This is an introduction to the various coin substitutes used in New Netherland and early New York. The essay is divided into three parts. First is a discussion on the role and history of wampum, followed by a section on the beaver pelt and concluding with a section on various other commodities used as money. A discussion of the coinage used in New Netherland and Early New York is located in the section "Coins Imported into the Colonies to 1750," in the chapter on Dutch coinage.
Soon after Henry Hudson claimed the land now know as the Hudson River valley for the Netherlands in 1609, the Dutch tried to exploit the area for a profit. Adventurous merchant traders came to the area as early as 1611-1612 and quickly discovered there was money to be made in the fur trade. From that point the trade in beaver pelts remained the basis of the New Netherland economy throughout the Dutch colonial period.
Furs were acquired from the Indians at a favorable rate and then shipped to Amsterdam where they commanded much higher prices. To be successful in this venture the traders needed to be able to deal with the Indians and therefore they needed to know what the Indians valued and what would be accepted in exchange for furs. From this rather pragmatic approach the Dutch learned the value of wampum. Therefore, even before the arrival of the first permanent New Netherland settlers in 1624, the Dutch had an keen understanding of wampum, which they called seawant and variously spelled as zeewant, zeawant, seawant, seewant, seewan, seawan or sewan.
Significantly, when the first colonists sent their initial shipment of beavers back to Amsterdam on the ship Wapen van Amsterdam (the Arms of Amsterdam), which departed New Amsterdam on September 23, 1626, the cargo included various symbolic gifts as evidence of the success of the colony. Among the items were strings of wampum, a tangible symbol of their command of the fur trade.
Indeed, it was Isaac de Rasiere, Secretary of New Netherland, who first brought wampum to Plymouth Plantation. As part of a diplomatic mission in October of 1627, de Rasiere presented Plymouth's Governor, William Bradford, with some colored cloth and a chest of white sugar; he also sold the governor 50 fathoms of wampum (a fathom was a six foot length containing about 360 beads, see Peña, p. 23). Later, in a letter to Samuel Blommaert, probably written in 1628, de Rasiere explained he had brought the wampum to Plymouth so the Pilgrims would not "seek after" wampum on their own. He felt a quest for wampum would lead to their discovering the fur trade and thus hurt Dutch interests (Narratives, p. 110). De Rasiere did not understand the Pilgrims were not trying to exploit the land for a quick profit but rather considered themselves to be permanent residents. In fact, the Pilgrims were already trading their surplus corn to the Indians for furs, but had no plans to emulate the Dutch and become full time fur traders.
The role of wampum in conducting trade with the Indians is mentioned in a letter of August 11, 1628 by one of the earliest Dutch settlers, the Reverend Jonas Michaelius. Michaelius, having recently arrived in Manhattan from Dutch West Africa, observed the Indians had products to sell, "but one who has no wares, such as knives, beads, and the like, or seewan [i.e. wampum], cannot come to any terms with them" (Narratives, p. 130). This is further elucidated in one of the earlier Dutch new world chronicles which discusses negotiations concerning the acquisition of pelts from the Indians for wampum and cloth. In the winter of 1634 three West India Company employees were sent from Fort Orange to negotiate a price for furs with the Iroquois Indians, located west of the fort. It seems some French traders from Lake Oneida had entered the area and were trying to gain control of the market. One of the three employees, a barber-surgeon named Harmen Meyndertsz van den Bogaert kept a journal of this adventure. On January 3, 1635 he was negotiating with the Iroquois, who offered to sell his company (the Dutch West India Company) all of their beaver pelts if they could agree to a price. Earlier, on December 30th, the Indians mentioned they had previously sold skins to French trappers. The Indians asked for four handfuls of wampum and four hand breaths of duffel cloth for each large beaver. Van den Bogaert replied he would need approval from the Director General in New Amsterdam before he could agree to the deal. Whether this agreement was approved was not related (Bogaert, pp. 15-17).
The importance of wampum to the Indian is best expressed in a letter from the Reverend Johannes Megapolensis, who was assigned to the fur trading center at Fort Orange, an outpost at present day Albany. On August 26, 1644, just over two years after Megapolensis had arrived at the fort, he wrote a short account of the Indians living in the region, the Mohawks. In this account he related the Indian attitude toward money as follows:
Their money consists of certain little bones, made of shells or cockles, which are found on the sea-beach; a hole is drilled through the middle of the little bones, and these they string upon thread, or they make of them belts as broad as a hand, or broader, and hang then on their necks, or around their bodies. They have also several holes in their ears, and there they likewise hang some. They value these little bones as highly as Christians do gold, silver and pearls; but they do not like our money, and esteem it no better than iron. I once showed one of their chiefs a rix-dollar; he asked how much it was worth among the Christians; and when I told him, he laughed exceedingly at us, saying we were fools to value a piece of iron so highly; and if he had such money, he would throw it into the river. (Narratives, p. 176)Clearly the need to understand, use and accumulate wampum was essential if one was to participate in the fur trade. New Netherland Director General Pieter Stuyvesant clearly expressed the importance of wampum to the directors of the West India Company in a letter he sent to them on April 21, 1660, where he stated:
wampum is the source and the mother of the beaver trade, and for goods only, without wampum, we cannot obtain beavers from the savages. (Fernow, History, p. 470)
Typically the Dutch traded wampum and commodities, such as cloth, metal utensils and liquor to the Indians for beaver pelts. Also, although there were regulations against it, guns and gunpowder were traded for pelts. When finalizing major agreements or large purchases the commodities would typically be given as gifts, then during the negotiations the Indians would be plied with liquor and a final agreement would specify an amount of wampum to be paid per pelt.
In a fortunate coincidence for the Dutch, the east end of Long Island happened to be the center of wampum production for Indian tribes in the northeastern coastal region. Long Island wampum was well know and circulated widely. Because of the large quantity of wampum the Dutch called the island Seawanhackey, that is, place of seawan. British colonists also visited the area and considered it to be a rich source for beads; John Winthrop thought Long Island was the best location from which Massachusetts Bay would be able to acquire wampum.
The significance of the area was brought out during discussions of the realignment of the borders between New Netherland and the British colonies, which took place at the Hartford Convention in September of 1650. The secretary of New Netherland, Cornelis van Tienhoven, wrote several communications on the disputed lands. In a description of the boundaries of New Netherland written on February 22, 1650 van Tienhoven included a discussion of Long Island, in which he stated, "The greatest part of the Wampum, for which the furs are traded, is manufactured there by the Natives." (O'Callaghan, vol. 1, p. 360). In a supplemental letter written less that two weeks later, on March 4, 1650, he further explained the importance of the area:
I begin then at the most easterly point of Long Island ... This point is also well adapted to secure the trade of the Indians in Wampum, (the mine of New Netherland,) since in and about the abovementioned sea and the islands therein situated, lie the cockles whereof Wampum is made, from which great profit could be realized by those who would plant a colony or hamlet at the aforesaid Point, for the cultivation of the land, for raising all sorts of cattle, for fishing and the wampum trade. (O'Callaghan, vol. 1, p. 365)
The lawyer Adriaen van der Donck was more emphatic on the importance of Long Island in his diatribe against the province's border concessions to the British. His paper was written in reaction to a provincial resolution of February 16, 1652 in which Long Island was divided into two parts, the British took the eastern portion up to the westernmost point of Oyster Bay, while the Dutch took the remainder of the island. Concerning this concession of part of Long Island, van der Donck firmly stated the entirety of the island should be retained by New Netherland, "otherwise the trade will suffer great damage, because the English will retain all the Wampum manufacturers to themselves and we shall be obligated to eat oats out of English hands." (O'Callaghan, vol. 1, pp. 458-459). Van der Donck's fears never came to pass as the supply of wampum to New Netherland not only continued, it even increased.
In another treatise by van der Donck called Description of New Netherland written in 1653, there is a chapter on money discussing the production and use of Long Island wampum which includes incites on how it was distributed. He stated:
That there should be no miserly desire for the costly metals among the natives, few will believe; still it is true, the use of gold and silver or any metallic coin is unknown among them. The currency which they use in their places to which they resort is called wampum, the making and preparing of which is free to all persons. The species are black and white, but the black is worth more by one half than the white. The black wampum is made from conch shells, which are to be taken from the sea, or which are cast ashore from the sea twice a year. They strike off the thin parts of those shells and preserve the pillars or standards, which they grind smooth and even and reduce the same according to their thickness, and drill a hole through every piece and string the same on strings, and afterwards sell the strings of wampum in that manner. This is the only article of moneyed medium among the natives, with which any traffic can be driven; and it is also common with us in purchasing necessaries and carrying on our trade; many thousand strings are exchanged every year for peltries near the seashore where the wampum is only made, and where the peltries are brought for sale. Among the Netherlanders gold and silver begin to increase and are current, but still the amount differs much from that of the Netherlands. (p. 93 in Desc.)
The wampum described here was made from conch shells. The circular outer cavities of the conch were chipped off and the solid central column was fashioned into beads. Clam shells were also used in wampum production. In fact, excavations at wampum manufacturing sites have uncovered more white and purple clam shells than conch shells. From this description we also learn merchants brought furs to these wampum manufacturers and traded the furs for wampum. Undoubtedly they obtained the wampum at a wholesale or bulk purchase rate. The merchants would then either put the wampum into circulation or trade it to the Indians for more beaver pelts.
Thus, the Dutch were strategically placed to control the fur trade. They controlled the Hudson River which gave them easy access to the Indian tribes who collected the furs. Additionally, with the establishment of their capitol of New Amsterdam on the southern tip of the Island of Manhattan and the building of Fort Amsterdam, they controlled the sea port necessary for foreign trade. Also, and equally as important, New Amsterdam was located in the regional center for wampum production.
Although we know where and in what manner wampum beads were produced, very little is understood about how wampum was put into circulation. A few incites on wampum distributed in New Amsterdam during the 1650's can be gleaned from the New Amsterdam court records. Among the seven volumes of summary records that survive, describing thousands of cases brought before the court from the years 1653-1674, a few cases briefly mention isolated information concerning wampum production and distribution insofar as they were pertinent to the case in question.
