or grain at beaver's price (the beaver reckoned at eight guilders apiece) a year, each time promptly, without delay, to be delivered at Schenechtede aforesaid." (Pearson, Documents, vol. 3, pp. 280-281).

    Grain and related commodities became even more significant in the following decades. On September 8, 1664 the British took control of the colony, soon thereafter on March 1, 1665 the British governor, Richard Nicolls, published a new set of laws for the colony. In the section on what were called public charges or public rates, that is, taxes, it was explained that payment could be made in any type of grain at the current country rate. The use or valuation of wampum or beaver was not mentioned. The law stated:

    That the Prices of all sorts of Corne to be received upon any Rates shall be such as is already appointed and that all Towne Rates shall be made after the same manner and by the same rule as the country rate.       (Colonial Laws of New York, vol. 1, p. 61)
    The specific types of commodities acceptable as payment and their specific monetary vale were clarified at the General Court meeting of September 27-October 2, 1666. At that time it was stated tax payments would be accepted at the following values: wheat at 5s per bushel, rye or peas at 4s per bushel, Indian corn at 3s a bushel and oats at 2s6d a bushel; pork was 4d per pound and beef was 3d per pound. No other commodities would be accepted, or, as they stated, "no other payment shall bee allowed of." (Colonial Laws of New York, vol. 1, p. 92). An annual commodity valuation was not published in the amendments to the laws, rather this seems to have been a duty of the sheriff, although it was not always performed in a timely manner. The valuation of grain was addressed at the General Court meeting of October 5-8, 1670 where it was stated:
    That ye Prices of Corn to be paid in ye Rates do remain for this yeare ensueing as they have been ye two preceeding yeares, for that a due Estimate cannot be made of what is requisite to be done therein untill ye old & New Sheriffe have brought in and Perfected their Accounts, ye which they are hereby strictly required to doe without any further or longer delay.       (Colonial Laws of New York, vol. 1, p. 83)

    The Dutch retook the colony on August 7, 1673 and held it until November 10, 1674. During this Dutch interlude, in the laws and ordinances for the English settlement of Elizabethtown, dated November 18, 1673, it specifically stated all public rates (i.e. taxes), were to be paid in commodities at the following values; winter wheat at 5s per bushel, summer wheat at 4s per bushel, rye at 4s per bushel, peas at 3s a bushel and Indian corn at 3s a bushel; pork was 3d per pound, beef at 2d the tallow and butter at 6d per pound. Again, tax payment in either wampum or beaver was not mentioned as an option (Laws, pp. 503-504). Even in New Amsterdam when an ordinance was passed on March 17, 1674 requiring all affluent citizens (with capital exceeding 4,000 guilders, wampum value) to make a loan to build fortifications on Manhattan, it was stipulated the assessment was to be paid, "in good merchantable Beaver or Wheat, at Wampum price." (Laws, p. 522)

    Farm commodities were used in several contracts from the 1670's-1680's both from the New York City area and from Albany. Among the New York City related documents are the following. On July 8, 1674 the New York merchants John Shakerly and Pieter Marius, while in Boston, promised to pay £48 3s3d sterling to the Boston merchant Samuel Winslow in merchantable biscuit bread at 11s6d per hundred and in merchantable flour in barrels at 10s6d per hundred (that is 12d per barrel) (Andros Papers, vol. 1, pp. 94-95 continuing to p. 103). On December 2, 1676 the estate of Edward Rawling was auctioned with the understanding, "Payment to bee made in four monthes in wheate, Floure, pease, or porke (nott above half in one Specie except by allowance of Vendue Master [i.e. the auctioneer]) at price Current when payable." (Andros Papers, vol. 1, pp. 482-483). As quoted in the wampum section, Shakerly purchased a house in New York City on January 18, 1677 valued at 2,500 guilders in seawant but with the option of paying one third the amount in winter wheat at 6 guilders a skipple, one third in merchantable meal at the market price and one third in beaver at 24 guilders a pelt (Andros, vol. 2, p. 12). Among other New York area contracts payable in wheat included a March 25, 1677 contract for rental of a plantation for 60 bushels of good winter wheat (Andros, vol. 2, pp. 49-50), a receipt from July 25, 1677 for 20 bushels of wheat as rent from a property in Delaware (Andros, vol. 2, p. 83) and Shakerly's purchase of a boat on February 21, 1678 for 3,400 guilders in seawant payable in beaver, tobacco or winter wheat (Andros, vol. 2, p. 257). On May 12, 1679 Shakerly also acquired some blankets and agreed to pay 40 merchantable beavers or the value in wheat (Andros, vol. 2, p. 261).