From these records we learn some Dutch were employed in stringing loose wampum beads. In a case of December 8, 1653 Madaleen Jansen demanded payment of 21 florin and 15 stuivers "for wages earned in stringing wampum for Andries Kristman deceased" (RNA, vol. 1, p. 137). From the minutes of the court at Fort Orange for February 18, 1659 Baefien Pietersen stated Evert Nolden was to employ her "for a year to string seawan" but let her go after six months (Minutes, Ft. Orange, vol. 2, pp. 117-118). In a New Amsterdam case of January 17, 1665 Adam Onckelbagh (plaintiff) sued Freryck Flipzen (defendant) because:
Pltf. says, that his wife strung seawant for the deft. and that the deft. will not pay here for the stringing as much wages, as she gets from others. Deft. says, he agreed with the pltfs. wife to pay four guilders per hundred for the white and two for the black, and that his wife did it again for him after that date. Pltf. denies it,. ...[the court ruled]... that deft. shall pay to the pltf. as wages for stringing according to the custom heretofore, five guilders per hundred guilders of the white, and two guilders ten stivers, of the black sewant. [RNA, vol 5, p. 176]
Clearly these were not isolated events but rather problematic cases in what seems to have been a longstanding business in which some Dutch merchants outsourced work to local women to string loose wampum. Elizabeth Peña lists additional examples in her 1990 dissertation (pp. 29-30), she also mentions a 1662 document that included the name Henry Zeewant ryger (Henry Seawant Stringer), possibly someone who operated (or worked for) one of these businesses.
The merchants who employed wampum stringers most likely obtained their beads from Indian manufacturers, for there is no evidence of large scale Dutch wampum production in early in New Amsterdam. However, we do know in the British colonies some settlers were involved in bead production during the early Seventeenth century. In 1648 John Winthrop, Jr. of Massachusetts acquired 1,000 wampum drills and 12,000 pins from Alexander Bryant and later supplied William Pynchon with wampum for his fur trade along the Connecticut River (see Peña, pp. 67-69). Rather than employing colonists to produce the beads it is more likely Winthrop made some arrangement with Indians whereby he supplied them with tools in exchange for wampum beads. The only suggestive evidence I have found possibly relating to bead production from early New York is a case from the British period. On July 7, 1668 a Mr. Young of Bermuda sold Mr. Isaac Bedloo 400 conch shells, which Bedloo then immediately sold to Fredrick Philips (RNA, vol. 6, p. 141). As conch shells were the preferred material for making wampum, it is possible these 400 shells were purchased with that end in mind.
Little is know about wampum manufacture by the european colonists during the Seventeenth century, but more information is available on the later periods. From archaeological excavations and various extant records we do know that from the 1690's through the mid Eighteenth century there were several British factories in the colony of New York producing wampum for the Indian trade, with some surviving into the Nineteenth century. (see Peña, pp. 29, 78-84 and 150-160)
Although there is no direct evidence of New Netherland colonists mass producing wampum it is probable some individuals produced what may be called "counterfeit" wampum. A New Netherland ordinance of May 30, 1650 mentioned there had been problems with loose wampum for a long time and that imitation beads of "Stone, Bone, Glass, Muscle-shells, Horn, yea even of Wood" were found in circulation (Laws, p. 115). The ordinance suggested these beads came from New England, and no doubt several did, however, it is also possible some were locally produced. Most probably these "counterfeit" beads were made by colonists hoping to turn a quick profit. Similar problems were recorded in the Plantation of New Haven for, in the New Haven General Court session of October 16, 1648 it was stated any stone wampum offered in payment of a debt should be destroyed. (New Haven Records, p. 405)
Thus, although some illegal or "counterfeit" loose wampum was probably produced by colonists, it seems during the Dutch period the wampum stringers used beads produced by the Indians. Unfortunately New Netherland court records do not mention specific lengths of strung wampum. One of the few references to wampum string lengths in New Netherland is from a letter of Director General Pieter Stuyvesant dated July 23, 1659, where it stated wampum was, "not now bartered by counting so many for a guilder or a stiver, but by the handful, length or fathom." (Fernow, History, pp. 438 439) This implied at some earlier point individual beads had been counted out but by 1659 bead counting was replaced by simply trading quantities of wampum; loose wampum was traded by the handful while strung wampum was traded by the length or fathom. Peña suggested the fathom, equal to a six foot string of about 360 beads, was the standard length in New Netherland (Peña, p. 23). Indeed that may have been the case, however it is likely bead strings of varying lengths were also traded. In an ordinance of January 3, 1657 it was stated there were several complaints of miscounting which the council intended to remidy by issuing stamped measures of wampum in strings of a quarter, a half and one guilder, that is: 5, 10 and 20 stuivers. This implies non standard lengths had been in use and often were represented as having more beads than were actually on the string. The desire was to replace both "short or long" wampum, that is lengths that were either shorter or longer than the standard. The ordinance stated:
in order to prevent in future the complaints of miscounting of the Wampum, with regard to which no few mistakes have been experienced, to the loss of the Honorable Company's Treasury; also, the taking out of short or long Wampum ... from this time forward, after the publication and posting hereof, Wampum shall not be paid out or received ... by the tale or stiver, but only by a stamped measure, authorized to be made and stamped for that purpose, by the Director General and Council, the smallest of which measures shall be five stivers; the whole ten, and the double 20 stivers. (Laws, pp. 290-291)Based on the use of merchantable white beads this would calculate to lengths of 30, 60 and 120 beads. The ordinance also stated small change under 2.5 stuivers would be paid in loose wampum (that is, by the tale or piece). Thus clarifying the statement in the law that loose wampum would "not be paid out or received" as meaning it was not to be used in large quantities but only as small change. Other portions of this ordinance, discussed below in the section on regulating wampum, were vehemently opposed by local merchants so the entire law was suspended six days later on January 9, 1657 and never seems to have gone into effect.
In daily trade sums of wampum were usually expressed in guilders rather than by the number of strings of wampum or the string length, thus for the most part we only know that so many guilders worth of wampum were traded for an item. However, a few references exist that mention string length and the majority of those citations refer to the fathom. Many, but not all, of these references are in the context of dealings with Indians, as guilder amounts were meaningless to native americans. The one exception is the earliest surviving reference to fathoms of wampum, which does not involve Indians; it is in the ca. 1628 letter of Isaac de Rasiere, Secretary of New Netherland, discussed above, in which he mentioned he had sold Plymouth's Governor, William Bradford, 50 fathoms of wampum. However, even here de Rasiere anticipated the wampum would be traded to the Indians for other goods. Fathoms of wampum are also mentioned in the administrative minutes of the court of Fort Orange for July 15, 1654, where eleven prominent citizens offered amounts of between three to six fathoms of wampum each to be given to the Indians during treaty negotiations (Fort Orange Court Minutes, vol. 1, pp. 170-171). Also, in the New Amsterdam court minutes for March 20, 1656 we discover Pieter Monfoort purchased a canoe from an Indian for 10 fathoms of wampum (RNA, vol. 2, p. 67). Both the fathom and handfull (or a hand length) were mentioned in the ordinance of November 11, 1658. In the context of a discussion on increasing the number of beads needed to equal a stuiver, the ordinance stated, "the more Beads the Traders receive for a stiver, the greater length of hands or fathoms they will give for a Beaver" (Laws, p. 358). Clearly in this context the phrase refers to the beads given by the traders to the Indians. What may represent some non standard length strings are mentioned in the court minutes from Fort Orange on June 16, 1657. In these minutes we learn of a meeting between local officials and three Indian sachems. During this meeting the three sachems offered three strings of wampum amounting to gl. 16:12, 16:9 and 13:10. Based on the then current valuation of beads at 6 white or 3 black per stuiver, the three lengths would be at least 996, 987 and 810 beads long, if exclusively black, or just under three fathoms in length or up to a maximum of 1,922; 1,974 and 1,620 beads long, if exclusively white, or over five fathoms in length. This assumes the word "string" in the text refers to a long strand of single beads rather than a belt or band with multiple rows of beads. (Fort Orange Court Minutes, vol. 2, p. 45). In the wampum charts included in this site, the guilder value of a fathom length of wampum has been included in tables 1a and 1b.
In daily New Netherland commerce strung wampum was often presented in a bag or a box. In a New Amsterdam case of September 1, 1653 we learn, "one bag of wampum labeled fl. 51:18, was deposited at the Secretary's office," (RNA, vol. 1, p. 112, the amount mentioned is 51 florin and 18 stuivers). In a case of June 28, 1665 the court was asked to rule if some wampum was good merchantable wampum valid for payment. The summary stated, "The deposited Seawan being produced in Court, the Court pronounced it good and merchantable. Two parcels, black, of fl. 22.4 and fl. 19.1, and one parcel white, of fl. 65.4." (RNA, vol. 1, p. 326). In another court case concerned with wampum quality from January 17, 1656, "a certain box of white stringed Zeewan to the amount of fl. 84.3" was presented in court. The ruling was, "that the Zeewan, exhibited by the petitioner is good merchantable Zeewan, and has, therefore, sealed the same [that is, sealed the box] in Court." (RNA, vol. 2, p. 12). In a letter from the company directors in Amsterdam sent to New Amsterdam on December 22, 1659 the complaint was made that wampum was not profitable as it could not be quickly exchanged, rather merchants and storekeepers had to hold onto "their boxes full of wampum" (Fernow, History, p.450) until the annual trading auctions. Again, on July 3, 1663 we read Marshal Mattheus de Vos deposited with the city 88 guiders 12 and a half stuivers from the goods of Nicholaas Langevlthuyzen (probably his estate) consisting of three boxes of seawan (one containing 8 florin and 8 stuivers; another containing 30 florin and 2.8 stuivers; and a third containing 30 florin) as well as one paper containing 20 florin and 8 stuivers of wampum (RNA, vol. 4, 272).