    Several contracts from the Albany area also refer to wheat. On April 13, 1671 Joachim Ketelheun purchased a horse for 13 beaver, with seven beaver being paid promptly as a first payment and in April of 1672 a second payment, "of six beaver, in good wheat, at market price at the time of delivery," (Documents, vol. 3, p. 379). In this case the "time of delivery" refers to the market price of the wheat at the time the wheat was delivered and not to the delivery of the horse. There are several other contracts like this, some deal with the sale of slaves. On September 27, 1678 a black female slave was sold for 13 beavers, 25 skipples of peas and 200 skipples of wheat; the beaver and peas were paid at the time the slave was handed over, while the wheat was to be delivered in two annual payments (Documents, vol. 3, pp. 456-457). In one instance corn was used instead of wheat. On May 25, 1680 a slave named Harry was sold for 240 skipples of good, dry merchantable maize along with two loads of good hay and 24 beaver's value to be paid in hogs (Documents, vol. 3, p. 492).

    These contracts continue into the 1680's. On April 7, 1681 Pieter Vosburgh purchased some land at Kinderhook for 140 beaver payable in six annual installments due each February. It was stated, "the buyer may pay said beavers in wheat, peas, oats, or buckwheat at beaver's price as the market ranges at the time of payment, the same to be delivered free here in Albany to the sellers or their order." (Documents, vol. 3, pp. 514-515). In a contract of May 5, 1682 Thomas Craven purchased blacksmith tools from Robert Sanders for 43 beavers payable in three annual installments, "but in case of a lack of beavers he can pay in good winter wheat as the market therefore shall be, but it must be delivered on the shore here before New Albany." (Documents, vol. 3, pp. 536-537).

    By the mid 1680's we begin to see silver coin introduced. At this time prices were still designated in beavers, but payment options often included silver money, beaver and wampum as well as wheat and other farm products. For example, in a contract of December 16, 1682 for half ownership of a boat valued at 68 merchantable beaver skins, the price could be paid in beaver or "in good winter wheat or silver money." (Documents, vol. 3, pp. 548-549). Similar options were listed in other contracts, for example: on May 27, 1683 part of a payment of 120 beaver could be in seawant, silver money, wheat or peas; in a contract of June 4, 1683 a payment of 13 beaver could be made with winter wheat or silver money; on February 27, 1684 a 20 beaver debt could be paid in silver money, seawant, or winter wheat and on October 19, 1686 a payment of 60 beaver could be made in silver money or in wheat or peas at market price (Documents, vol. 3 pp. 557, 558, 568, 595). There are several other contracts that follow these payment alternatives.

    Numerous land contracts continued to specify payment in wheat, no doubt since wheat was grown on the property. Thus, an eight year lease for 20 morgens of land, made on February 23, 1685, specified a payment of 50 skipples of winter wheat in the first year and 100 skipples in each of the following seven years (Documents, vol. 3, pp. 578-579). However, even here some contracts offered payment options. In a contract from October 16, 1684 for the purchase of some land in Loonenburgh the price was agreed at, "six hundred and twenty five skipples of good winter wheat, with the privilege of paying in beavers, silver money, or seawan, all at market price" (Documents, vol. 3, pp. 577-578). Thus we see that even in land sales, where wheat was often used as the standard method of payment, a contract from the mid 1680's denominated in wheat gave the option of paying with coin or the standard coin substitutes of beaver or wampum.

    Grains, and especially wheat, had changed the economy through the growing grain trade. The islands in the West Indies grew large quantities of sugar cane for the profitable triangle trade. In this trade West Indies molasses was sent to New England where it was used to make rum, then the rum was traded in West Africa for slaves who were sold in the West Indes to work on the plantations. Because of their one crop economy the large West Indes sugar plantations needed to import wheat and other foods. New York filled this need exporting wheat and related foodstuffs (corn, bread, flour and peas as well as some butter, pork and beef) to the West Indies, where it was traded for rum, sugar, molasses and slaves or purchased with Spanish American silver dollars.