An interesting case of April 24, 1656 sheds some further light on distribution. It seems individuals purchased boxes of wampum from the wampum stringers. In this case Adriaen Blommart charged, "he received from deft. a box of Zeewan for fl. 142:3. And that only fl. 100 were found therein;" The defendant, Jacob Hendrik Varvanger stated, "he received it so counted from the Zeewan-Stringers..." Varvanger suggested the defendant's wife removed some wampum but Blommart's wife took an oath that she had not taken any. When the court asked Varvanger to take an oath that the full amount had been in the box when he handed it over, he stated he could not swear to it. In the end the court required Varvanger to pay the additional fl. 42:3.
From these few gleaning is seems some dealers obtained wampum beads at a wholesale or bulk purchase rate from the Indian bead makers. Local woman were then hired to string these beads, probably in fathom lengths, then the dealers sold boxes or bags of stringed wampum to the public.
In addition to locally made wampum the sources often mention poorer quality wampum brought into New Amsterdam from the outside, especially from the New England colonies. Indeed, the influx of poor unpolished wampum was given as a reason for the need to regulate wampum value in the ordinance of April 18, 1641, discussed below. This poorer quality wampum was strung but it sometimes circulated as loose wampum beads. Frequently loose wampum contained several broken beads that could not be strung. These broken beads, like the unpolished, chipped or blemished beads, were unacceptable to the Indians and thus were deemed unmerchantable. Sometimes individuals had the court inspect wampum to resolve a dispute as to whether the beads were of good merchantable quality or not. A few instances have been mentioned above in the context of wampum bags and boxes. In those cases the wampum was declared to be good but in a case of May 11, 1654 Willem Albertson deposited two bundles of wampum with the court in payment of a 100 guilder debt. The court ruled the wampum was unacceptable and would be sold to make partial payment. Albertson would be required to pay the balance of his debt in either beaver or good current wampum (RNA, vol. 1, p. 197). The problems caused by poor wampum are discussed below in the section on wampum regulations.
Much wampum made its way west to Fort Orange, which was the center of the beaver trade. In Van der Donck's 1653 Description of New Netherland, quoted above, it was stated, "many thousand strings [of wampum] are exchanged every year for peltries near the seashore where the wampum is only made, and where the peltries are brought for sale." An annual exchange is also mentioned in the New Amsterdam court records from 1662. On October 28, 1662, because of problems in wampum valuation, it was decided:
That the value and currency of seawant to be given by the Burghers and inhabitants of this place and jurisdiction as well as within this Province between man and man in payment be fixed annually when the beaver is purchased by the traders and merchants;... (RNA, vol. 4, p. 153)
From the administrative records of the court for January 8, 1657 we discover the annual trade was anticipated to take place that year in February or March. A group of influential merchants were invited to the January 8th meeting of the court where a revaluation of wampum was under discussion. The invited merchants suggested that, "the rating may be postponed for 6 to 8 weeks or longer until the trade comes and every one can get rid of what zeewan he has." The court accepted this advice. In this case by "every one" the merchants were not referring to the general population but to themselves and fellow merchants who had large stockpiles of wampum (RNA, vol. 2, p. 261).
Thus it seems sometime around February or March fur traders or their agents would bring pelts to New Amsterdam where the furs were auctioned to transatlantic merchants who would then transport the furs to Amsterdam. Apparently the traders often sold their furs, or a portion of the furs, for wampum, which the traders would then take back to Fort Orange for use in further trade with the Indians. Thus, the supply of wampum would annually build up in New Amsterdam and then sharply decrease as the fur traders took wampum away for trade with the Indians.
One interesting case from February 17, 1660 may reflect this seasonal transfer of wampum. Jurriaen de Kuyper owed Joannes de Peister, "fl. 120 in good current zeawant for an ox." Kuyper acknowledged the debt, but explained to the court he had not yet paid because he, "expected seawan from Fort Orange, but did not get any." The details of the case are lacking so we cannot know the full story. It may simply be that Kuyper was waiting for someone from Fort Orange to pay him before he had the funds to pay off his own debt. This was a rather common occurrence in New Amsterdam, but usually the defendant would explain the circumstances to the court so that the judges could take the situation into consideration. In this case no such reason was mentioned. Apparently Kuyper had no available wampum or any local source for wampum at that time and did not feel a need to justify this situation to the court. As there was often an oversupply of wampum in New Amsterdam it seems the only time in which there we be a depleted supply would be in the period immediately after the fur traders had conducted their business and taken large quantities of wampum to Fort Orange and other western trading posts. This may be the reason Kuyper felt it was only necessary to tell the court he had made arrangements to have some wampum shipped back to New Amsterdam from Fort Orange, but it had not yet arrived. If this was the situation it seems the supply of wampum was not fully depleted for the court was not moved by Kuyper's predicament and ordered him to pay as required by his agreement (RNA, vol. 3, p. 130).
The regulation of wampum in New Netherland was a complex problem because wampum was critical to the local economy but the government had no control over wampum production. The state could not regulate the quantity of beads manufactured nor could they dictate specifications for the quality of the beads produced. Rather, provincial legislation was confined to regulations defining various aspects of the use of wampum in local commerce. Bead value was legislated by specifying the number and color of individuals beads needed to equal one stuiver (20 stuivers = 1 guilder or 1 florin). Further regulations defined parameters of acceptability for beads in circulation. Any beads thought to be below these standards could be presented at court for a determination as to whether they were acceptable (or as contemporaries stated, merchantable) as currency. Clearly this procedure complicated commerce as the seller needed to examine the payment in the same way the buyer needed to examine the goods purchased.
Even more problematic was the fact that the state was not able to control the quantity of wampum in circulation. Without production control the Dutch had little power to halt the continually declining value of wampum as more and more beads were produced. This declining value of wampum was further complicated because the Dutch persistently struggled to keep wampum value in line with the other significant, and more stable money substitute, the beaver pelt. In the final years of Dutch rule the stabilization of wampum became even more challenging as the value of beaver pelts began fluctuating downward.
Although wampum had been in use since the founding of the colony in 1624, the first extant New Netherland regulations concerning wampum are found in an ordinance promulgated under the administration of Director General Willem Kieft on April 18, 1641. The ordinance addressed a specific and recent problem, namely that New Netherland was being overrun with rough unpolished wampum said to have been brought in from outside the province. The customary high quality polished local beads, called Manhattan wampum, were being hoarded or exported to Fort Orange for the beaver trade, while poor quality beads were circulating in greater and greater numbers. The ordinance explained:
very bad Wampum is at present circulating here, and payment is made in nothing but rough, unpolished stuff which is brought hither from other places, where it is 50 per cent cheaper than it is paid out here, and the good, polished Wampum, commonly called Manhattan Wampum is wholly put out of sight or exported, which tends to the express ruin and destruction of this Country. (Laws, p. 26)
To remedy this situation it was promulgated that the rates would change in two weeks time when the new month began (the ordinance was passed on Thursday April 18th and took effect starting Wednesday May 1st). At that time poor quality beads would only be acceptable in general trade if they were strung and then at the rate of 5 beads per stuiver; this rate would only last for one month then on the first of June the poor quality beads would be reduced even further to 6 per stuiver. Well polished beads would continue to be accepted at the same rate as previously, which was 4 beads per stuiver. Fines were establised for those violating this regulation. The ordinance stated:
We do, therefore, for the public good, interdict and forbid, all persons of what state, quality or condition soever they may be, to receive in payment, or to pay out, any unpolished Wampum during the next month of May except at Five for one stiver and that strung, and then after that Six beads for one stiver. Whosoever shall be found to have acted contrary hereto, shall provisionally forfeit the Wampum which is paid out and 10 guilders for the Poor, and both payer and payee are alike liable. The well polished Wampum shall remain at its price as before, to wit, Four for one stiver, provided it be strung. (Laws, p. 26)In this ordinance, as well as in some other colonial documents on wampum, the specific color of the beads was not stated. As the Indians treasured the hard to find black beads more than the white beads it is probably not correct to assume that color was inconsequential. In his book on wampum Don Taxay assumed when the specific bead color was not mentioned in the text the reference should be taken to refer to the more common white beads with the understanding that the rarer black beads would trade at twice that value (see Taxay, Money of the American Indians, p. 134 on the Massachusetts law of 1637), following this hypothesis well polished white beads would be four per stuiver while well polished black beads would be two per stuiver.
The root of the wampum problem in New Netherland was twofold, it was due both to increased production and, as stated in the law, importation from other areas. The quality of wampum in Manhattan during the earliest period of Dutch colonization was most probably very high. Indian women had been meticulously crafting beads on Long Island for generations and no doubt many of the best quality beads remained in that area. However, large quantities of wampum were needed for the fur trade, much more than the Indians had ever produced. Soon after colonization the West India Company was acquiring some 10,000 pelts annually (by the mid 1650's it grew to above 80,000, see Maika, p. 31) to acquire such a large volume of furs the traders needed a great deal of wampum. Based on the negotiations of January 1635 recorded by Harmen Meyndertsz van den Bogaert mentioned above, the Dutch would need at least 40,000 handfuls of wampum each year for 10,000 pelts. This, plus the demand by other colonies for wampum, doubtless called for a major increase in production. Production increases were partly effected by the introduction of metal tools brought over from Europe, such as awls, that allowed the Indians to work more efficiently. Additionally, as mentioned above, it has been conjectured some colonists took the opportunity to literally and figuratively, make some money, by producing "counterfeit" wampum. Both the increased production and the introduction of counterfeit wampum seems to have resulted in a decline in bead quality.
The overproduction of wampum was only part of the quality control problem for the New Netherland government. The law specifically mentioned the importation of poor wampum from areas where it was valued at only half of the going New Netherland rate. To understand this process we need to review the basic regulations concerning wampum in New England.
During the years of 1637-1641 Massachusetts and Connecticut passed their first legislation making wampum an official money substitute. During those years, in Massachusetts wampum was only legal tender for sums under 12 pence, while in Connecticut and in the Plantation of New Haven it was valid for larger purchases (up to 20s in New Haven). In these colonies bead quality was not addressed until about six or seven years later; it was first mentioned in the New Haven laws in 1646 and first appeared in the Massachusetts laws in 1648. However, in each colony valuation distinctions were made between white and black beads; in Massachusetts black beads were legislated as being valued at two beads per penny and white beads were legislated as four beads per penny, while in Connecticut and New Haven black beads were valued at three beads per penny and white beads were value at six beads per penny. Based on these rates it would have been advantageous for colonists from Connecticut or New Haven to take white wampum to either Massachusetts or New Netherland, where they could pass them at a rate of four beads per penny (or per stuiver) rather than need to pay the Connecticut rate of six beads per penny. As wampum was only legal for small purchases in Massachusetts (at least until 1641) it was more advantageous for a Connecticut colonist to go to New Netherland where they could make major purchases using larger quantities of wampum. This was not precisely the 50% difference mention in the New Netherland law, but it was a 33% bonus for any Connecticut or New Haven colonist that traded in New Amsterdam. It should also be remembered this was during the period before Connecticut had passed any laws regulating bead quality.
The importation of wampum into New Netherland was possible because in 1638 the West India Company abolished its trading monopoly, allowing merchants of all friendly nations to trade in the province. As discussed in the historical introduction, several merchants took advantage of this new situation. Additionally, other more temporary traders or peddlers, called sojourners in the documents, began appearing in the towns. Thus, the coincidence of increased wampum production, varying wampum rates in the different colonies and a newly instituted free trade policy in New Netherland combined to devalue the New Netherland wampum supply.
The New Netherland law of 1641, devaluing poor quality wampum, was not successful in solving the problem of ridding the province of poor quality wampum. It seems the law was interpreted as imposing fines for those not adhering to the instituted rates but apparently the ordinance was not enforced as to requiring the poorer wampum to be strung. Indeed, loose wampum continued to circulate to such an extent a resolution was passed on November 30, 1647 to try to deal with that problem. In fact, so much unstrung wampum circulated it was difficult to determine what was good quality and what was poor quality wampum. Several later ordinances and court ruling addressed the quality issue. Indeed, since the 1641 ordinance allowed poor quality beads to remain current, it seems more and more were made. Apparently even if the product was devalued, the poorer quality wampum was still profitable to produce or imported into the province.
Clearly more regulation was required. Wampum production needed to continue as it was vital to the fur trade, but the real problem was that since wampum production was not under the supervision of the province it was impossible to regulate either the quantity or quality of the wampum beads put into circulation. We know several individuals brought the wampum problem to the attention of Director General Kieft, but the director did not bring any legislation forward.
On October 28, 1644, following a catastrophic Indian war, decimating the provinncial population to some 250 individuals, the New Netherland Council of Eight requested to the Amsterdam directors that Kieft be replaced. The directors selected Pieter Stuyvesant, who had been director of the West India Company's colonies of Curacao, Aruba and Bonaire since 1643. In 1645 Stuyvesant was elevated to the post of Director General of all company possessions in North America and the Caribbean. He took over the duties as director general upon his arrival in New Amsterdam on May 11, 1647. Soon thereafter an eleven member committee was formed to investigate irregularities during the Kieft administration. The result of this investigation was a report of July 28, 1649 written by the lawyer Adriaen van der Donck. One of the many complaints brought forward in this report was:
The payment in zeewant [i.e. wampum], which is the currency here, has never been placed upon a good footing, although the commonalty requested it, and showed how it should be regulated, assigning numerous reasons therefor. But...if anything is said before the Director of these matters...very wicked and spiteful words are returned. (Narratives, p. 331)
Van der Donck, and two of his colleagues on the Kieft investigation committee, travelled to Amsterdam and presented this document to the High and Mighty Lords, States General in 1650. The new Director General of the province, Stuyvesant, felt it was his duty to send his secretary, Cornelis van Tienhoven, to write a reply and defend the former Director before the States General. In his rely, submitted to the States General in November of 1650, on the point about wampum, van Tienhoven stated:
Their complaint that no regulation was made in relation to sewan [i.e. wampum] is untrue. During the time of Director Kieft good sewan passed at four for a stiver, and the loose bits were fixed at six pieces for a stiver. The reason why the loose sewan was not prohibited, was because there was no coin in circulation, and the laborers, farmers, and other common people having no other money, would be great losers; and had it been done, the remonstrants would, without doubt, have included it among their grievances. (Narratives, p. 365)
Stuyvesant had several pressing issues to address during his first months in office but he soon took on the continuing problems related to the circulation of poor quality wampum and proposed measures to remedy the situation. He first addressed the problem of the lowest quality beads, namely those loose beads that were so badly chipped or broken they could not be threaded onto a string. On November 30, 1647 a resolution was adopted that would allow loose wampum to continue to circulate, but all imperfect and broken beads were to be declared bullion and sent to the company's counting house. Once the beads were in the treasury the company reserved the right to trade them in bulk, presumably for use in the beaver trade rather than for recirculation. The law stated:
Resolved and concluded in Council at Fort Amsterdam, that, until further Order, the loose Wampum shall continue current and in circulation; only that in the meanwhile, all imperfect, broken and unpierced beads can be picked out, which are declared Bullion, and shall, meantime, be received at the Company's counting house as heretofore. Provided that the Company, or anyone on its part, shall, in return, be at liberty to trade therewith among the Merchants or other Inhabitants, or in larger parcels as may be agreed upon and stipulated by any individual, or on behalf of the Company. (Laws, p. 80).
In 1648 Stuyvesant went a step further. Hoping for assistance from Amsterdam he sent a letter to the company directors requesting 10,000 guilders in small coins to help in gradually replacing wampum. The West India Company directors wrote back in a letter of January 27, 1649 that they were having financial difficulty supplying all the provisions the province requested so there was no possibility they could send coinage. They stated:
You think, that if 10,000 fl. in small coins could be sent there, it might be advisable to drive the wampum gradually out of the country, but your own judgment must tell you, that in our present financial situation it cannot be done, the more so as we are much troubled by our inability to supply the provisions, which you so urgently call for. If we do not receive the proceeds from the sale of hides, we shall be obligated, to leave your requisition [that is, for provisions] unfilled. (Fernow, History, p. 108)).
Stuyvesant's 1647 resolution to declare poor quality wampum as bullion to be sent to the company's counting house did not alleviate the problem of the importation of poor quality wampum. Indeed, the situation actually worsened to the point several merchants refused to accept any wampum as a form of payment. In a letter of December 17, thought to date to 1649, Janneken Melyn of New Netherland complained to Cornelis Melyn, a relative back in the Fatherland, "poor people have scarcely enough to eat, for no supplies of bread, butter, beef and pork can now be had, except for beaver or silver coin." The letter went on to say Stuyvesant, "promised the people either beavers or silver coin, or cargoes in the spring." Melyn ended the letter with a final descriptive sentence of the hardships endured in the new land that is too good to pass over, "It is so cold here, that the ink freezes in the pen." (O'Callaghan, vol. 1, p. 386)
As the year 1650 began the situation was critical, Stuyvesant's request for a supply of coins had been turned down in Amsterdam, while in New Amsterdam some merchants were no longer accepting wampum, rather they were requiring payment in beaver or silver. Clearly something needed to be done. On May 30, 1650 the New Netherland Council passed an ordinance further regulating wampum. The law explained:
we have by experience and for a long time seen the decline and daily depreciation of the loose Wampum, among which are circulated many without holes and half finished; also some of Stone, Bone, Glass, Muscle-shells, Horn, yea even of Wood and Broken beads, together with the manifold complaints of the Inhabitants that they cannot go to market with such Wampum, nor obtain any commodities, not even a small loaf of white Bread or pot of Beer from the Traders, Bakers or Tapsters for loose Wampum... (Laws, pp. 115-116, quote on p. 115).Since merchants refused to accept these beads the law stated loose wampum would no longer be current: "henceforward no more loose Wampum shall be current, or good pay unless it be strung on a cord, as has been the common custom heretofore; in order hereby to prevent the further importation of all lump and unperforated Wampum... " (Laws, p. 116). To be acceptable even poor quality wampum would need to be strung, thus broken wampum and wampum without holes would be unusable for daily purchases. It was hoped this measure would stop the importation of broken wampum in the province. Based on later court cases this phrase "no more loose Wampum shall be current, or good pay" seems to have been interpreted to mean loose wampum would not longer be valid for larger purchases unless it was acceptable to the receiving party. Thus, loose wampum did not go out of use but no one was required to accept it in substantial transactions. Some examples of the use of loose wampum after the 1650 ordinance include the following cases. On October 21, 1656 Marcelus Janssen requested a special session of the Fort Orange court to address his demand for payment of 625 guilders owed to him by Pieter Adriaensen. Adriaensen brought a partial payment of "386 guilders in strung and loose sewan" to court which Janssen accepted (Fort Orange Court Minutes, vol. 1, p. 294). Also, a New Amsterdam court case of May 20, 1658, involved the sum of 300 to 400 guilders "in loose sewant." (RNA, vol. 2, pp.385-386). However, in another New Amsterdam case from February 9, 1664 Balthazat de Haart maintained he could pay his 1,910 guilder debt to Gerrit van Tright "in loose sewant" because it had not been expressly stated in the agreement that payment had to be made in strung wampum. The court ruled that de Haart was required to pay, "in good stringed merchantable sewant, as it is a considerable sum." (RNA, vol. 5, p. 27). Loose wampum was certainly available and occasionally continued to be used in larger payments, when it was deemed acceptable by both parties. Also, throughout the Dutch period and long into the British era, loose wampum was the primary small change medium, taking the place of farthing and halfpenny tokens. Indeed, as late as 1701 the cost of a ferry ride between Manhattan and Long Island was designated in loose wampum beads.