    Some trade with the West Indies had already been established by the 1640's as we saw above in the excerpt from the 1643 chronicle of Father Isaac Jogues, who mentioned three ships from the West Indies entering New Amsterdam to take on cargoes of wheat. The potential of developing this trade into a major enterprise was first undertaken ca. 1660 with the formation of various mercantile alliances. Some investors concentrated on the acquisition of farmland as Jeronimus Ebbingh, Frederick Philipse and WIC Director General Stuyvesant who formed a partnership to acquire land in the Esopus Creek area. Other concentrated on transporting the good to the islands, as the partnership of John Richbell of Charlestown, Massachusetts and William Sharpe of Southhampton, Long Island with Thomas Modiford of Barbados.

    During the 1670's all aspects of this trade expanded. In 1670 customs incleased the number of export grain measurer's from one to two positions to handle the increased volume of work. Soon thereafter a new third position was instituted to inspect flour and bread exports. Clearly wheat production was increasing. It is known that in 1672 some 25,000 skipples of wheat were exported from the Esopus region. At the same time several merchants came to New York to make money in the grain trade. Merchants from Barbados like Lewis Morris, Robert Whitty, Andrew Harwood and John Palmer moved to New York City in the mid 1670's to work with local merchants such as William Shackerly. Some Boston merchants such as Miles Foster and Richard Middlecott also moved to New York City to participate in this trade. We also find some New York merchants began to specialize, limiting themselves to a single market, as William Darvall and Frederick Philipse who centered their efforts on trade with Port Royal, Jamaica. By the 1680's in addition to trade with the large islands of Barbados and Jamaica, there was also regular trade with Monserrat, Antigua, Nevis and the Dutch island of Curacao. During this period the number of annual shipments to the islands increased. In 1680 there were six shipments from New York to Barbados but by 1685 this had increased to ten; similarly, there were seven shipments from New York to Jamaica in 1686, increasing to fourteen in 1687 and then to fifteen in 1688. Throughout this period New York merchants also continued to invest in Hudson valley farmland. Frederick Philipse and Stephen Van Cortlandt held the largest patents but others, including the Manhattan merchants Francis Rombouts and Gulyne Verplanck, held tracts of farmland. From surviving records it is known at least 92 sloops were sent up the Hudson to pick up grain and other foods during the period between March and November of 1684 (Maika, pp. 152, 292-293, 402-413).

    Through the West Indies trade silver coins became more common in the colony, so that during the late 1680's and 1690's silver was replacing beaver, wampum and commodities. One of the most discerning contemporary commentaries on this process is found in a petition relating to the coinage situation in the New York presented by 67 merchants of New York City to the governor on June 25, 1705. Their opening statement shows the dramatic shift in the economy since the Dutch era. The document begins:

    That the principall staple of the trade of this province is the manufactory of wheat expended chiefly in the West Indies by the English and in their trade with Spanish subjects upon the Continent that the returns made for England (excepting the small trade of peltry which is now so diminished as scarce worth regarding) were heavy pieces of 8. and other produce of the West Indies, which came to us in return of our said manufacture;       (O'Callaghan, vol. 4, p. 1133)
    Thus through the West Indes trade, which was started on a small scale by the Dutch in the 1640's and then somewhat developed in the early 1660's, but significantly expanded by the British especially during the 1670's and 1680's, wheat was transformed from a commodity money into a money producing commodity.


    In addition to grains, flour and the related farm products mentioned above, such as peas and pork, a few other items were used as commodity monies. Of these miscellaneous items the ones most often encountered as money substitutes were wooden boards and tobacco. Indeed, in his statement of April 1677, quoted at the start of this section, New York Governor Edmund Andros referred to "Deal and Oake, Timber, [and] planks." In this context Deal referred to pine, as pine boards were often called "deal boards" reflecting their use as a money substitute (Andros, vol. 2, p. xxi). Boards and various lumber products seem to have been used primarily in the Albany area, while the use of tobacco appears to have centered around New York City.