In addition to requiring poor quality wampum to be strung rather than loose, the May 30, 1650 ordinance also established a new 25% lower valuation for the poor quality strung wampum in relation to the valuation of good merchantable wampum. This was the first New Netherland ordinance to actually state the value of wampum beads by color. Obviously several important documents relating to wampum are lost since the values mentioned as current in 1650 were clearly different from the rates given in the ordinance of 1641 (see chart). Further, the wording of the ordinance was such that it seems the rates for merchantable wampum mentioned in the regulation were not newly established but had been in use previously and were simply being codified into law. The ordinance stated that commercial wampum:
shall pass and be good pay as heretofore, to wit Six White or Three Black for one Stiver; on the contrary, poor strung Wampum shall pass eight White and four Black for one Stiver. (Laws, p. 116)
Shopkeepers, such as bakers and brewers, did not follow this ordinance and continued to refuse to accept wampum of all kinds, even if it was strung. This led to a new ordinance enacted about three and a half months later, on September 14, 1650. The new law explained to the shopkeepers the need for wampum, "there being, at present, no other currency whereby the Inhabitants can procure from each other small articles of daily trade..." (Laws, p. 117) and then required that poor quality wampum, as long as it was strung, would be current and accepted by everyone, without exception, for small purchases of 12 guilders (240 stuivers) and under. Further, for purchases from 12 to 24 guilders the customer could pay up to half in poor quality strung wampum and for purchases between 20 to 50 guilders, a third of the price could be paid in poor wampum. Most likely the overlap in the top category was added to allow for bargining between the two parties. In any event, fines were imposed on merchants who did not abide by the regulations, there was a 6 guilders fine for the first offence, a 9 guilders fine for the second, and for the third offence the fine was two pounds Flemish (12 guilders) and the closing of the business. (Laws, pp. 117-118)
Thereafter merchants began accepting wampum once again. The minutes of the court records of New Amsterdam are extant from the years 1653-1674, while the minutes of the court for Fort Orange and Beverwyck survive for the years 1652-1660. In these sources we find numerous citations to the use of wampum in New Netherland. However the cases are only an indication, not a measure, of wampum usage as they only represent problematic exchanges that required third party resolution. Further, the court summaries often included two different accounts, one by the plaintiff and another by the defendant, often with no resolution recorded other than the statement the case was submitted to an arbitrator. As long as we recognize the limitations of these sources, they can be helpful in understanding the daily use of wampum in the New Netherland economy.
As earlier court records do not survive we cannot determine precisely how the 1650's differed from earlier periods, but we can use the documents for a glimpse into the period following the regulations of 1650. Many of the examples given above were derived from these records. As previously mentioned, loose wampum continued to be used for small change and was occasionally used in larger quantities when it was agreeable to both parties, but generally wampum for larger purchases needed to be strung merchantable wampum. Wampum stringers may have been employed in earlier periods but our first record of this profession derives from a New Amsterdam court case of December 8, 1653 (RNA, vol. 1, p. 138) as explained in the section of the distribution of wampum. Additionally, as mentioned in that section, on June 28, 1655 we find the earliest extant record in which the court was asked to declare if some parcels were "good merchantable wampum." It seems by limiting the quantity of poor quality wampum which merchants were obligated to accept and by requiring large quantities of wampum to be strung rather than in loose beads, the crisis over the acceptance of wampum subsided. The court records describe numerous transactions involving wampum throughout these years.
During the 1650's wampum was the primary small change money substitute in New Netherland, which for many people was the only money available (larger sums were usually expressed in beaver pelts, which are discussed below). Van der Donck, in his 1649 report against Kieft, defined wampum as the local currency while van Tienhoven, in his reply, stated that laborers, farmers, and other common people had no other money except for wamum. Later laws frequently mentioned this situation as in ordinance in of September 14, 1650 just discussed and in the ordinance of November 19, 1657, where it stated, "Wampum being still, for want of struck or stamped coin, the most general Currency between Man and Man." Phrases referring to wampum as the ordinary or customary money are found throughout the New Amsterdam court records. In a case of January 10, 1656 in which Francois Doudey owed Allard Anthony just over fl. 135 in tobacco, Doudey stated he needed to wait for favorable weather before he could transport his tobacco from Flushing but he offered to pay the debt immediately, "in ordinary pay, being Zeewan" (RNA, vol. 2, p. 4). On the same day in another case, the merchant Cornelis Schudt owed a ship captain named Pieter Dircksen, the sum of fl. 274 in beaver, but offered to pay, "in such current money as passes here, which is Zeewan and which goes, in payment, between man and man." (RNA, vol. 2, p. 6). The emphasis on wampum as the predominant coin substitute for the general population is also found in the New Amsterdam court minutes for November 20, 1656. In that session Solomon La Chair, the assessor of the cattle tax, requested he be allowed to assess cattle based on a price in zeewan rather than according to the current practice, which was in merchantable beavers. He felt, "the common people, who buy for zeewan" were paying one stuiver in zeewan per guilder of assessment, which he felt was a higher rate than was paid by the wealthy who used beaver pelts. The court addressed his concerns and modified their rates (RNA, vol. 2, pp. 232-233).
Wampum was the most widespread currency in New Netherland throughout the Dutch period and was the standard small change medium. Whereas wampum continued to be current in much of New England through the 1650's it was not the most common form of currency. Wampum had been demonetized in Connecticut in 1648 in favor of commodity money. During the 1650's the rising Boston merchant class replaced wampum with Massachusetts silver, so that by 1661 wampum was demonetized in Massachusetts due to "much inconvenience" in its use; Rhode Island followed, demonitizing wampum in 1662. During this same period in the southern colonies of Virginia and Maryland, tobacco became the major source of wealth and therefore was the money substitute of choice, thus the use of wampum was marginalized in the British colonies on either side of New Netherland.
Whereas Indian trade was secondary in the developing economies of New England and Virginia, it was essential to the economy of New Netherland. Wealth centered around the export of beaver pelts which were obtained through trade with the Indians. Therefore, as long as acquiring pelts from the Indians was the significant means of obtaining wealth, wampum had a real value to the inhabitants of New Netherland and remained a primary article of trade. Thus, during the 1650's, when other colonies were focusing on developing alternate forms of currency, New Netherland continued to look toward wampum and enacted several laws to keep it viable.
In 1656 we notice indications of what became a critical problem for the New Netherland economy, namely a significant oversupply of wampum. Apparently as wampum was phased out in the British colonies any remaining quantities made their way to New Netherland. Simultaneously, since the wampum producers lost their other colonial markets, the entire supply of newly manufactured wampum was directed to New Netherland. Wampum became so plentiful that traders began demanding more wampum for a beaver pelt. This situation was highly significant to the local shoppkeepers. Wampum had no intrinsic value to the shoppkeepers, it only had real value to the fur traders who found it essential to carry on their business. Therefore, each year the supply of wampum accumulated by the shopkeepers was traded to the fur dealers for pelts. The pelts could then be traded to transatlantic shippers for other saleable products or sometimes sold for credit or silver. As the value of wampum fell in relation to the value of a beaver pelt shopkeepers were forced to require larger amounts of wampum from customers when purchases were made in wampum.
By the mid 1650's the influx of wampum was so great merchants were discounting wampum as a medium of exchange, that is, they were requiring from 25% and sometimes up to 50% more for an item, when the transaction was in wampum. Thus an item would have a dual price, for example, an article would cost 8 guilders in beaver or up to 12 guilders in wampum. Merchants stated they were justified in discounting wampum as they were required to trade 10 to 12 guilders in wampum for a beaver pelt. Additionally, they mentioned strung wampum was sometimes found to be short and the discounted rate was needed to make up for any shortfall. The possibility of a short count on strung wampum was a regular problem for merchants. As there was no standard length of wampum for a specific monetary amount, merchants usually had to take the customer's word or spend a great deal of time counting thousands of beads. For example, an item an item costing 12 guilders in wampum could be purchased using 12 guilders of good strung wampum at six white beads a stuiver (1,440 beads) or 12 guilders of poorer strung wampum at eight white beads a stuiver (1,920 beads) or half that number in black beads or some combination of better and poorer wampum, possibly partly black and partly white! The merchant was lucky to be able to inspect and determine the quality of the wampum but would usually need to take the customer's word on the specific number of beads and thus could be "short changed."
The beaver - wampum pricing disparity can be traced back to the year 1656, starting in that year we find evidence of differing wampum to beaver values in the surviving summaries of some court cases. Although many court cases involved a conflict over money, the extant case summaries typically only mentioned the disputed amount in guilders, stating for example - the plaintiff demanded 12 guilders from the defendant. However, in some cases the recorder added the particular kind of payment in dispute, as - the plaintiff demanded 12 guilders in wampum from the defendant; in addition to wampum, payment could be demanded in beaver, wheat, boards, or another of several money substitutes, such as tobacco (the major substitutes are discussed in the third section of this essay). In a few cases we are fortunate to have more information on the circumstances of payment, namely the rate at which wampum was to be accepted in relation to the value of a beaver pelt. In a Fort Orange case from February 8, 1656 we not only find the quantity of guilders specified in wampum but, for the first time, we find a wampum to beaver rate mentioned. The case stated, "the plaintiff has been obligated to accept and receive fl. 243:16 in seawan, at eight guilders the beaver." (Fort Orange Court Minutes, vol. 1, p. 250). Eight guilders in wampum to a beaver pelt had been the established rate for several years (before 1649 the rate was from 8 to 9 guilders, when it fell to 6 to 8 guilders depending on pelt quality and by 1652 had stabilized at 8 guilders, see Fernow, History, pp. 105 and 169) but it is significant that the court recorder though it necessary to include it, as the rate had never been included previously in case summaries. Doubtless this new information was added because it was necessary in clarifying the decision.