    In a contract of October 8, 1661 Lucas Pietersen Cooymans of Beverwyck owed 110 guilders to the merchant Ariaen Symensen and agreed to pay him, "in good, merchantable boards at 18 stivers apiece" to be delivered at the local docking area on or before May 1, 1662 (Documents, vol. 3, p. 128). On May 20, 1662 Cornelis Cornelissen van Voorhout sold a horse to the master carpenter Franz Pietersen for the sum of 413 good boards payable in two annual installments (Documents, vol. 3, p. 158). In a contract of July 26, 1663 a debt of 40 beavers reckoned at 8 guilders each was to be paid in good merchantable boards delivered to the shore, calculated at 20 boards to a beaver (that is 8 stuivers per board).

    Boards continued to be used under the British. Excerpts from a day book of Reyndert Pieterson dated to July 5, 1670 list amounts due to him from Sweer Teunissen Van Velsen for smaller items purchased, two items were to be paid with seawan and three entries were for items to be paid with boards. The three board transactions were: the purchase of six ells (a 45 inch length) of a coarse lightweight wool called kersey at 13 boards per ell, for a total of 78 boards; four leather skins at 9 boards each, for a total of 36 boards; and a hat with a balance due of 10 oak boards (Documents, vol. 3, pp. 317-318). On September 6, 1678 Jacob Teunissen Quick purchased a boat load of stones for 80 good, merchantable one inch boards (Documents, vol. 3, p. 454). When the type of board was not mentioned it is assumed to be pine. Occasionally a specific wood was mentioned, as in the contract of May 15, 1680, when a slave named Dick was sold for 150 merchantable hickory posts (Documents, vol. 3, pp. 490-491).

    Sometimes boards were listed in contracts as an alternate form of payment. In May 13, 1679 Tierck Harmensen purchased a house in Albany for 126 beaver at eight guilders each, payable in beaver, winter wheat or boards (Documents, vol. 3, pp. 475-476). In the 1680's boards seem to be less frequently encountered in contracts. The one exception is in the purchase of saw mills. For example, on June 27, 1681 half ownership in a saw mill was purchased for 1,800 merchantable one inch pine boards to be paid in two installments, the first in 1682 and the final payment in 1683 (Documents, vol. 3, pp. 519-520). The last contract in the surviving records mentioning payment in boards was a land purchase of January 20, 1685 in which the price was specified as 460 good, deliverable, inch pine boards (Documents, vol. 3, p. 580). Interestingly, a few months later Jan Jacobsen Gardenier agreed to build a sawmill in Canada, but instead of being paid in boards he was contracted to be paid in food and drink as well as twenty two and a half pieces of eight per month (Documents, vol. 3, pp. 586-587).


    Virginia and Maryland tobacco growers quickly recognized the Dutch were potentially a major client for their product. As related in the historical introduction, when the West India Company abandon its monopoly in New Netherland in 1638 both local merchants and larger Dutch firms entered the market. They all dealt in furs but some, like Augustine Heermans and Thomas Hall entered the tobacco trade both as growers in New Netherland and traders with the British colonies of Maryland and Virginia. The British tobacco growers began looking toward these New Amsterdam merchants as a way to access the Dutch market and potentially bypass English custom duties. Even some of the larger Dutch firms, like Gillis and Seth Verbrugge, regularly traded in Virginia. During this period a 240 pound hogshead of Virginia leaves was valued at 19 Flemish pounds (114 guilders).

    In 1651, with the passage of the Navigation Acts, non English ships were prohibited from transporting goods out of English ports. Thereafter English traders supplied tobacco to New Amsterdam, sometimes exchanging tobacco for other products. For instance in September of 1660 the English merchant Samuel Smith traded 1350 pounds of tobacco to Frerick Gysbertsen for 135 ells of linen and traded an additional 1129 pounds of tobacco for six pieces of silk damask. Also during that month Jan Gillesen traded 1148 punds of nails to Smith for 1538 pounds of tobacco and also gave Smith 69 Swedish axes for 300 more pounds of tobacco (Maika, p. 116).

    In order to protect the trade in tobacco and to insure a standard quality for its use as a money substitute, several ordinances were passed in the 1650's requiring the inspection of tobacco. Two inspectors were named in 1653 with the authority to seize and burn unmerchantable tobacco and to levy fines. Also, no tobacco was accepted for inspection during the winter months of December through February as that year's crop has not cured, or, as is it was stated in the law, the tobacco had not, "been thoroughly sweated and cannot be easily handled." In 1657 four different quality grades were instituted, the highest grades were V.G. and N.G. for Virginia Good and New Netherland Good; the next grade was V.M. and N.M. for Virginia and New Netherland Merchantable tobacco followed by the grade of V.S. and N.S. for Virginia or New Netherland Poor (Schlect) quality and finally a grade of 0 for tobacco that was even below poor. (Maika, p. 283-285).

    The necessity of these grades was brought out in several court cases, for example Cornelis Steenwyck, on behalf of Nicholas de Meyer, accepted a payment from Mary and Jan Geraerdy for a debt of 539.9 guilders, in what was designated as good tobacco. Apparently the quality of the tobacco had either deteriorated or the Geraerdy's were trying to pass off an inferior product. On June 19, 1656 the Geraerdy's were taken to court where they were ordered to lower the exchange exchange value of the tobacco from the standard 6 stuivers a pound to 4 or 5 stuivers a pound subject to an inspection of the tobacco. (Fernow, Records of New Amsterdam 1653-1674, vol. 2, p. 155 and Maika, p. 285-286).

    Under British rule the tobacco trade continued. A listing of the accounts for the merchant Thomas DeLavall (who was also the General Reciever of Customs) for the years 1669-1674 listed the amounts credited or owed to him in guilders with the method of agreed payment given in tobacco, wampum or beaver. In 1669 DeLavall stated he owed 5,741 lb. in tobacco for "diverse goods" acquired on October 18th and that he owed 1,280 guilder in wampum for 32 blankets acquired on November 9th. In 1670 DeLavall credited Daniel de Hondecourt with a payment of 1,280 guilders in wampum on January 18, which, as was mentioned in the 1653 regulations, was when tobacco was out of season; all the remaining payments for the year were made between March and June and all were in tobacco for a total value of 4,434 guilders. In 1671 there were two payments, in April de Hondecourt was credited with 1,202 guilders in tobacco and in November he was credited with a payment of 2,526 guilders and 17 stuivers in beaver pelts. In 1673 we are only given totals for amount owed to DeLavall, which amounted to 2,595 and 3/4 in tobacco (it is not specified if this is pounds in weight or guilders, the use of the fraction leads me to suspect it was a weight; one tobacco entry for 1669 did specify lb. for pounds of weight), 568 guilders and 10 stuivers in wampum and 4,768 guilders and 3 stuivers in beaver. For 1674 all credits were recorded as being paid in beaver (Andros Papers, vol. 1, pp. 421-422). From these accounts we see a systematic use of tobacco in conjunction with wampum and beaver pelts.

    During this period tobacco was not only used between merchants, but it continued in general use, or was offered as an alternative, for payments in daily business. According to a Long Island court warrant of August 3, 1676 we learn there was a judgment against Thomas Davies of Flushing for £12 payable in "good wheat nett Tabacco or Porke at price Currant." Apparently he did not pay the fine so a warrant was issued for his arrest (Andros, vol. 1, p. 428). As mentioned in the New Netherland wampum section, on February 21, 1678 John Shakerly agreed to purchase half interest in a sloop " for the full sum of thirty four hundred guilders in zewant or the value thereof in good merchantable whole beavers at 24 guilders a piece or merchantable tobacco leaves in barrels at 10 stivers a pound or in merchantable winter wheat at six guilders a skipple;" (Andros Papers, vol. 2, p. 257). From this we see the tobacco price was up to 10 stuivers a pound from 6 stuivers in the 1650's, although the quality of the tobacco, which was not mentioned, would have an impact on the value.

    Tobacco was a seasonal product sometimes used as a money substitute or an alternate method of payment, particularly among New Amsterdam merchants. Unlike Virginia where credit vouchers for warehoused tobacco were common, it seems the actual barrels were traded in New Netherland, with individuals relying on the inspectors for proper grading. Among the general population of New Amsterdam tobacco seems to have been used in a manner similar to the way farm products were used in the Albany area, but on a smaller scale.


    Oliver A. Rink, Holland on the Hudson: An Economic and Social History of Dutch New York, Ithaca, NY: Cornell, 1986; Dennis J. Maika, Commerce and Community: Manhattan Merchants in the Seventeenth Century, Ph.D. Dissertation, New York University, 1995; John Franklin Jameson, Narratives of New Netherland, 1609-1664, New York: Scribner, 1909.

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    The Beaver Pelt in New Netherland
    and Early New York
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