More substantial evidence of the rating change is found in cases from later in the year. In a New Amsterdam case of June 19, 1656 we find an interesting twist to the traditional wampum to beaver relationship. Throughout the New Netherland records several cases exist where a defendant was contracted to pay in beaver or other commodity but could not obtain the specified commodity and so offered to pay the plaintiff in wampum. When the plaintiff did not want to accept wampum he brought the defendant to court so the individual would be made to pay using the contracted medium of exchange. In a case of June 19, 1656 from New Amsterdam we have an unusual example where an individual named David Frere was owed five beavers, but when beavers were offered to him he refused payment, the court summary stated, "he wants to be paid in Zeewan at 12 gl. the beaver." (RNA, vol. 2, p. 120). The court declared the five beavers offered to him were of merchantable quality and therefore required Frere to accept them as payment. This case does not make sense unless wampum was trading at a fluctuating rate that went as high as 12 guilders in wampum per beaver and Frere was attempting to obtain the highest rate possible (as we have seen in the February 1656 case discussed above the rate has previously been eight guilders in wampum per beaver). It seems Frere thought by accepting the beavers he would not be able to trade the pelts for as favorable rate as 12 guilders in wampum per pelt and felt it was worth going to court in an attempt to get that favorable rate. In another New Amsterdam case from the following week, June 26, 1656, the same David Frere was back in court in a different litigation demanding payment owed to him of 400 elk hides, however this time it was not Frere but rather it was the defendant who wanted to pay in wampum. The defendant was out of town and would not be back for about six days but his wife appeared in court and offered to pay "in Zeewan at 10 gl. for one beaver." (RNA, vol. 2, pp. 122 123). Frere obviously did not consider this to be an acceptable rate and demanded the payment in hides as had been contracted. The court ordered the payment be made in hides. Thus, within a brief period in mid 1656 we see that Frere was unsuccessful in obtaining a rate of 12 guilder in wampum per beaver, which he must have considered to be a favorable rate, while the next week in another case he was unwilling to accept a rate of 10 guilders in wampum per beaver, as he must have felt it was more beneficial to have the hides. Interestingly, from a Council meeting of January 8, 1657, quoted below, we learn it had been decided "about six months or longer ago" to revalue wampum, which would mean the wampum beaver disparity had been evident since at least June of 1656.
Another case from late in 1656 confirms the devaluation of wampum in relation to beaver. This case, from the Fort Orange court session held on November 22, 1656, centered on determining the wampum to beaver rate. In this case the plaintiff sold 27 beaver pelts and had been paid 8 guilders in wampum per beaver. He insisted this had only been a partial payment and demanded an additional 54 guilders, as he claimed the rate was 10 guilders in wampum per beaver. The defendant, on the other hand, claimed the 8 guilders per beaver was payment in full. The details of the two arguments were not included but the decision of the court was recorded, stating that the defendant was ordered to pay the additional 54 guilders. (Fort Orange Court Minutes, vol. 1, p. 301). Clearly 1656 was a difficult year, some purchasers still hoped for the standard rate of 8 guilders in wampum per beaver while some sellers were trying to get as much as 12 guilders in wampum per beaver. Based on the June cases from New Amsterdam and the November ruling from Fort Orange it seems during at least the second half of the year the median range was 10 guilders in wampum per beaver.
The problems resulting from the unstable wampum - beaver rate were communicated to the Amsterdam directors who decided to defer a decision on the matter until spring. In a letter to Stuyvesant, dated December 19, 1656 they wrote:
We consider a change of value of your money, that is, placing the beaver at 6 fl. instead of 8, and wampum at 8 for a stiver, instead of 6, a matter of great importance and have therefore deferred the consideration of it until next spring. Meanwhile we shall think about it and later inform you of our opinion and wishes. (Fernow, History, p. 372)
The confusion and price inflation resulting from the depreciation of wampum value caused great economic hardship for those laborers who held their savings in wampum. Wampum lost 25% of its value as it dropped from 8 to 10 guilders per beaver. Complaints mounted. New Netherland officials could no longer wait for a decision from Amsterdam and on January 3, 1657 they acted, passing a new ordinance. The ordinance began by stating the Director General and Council of New Netherland had received numerous complaints concerning the devaluation of wampum which caused:
serious damage, distress and loss of the Common Mechanics, Brewers, Farmers and other good Inhabitants of this Province, that the Superior and inferior magistrates of this Province are blamed, abused and cursed by Strangers and Inhabitants, and the Country in general receives a bad name... (Laws, p. 289)As stated in the ordinances passed to deal with the crisis of 1650, the new ordinance once again reinforced the importance of wampum:
Wampum being, for want of Silver and Gold coin, as yet the most general and common currency between Man and Man... (Laws, p. 289)and went on to explain that wampum could be treated as a commodity by those who imported it or by those who traded it to the Indians for furs but that of necessity for the remainder of the population it had to serve as currency. Insofar as wampum was used as currency the Council resolved to rate wampum as far as possible on par with the other money substitute, the beaver pelt. As the beaver was rated at 8 guilders the Council resolved to also rate wampum at eight guilders, so that 8 guilders in wampum would equal one beaver pelt in all currency exchanges. In effect this would increase the value of wampum giving the customer back his 25% lost value. The ordinance explained:
The Director General and Council ... after divers serious considerations, propositions and debates ... [have] not been able to discover any better expedient than to declare Wampum a commodity and merchandise in the matter of commerce and wholesale trade; to wit, only among those who import it from abroad, or trade it in this Province with Indians for Furs; but inasmuch as, for want of Silver or Gold coin or other pay, Wampum must, in smaller quantities, serve as currency between Man and Man, Buyer and Seller, the Director General and Council ... hereby resolve and Ordain to rate Wampum, and as far as possible to cause it to be rated at the value of Beaver, the Beaver being still reckoned, until further Order and advice from Patria [that is, the West India Company directors in the Netherlands], at Eight guilders and no higher. (Laws, p. 290)To effect this regulation and to control the problem of miscounting or what might be called the passing of "short strings of wampum," the ordinance went on to designate specific measures of wampum which were to be authorized and stamped for general use. A half measure of wampum was to be 5 stuivers, a full measure would be 10 stuivers and a double measure 20 stuivers. Any sum below a quarter measure was to be paid in loose wampum, which was denominated in the ordinance in English units, with white beads being half a farthing and the black beads a farthing. Fines for non compliance were very high, 50 pounds Flemish (300 guilders) for the first offence and 100 pounds Flemish (600 guilders) for the second offence. (Laws, 289-292)
Merchants and shopkeepers vehemently protested the January 3rd regulations for they were required to accept wampum at 8 guilders per beaver but when it came time to trade wampum for beavers they would be trading the wampum as a commodity and most likely only get a rate of 10 guilders per beaver, thus sustaining a 25% loss in value. Five days after the ordinance was passed, on Monday afternoon, January 8, 1657 the Council met to discuss the issue with a committee of several prominent merchants including Cornelis Steenwyck, Govert Loockermans, Joost Teunissen, Coenraet Ten Eyck, Isaack d'Forest, Daniel Litschoe and Abram La Nooy. The minutes of the meeting reveal that, "about six months or longer ago ... it was finally resolved to fix the zeewan at a certain rate ... which should be about eight zeewans for one stiver." (RNA, vol. 2, pp. 260-261) This meant they had decided to make a rate change from 6 good white beads per stuiver to 8 good white beads per stuiver about mid 1656. However, the plan had been set aside as it would institutionalize the depressed wampum value and only heighten the "serious damage, distress and loss" mentioned in the introduction to the January 3rd ordinance. Clearly the Council did not want to be responsible for the problems brought on by a rate change, for the minutes went on to state in lieu of a rate change the Council would be willing:
to propose and aid in devising, a better expedient, inasmuch as it is the intention of the Director General and Council to render zeewan as current as beavers or other pay, because the Commonality can obtain necessaries for that [i.e. seewan], and to obviate the severe scarcity which now causes a difference fully of 30 per cent in all payments in zeewan.  : (RNA, vol. 2, p. 261). [note: by scarcity I assume they mean a relative scarcity of beaver in relation to the overabundance of wampum.]Given the options between increasing or lowering wampum value, that is either increasing the value of wampum by putting wampum on par with beaver at eight guilders in wampum per beaver or decreasing the value of wampum by increasing the number of beads needed to equal a stuiver from six ot eight, the invited merchants favored a lowering of wampum. However they were not enthusiastic about the prospect and felt it would not resolve the situation. But, if wampum value was to be lowered the merchants felt the lower rates should not take effect until after they were able to get rid of what wampum they currently had on hand. Their reply was reported as follows:
They say, as no zeewan is to be expected immediately, that they should wish much, the rating may be postponed for 6 to 8 weeks or longer until the trade comes and every one can get rid of what zeewan he has. Maintaining that changing the rate of zeewan will not make any thing cheaper nor afford any person better accommodation, but create considerable confusion. The Indians, who will know it immediately, will charge more for every thing and will enrich themselves, and consequently can never be brought to the previous rate, of which there are examples. (RNA, vol. 2, p. 261).Thus, the merchants did not have an answer but hoped when the traders came for their annual fur auction they would acquire and take back to the Hudson River Valley large quantities of wampum to be used in future trading with the Indians. Clearly the merchants did not want any devaluation of wampum beads to occur until after they could get rid of the large quantities they had in stock. Further, they felt an increase in the number of beads per stuiver would not alleviate the growing disparity in the beaver to wampum rate; rather it would simply result in depressed wampum value. The Council agreed with this assessment and decided to postpone the revaluation of wampum. Instead they proposed a new ordinance that would set different payment rates for wampum, beaver, tobacco and silver. Additionally, the Council hoped to institute fixed prices for certain daily necessities, with each item deemed a necessity having several fixed prices, one fixed price for each kind of payment. The resolution concluded:
it was determined to postpone the rating of the zeewan to a better and fitter opportunity, and to let it go at the same rates as it has done to the present time; and it was thought necessary to make a difference by Ordinance in the payment of zeewan, silver, beavers or tobacco as already exists among all as well in trade as in labor, and to fix the price accordingly of beer, wine, bread, and other daily necessaries, each different according to the pay. (RNA, vol. 2, p. 261).
The next day, on January 9, 1657, a resolution was passed suspending the January 3rd ordinance. The resolution stated the Director General and First Councillor had called:
the Burgomasters [the two mayors] and Schepens [aldermen] and some of the principal Inhabitants to hear their opinions touching on the regulating of the Wampum ... they unanimously requested that the Ordinance prepared for that purpose may be suspended for the present time, until the Wampum that is here at present in great abundance may be somewhat reduced by exportation. (Laws, p. 292).Based on this discussion it was resolved "to suspend the aforsaid Ordinance for the present, until the Wampum be somewhat reduced in quantity." (Laws, p. 293)
The fur traders eventually came for their annual auction but the anticipated depletion of the wampum supply was not as substantial as had been anticipated. As the Amsterdam WIC directors had promised in their letter of December 19, 1656, they revisited the wampum question in the spring in a letter to Stuyvesant, dated April 7, 1657. The letter expressed concern over the adverse economic consequences of devaluation but the directors could not see any other alternative. They decided to proceed cautiously by announcing their intention but not acting on the proposal until the following year and intending to wait even further before reducing the value of beaver. The stated:
Concerning the proposed change of the value of your currency or reduction of the beaver and the wampum, we have after due consideration come to the conclusion, that depreciation of the currency means destruction of the commerce and consequently ruin of the country. To prevent this we have decided, to make no sudden change, but to proceed gradually beginning with the wampum. Which is to be reduced from 6 to 8 for a stiver; it being well understood that this reduction shall not take effect before the beginning of next year, 1658, and in the meantime, upon the receipt hereof, the people must be informed of it, as such measures are published here in all well-governed republics and kingdoms, to cause the least possible inconvenience and loss to the community. We shall wait with reducing the currency value of beavers from 8 to 6 guilders, for we see difficulties in making these changes simultaneously and would rather have once more your opinion on this subject. (Fernow, History, pp. 386 387)
As the year progressed the supply of wampum continued to grow. Undoubtedly there was much discussion about this situation following the April 7th decision of the Amsterdam directors to devalue wampum. Stuyvesant and his Council understood the distress this would bring to the population. Clearly they did not want to implement such an unpopular measure and eventually came up with what might be called a limited rate reduction plan.
The new plan differed somewhat from what had been stated in both the January 8th Council meeting and the April 7th letter from the company directors. Up to this point discussion had focused on regulating wampum rates in daily trade. However, it was clear any attempt to legislate wampum value would not have popular support. In the ordinance passed on November 29, 1657 the West India Company tried something new. Rather than regulate commercial wampum rates they set out to develop a new set of regulations for the General Counting House or treasury. This was the provincial treasury into which all taxes were paid and from which all officials received their salaries. The ordinance began by going into more detail than any previous legislation in describing the wampum problem. It stated the Director General and Council of New Netherland:
by their own experience and by manifold complaints of Inhabitants and Strangers, they are sufficiently, to their sorrow, daily informed and importuned respecting the great, excessive and intolerable high prices of necessary commodities and household articles, arising, among other causes, principally from the high price, far beyond their value, of Beaver and other Peltries in this Country, in consequence of the abundance of Wampum, which has run up to 10, 11 and 12 guilders for one Beaver. And Wampum being still, for want of struck or stamped coin, the most general Currency between Man and Man and Buyer and Seller, the prices of household commodities and common daily necessaries range according to that rate, and from time to time dearer, the rather as 30, 40 yea, sometimes 50 per cent difference is made not only by the Merchants, Factors [i.e. their agents] and wholesale Traders, but also, consequently, by the Shopkeepers, Tradespeople, Brewers, Bakers, Tavern keepers, Grocers and others, if they work and sell goods for Beaver or Wampum. (Laws, p. 317)The ordinance went on to list some of the high prices that were then current; a few of these prices can be compared to similar items that had been listed in an earlier ordinance of November 19, 1653 (Laws, pp. 149 151). It was stated at that time a can of poor oil sold for 3 to 4 guilders in wampum, while in 1653 a can of salad oil had been 1 guilder 10 stuivers; both lists also included a pair of shoes, they were priced at from 6 to 7 guilders in wampum in 1657, while in 1653 a pair of men's shoes in sizes 8 to 12 had been valued at 3 guilders and 5 stuivers. In both cases the wampum price had doubled in four years. The ordinance went on to explain the high prices, "are generally excused on the ground that 30, 40 to 50 per cent is lost on the Wampum before it can be traded off for Beaver." (Laws, p. 318)
As in the suspended ordinance of January 3, 1657, the Council once again was required to declare wampum to be an article to be freely traded as it was essential to the continuation of the fur trade. It was stated to be, "an absolute merchandise, to buy, barter, sell and rebarter it at wholesale, according to the value and quantity thereof." (Laws, p. 318) However the ordinance went on to state the paradox that while wampum was an article of trade which one could barter for the best price, at the same time, "Wampum, for want of Gold and Silver Coin, as already stated, must still serve as smaller change for daily necessaries" (Laws, p. 318). However, rather that try to force a specific regulated wampum rate on local shopkeepers and merchants as had been unsuccessfully attempted in the January ordinance, a different approach was taken. This time rather than regulating commercial trade, the New Netherland Director General and Council ordained the company counting house would begin to receive in and pay out wampum at beaver value, that is, at a rate equal to 8 guilders in wampum per beaver. Additionally, wampum beads were revalued so white wampum was changed from 6 to 8 beads per stuiver and black beads went from 3 to 4 per stuiver. Basically, this meant all wampum was rated at the poor quality rate. The ordinance specifically stated it did not affect private contracts:
the Director General and Council do not intend, by this reduction of the Wampum at the general Counting House, any alteration or impairing of any private Contracts, Agreements or sales of Merchandise heretofor made or hereafter to be made between Man and Man, Buyer and Seller; (Laws, p. 319)The ordinance ended with the provision that all West India Company creditors would be paid at the revalued wampum rate of 8 guilders in wampum per beaver with wampum being counted at 8 white or 4 black per stuiver, however debtors were given three months to make payment at the old rates, which had been 8 guilders in wampum per beaver but with 6 white or 3 black beads per stuiver.
This was actually a slightly better rate than the general current market value for those who were creditors and for the company employees paid by the treasury. By limiting wampum to 8 guilders per beaver but increasing the beads per stuiver from 6 to 8, the WIC treasury was dispensing a fair rate, which came to 1,280 white wampum beads per beaver. During this period general rates, as found in the court proceedings and extant contracts, varied from about 10 guilders to about 10 and a half guilders (10:10), with a few examples as high as 12 guilders. As these rates were counted at 6 white beads per stuiver, one would receive 1,200 white beads at the 10 guilder rate or 1,260 while beads at the 10:10 guilder rate. Thus creditors were generally favorable to the new treasury rate of 1,280 white beads per beaver. Also, in an effort not to unduly burden individuals who were currently in debt, those individuals were given three months to balance their account at the older rate.
By this ordinance New Amsterdam tried to effect the wishes of the WIC directors to reduce wampum value (by increasing the number of beads per stuiver) and put wampum on an equal footing with beaver, so 8 guilders worth of either medium would have an equivalent value. At the same time they did not want to destroy the purchasing power of the wampum held by the common people nor did they want to upset shopkeepers or local merchants. The ordinance, in effect, did little to change the situation except that it did stabilize the rate at the treasury. In the short term this had no real impact, but as the general rates moved up to 11 and 12 guilders in wampum per beaver, even at the general rate of only six white beads per stuiver, one would receive 1,320 to 1,440 white beads per beaver. Thus, the treasury rate became unfavorable, especially for company employees who were paid through the treasury.
Discussion of the wampum problem continued through 1658. In a letter from the Amsterdam directors dated May 20, 1658, the opinion was expressed that beaver should be reduced to 6 guilders in the company treasury and that the directors did not object to issuing wampum by the measure (Frenow, History, p. 417). The latter proposal had been part of the ordinance of January 3, 1657, which had been repealed within a week of passage. However, the Amsterdam directors sent no instructions to the province during the second half of the year. In a letter from the WIC directors dated February 13, 1659 we learn no letter had been sent to Stuyvesant since June 19, 1658 even though Stuyvesant had sent letters on June 17, 1658; July 23, 1658; September 23, 1658 and October 5, 1658 as well as a private letter from Stuyvesant on September 24, 1658 (Fernow, History, p. 427). The reply to all of these letters was delayed until the letter of February 13, 1659. In this reply we learn Stuyvesant had defended his position against the further devaluation of wampum and in his private letter had again requested silver coin to replace wampum. In this reply we discover the directors declared they were not pleased with the ordinance of November 29, 1657 as it only reduced wampum in the company treasury and not in general trade. The February 13, 1659 reply by the directors is rather long but explains their thoughts on money substitutes and the difficulty of keeping specie in the colonies. The reply stated:
The arguments, which you use, why wampum is not reduced generally, but only in the Company's office, do not appear to us well founded or sufficient, for we are quite sure and cannot arrive at any other conclusion, than that a general reduction will cheapen all commodities and goods and therefore the laborer and the people generally will profit more by it, than the natives. Anyway the general reduction is necessary, so that it cannot be cried down still more, for at present it has to serve in the place of silver and gold coin as change between individuals. Although Director Stuyvesant says in his private letter, that it would be very desirable, if coin could be brought to New Netherland, we see as yet no chance for it, there being many more places in the world, where this kind of currency is not to be found, as for instance among the people along the Gold Coast of Africa, where for want of it they make shift with some kinds of dress goods or small shells or other objects of little value, which for all that has quite as good a circulation, for anything will pass as currency in trade, as long as a value is placed upon and benefit derived from it. Even if we saw any chance and had the means to bring coin into the country, we see no way of keeping it there, especially as long as so much is lost on the return cargoes from there. The experience in Brazil has taught us the same lesson, for notwithstanding that the gold and silver coins were made 25 to 30 per cent lighter, specie could not be held there, but was exported. As we said before, we see therefore no other or better way, than to prevent a further crying down of wampum by a general reduction of it. We have resolved to direct you to do this there without delay, for you will undoubtedly discover, that the wampum is held at a higher value and therefore the tradesman and the farm-laborer will be better satisfied and encouraged thereby. (Fernow, History, p. 428)[The reference to Brazil is the West India Company colony in Brazil which was lost in 1654. Starting in 1645 square coins were minted in the colony. An example of a 1646 six florin Brazilian piece from the Joseph Lasser collection is illustrated in Richard Doty's informative volume, America's Money, America's Story, Krause: Iola, WI, 1998, p. 17.]
Although this letter was written in February of 1659 it was responding to concerns from letters of several months earlier (June - early October 1658) and therefore reflected the debates of those months. However, by the time the letter had been written it was outdated. Events in New Netherland during the fall of 1658 called for immediate action and although it seems to have been unknown to the directors, when they composed their February 1659 reply, the action they called for had already been taken months before.
Examples of the wampum rates in effect during late 1658 are not available. Unfortunately, the New Amsterdam court records do not survive for the period between the end of September of 1658 through mid August of 1659. Of those 1658 cases that do survive the only mention of a wampum rate is from a case of May 20, 1658 where the defendant offered a 10 guilder rate and the plaintiff demanded a 12 guilder rate, but no decision was recorded (RNA, vol 2, p. 383). Further, there are no indications of wampum rates in any of the court minutes from Fort Orange for the fourth quarter of 1658. It appears there may have been a panic in New Amsterdam at that time causing rates to temporarily rise dramatically. An ordinance passed in New Amsterdam on November 11th stated, "a difference of 80, 90, yea 100 per cent is made by Shopkeepers" which would put the New Amsterdam wampum rate at that time between 14:8 (14 gl. 8 st.) and 16 guilders in wampum per beaver! Unfortunately the disruption caused by this precipitous fall in wampum valuation is difficult to chronicle due to a gap in the records, however, it is likely this situation was a catalyst to enacting the ordinances of October 9th and November 11th.
On Wednesday, October 9, 1658 the New Netherland Council issued an ordinance which some thought would alleviate the wampum problem. It was declared wampum was to be counted at 8 white or 4 black beads per stuiver in all transactions. Thus, the valuation adopted by the West India Company treasury in the November 29, 1657 ordinance became the standard value throughout the province. A provision was made that debtors be given six weeks to make payment at the previous valuation of 6 white or 3 black beads per stuiver. Six weeks later, on Friday, November 22, 1658 the ordinance was published and put into effect. A similar ordinance was passed at Fort Orange on Friday, November 29, 1658 in which debtors were only give eight days to discharge their obligations at the previous valuation. (Laws, pp. 320 and 365; also Fort Orange Court Minutes, vol. 2, pp. 167-168) This was not intended as a prescriptive measure that outlawed all other rates, for in a letter to the Amsterdam directors written on April 21, 1660 Stuyvesant explained the eight beads per stuiver rate was to be the norm between seller and buyer, "unless they agree upon another rate by written or verbal contract." (Fernow, History, p. 471)
Also, in addition to the increasing the numbers of beads per stuiver the Director General and Council passed an ordinance on November 11, 1658 which followed the comments they had made almost two years earlier in the meeting held on January 8, 1657. At that meeting they had agreed to postpone a general revaluation of wampum but stated at a future date they would propose a new ordinance that would set a difference in the payment rates for wampum, beaver, tobacco and silver as well as fixing the price of certain daily necessities.
In the November ordinance the Council admitted that their previous attempts had not alleviated the situation. They stated there was:
high, excessive and intolerable dearness of needful commodities and family necessities, arising among other causes, from the abundance and uncurrent condition of the Wampum, which in barter for Beaver, has risen to 16 guilders and more for one Beaver; according to which rate, all household commodities and common daily necessaries take their course, even to such a degree, that a difference of 80, 90, yea 100 per cent is made by Shopkeepers, Tradesmen, Brewers, Bakers, Tapsters, and Grocers, if they work and sell wares for Beaver or Wampum, (Laws, p. 357)The recent increase in the number of beads needed to equal a stuiver had not yet taken effect but some of the lawmakers felt the October ordinance by itself would would not remedy the disproportion in payment between beaver and wampum. In fact, some felt the change in wampum beads could exacerbate the situation should the wampum to beaver rate remain the same, as it would simply require longer lengths of wampum to make a payment. The legislation stated:
it is presumed, that the more Beads the Traders receive for a stiver, the greater length of hands or fathoms they will give for a Beaver; and consequently, the dearness of wares and even of the most necessary articles, such as Beer and Bread, will continue and be exercised on the ground of the still too great disproportion between the Wampum and Beaver. (Laws, p. 358)The wampum question was debated from two sides, some felt the bead reduction would have a positive effect while others felt it would not resolve the situation. The October ordinance gave the wampum reduction theory an opportunity to prove itself while the November 11th ordinance took a different approach. As in the previous ordinances it was stated that wampum had to be a commodity bought and sold at rates as two parties agreed. However, in this ordinance the Council took the position that since wampum was a commodity they could not effectively regulate wampum value as a money substitute; therefore they simply limited its legal tender status to sums of 24 guilders or less. They stated:
... that payment in Wampum above 24 guilders shall not be valid in law, unless it appear otherwise to the Court, by written contract or acknowledgement of parties. (Laws, p. 358)Since wampum was still essential as a means of obtaining daily necessities, it was decided not to regulate wampum value but to regulate the price of necessary items. They stated:
the Director General and Council judge it necessary in future to reduce, not Wampum, but the most necessary articles, such as Bread, Beer and Wine, and to raise or lower the prices of them according to the value of Beavers, as the general market rate shall require. (Laws, p. 358)
The ordinance went on to legislate fixed prices for necessary items based on three forms of payment, namely wampum, beaver or silver coin; under this system wampum was discounted at 50% of the rate of silver and about 25% of the rate of beaver. A few examples from the list follow. A half gallon of beer was to sell for 6 stuivers in silver, 9 stuivers in beaver or 12 stuivers in wampum. A gill of brandy was 5 stuivers in silver, 7 stuivers in beaver or 10 stuivers in wampum; while a full eight pound loaf of wheat bread was 7 stuivers in silver, 10 stuivers in beaver or 14 stuivers in wampum (Laws, pp. 357-360). Although this may have temporarily stabilized the price of a few items deemed to be essential, the oversupply of wampum continued and the market value of wampum remained low.
At the repeated requests and representations of the Burgomasters [the two mayors] and Schepens [aldermen] and after many debates with them, wampum had already generally been reduced from 6 to 8 for a stiver [that is, white beads] before the receipt of your letter [the letter of February 13, 1659], but the expected reduction of prices for necessary commodities and labor did not follow, for everything remained as dear as formerly and a difference of about 50 per cent is made between beaver and wampum, because as [wampum is] not now bartered by counting so many for a guilder or a stiver, but by the handful, length or fathom, the trader can afford under these circumstances, receiving more pieces for one stiver, to give a longer string to the native for a beaver. We benefitted very little by it; only at first it helped for a short time to sell the great quantity of imported goods, but with the arrival of the ships and the abundance of merchandise brought in them it stopped immediately and eight pieces of wampum for a stiver are therefore now not more worth than six. It is quite apparent, that it shall keep on its course. (Fernow, History, pp. 438-439) The bracketed words are my comments. In the case of [wampum is] the phrase is a substitute, at this point the text includes what is clearly a copying error as it uses the words "beavers are" which certainly does not make sense.Stuyvesant seemed to imply following the passage of the October and November ordinances wampum was readily accepted at the rate of eight beads per stuiver but as more supplies arrived shopkeepers once again became cautious about wampum as they did not want to accumulate large stockpiles of this unstable medium of exchange. He also indicated wampum was rated at about 50% of beaver value, which would be about 12 guilders in wampum per beaver, substantially lower that the 16 guilder per beaver rate stated as current in the November 11th ordinance.
Precisely what occurred in late 1658 and 1659 is difficult to determine as records from this period are sparse. As mentioned earlier, the New Amsterdam court minutes are lacking for the period after September 27, 1658 and do not resume until August 19, 1659. The Fort Orange court minutes are extant as well as a ledger recording Fort Orange contracts and related legal documents, although the number of entries in the ledger is drastically reduced from the previous year, with 104 entries surviving for 1658 while there are only 34 entries for 1659.
Wampum was clearly used throughout this year as various sums of wampum are mentioned in the Fort Orange court records and several of them are for quantities higher than the 24 guilder amount mentioned as the maximum required limit in the ordinance of November 11, 1658. Among the amounts of wampum recorded in the Fort Orange court minutes are the following: on April 22, 1659 a case involving 170 guilders; June 10, 1659 cases involving 139 guilders, 68 guilders, 8 guilders, 60 guilders and 116 guilders; July 1, 1659 cases involving 12:12 guilders and 56 guilders; July 8, 1659 cases involving 33 guilders and 160:15 guilders; and November 11, 1658 cases involving 15 guilders and 8 guilders; it is quite possible some other guilder sums were implied to be in wampum but the medium of payment was not specifically mentioned (Fort Orange Court Minutes, vol. 2, pp. 169-237).
From the Fort Orange ledger recording contracts, mortgages and related legal documents we find of the 104 entries for 1658 there were 51 contracts specified to be paid in beaver, 14 contracts with partial payment in beaver and partial payment in wampum and 7 contracts payable in wampum (there were also 3 other contracts with guilder amounts that did not specify the medium of exchange); while of the 34 entries for 1659 there were 13 contracts specified to be paid in beaver, 6 contracts with partial payment in beaver and partial payment in wampum and 1 contract payable in wampum. The other entries were powers of attorney, land conveyances or related documents without a money transfer (Early Records, vol. 4, pp. 7-115).
During this period we find some confusion over pricing. Some individuals did not specify the medium of exchange, which occasionally resulted in a court case. At Fort Orange a case of May 13, 1659 revolved around the fact that the defendant stated the price had been half in beaver and half in seawan, while the plaintiff calculated the full guilder amount in seawan (Fort Orange Court Minutes, vol. 2, p. 184). Another example came from New Amsterdam on September 2, 1659 where the defendant had purchased six hogsheads of wine at 44 guilders each, but stated, "he bought it for seawant and not for beavers" (RNA, vol. 3, pp. 34-35). In a case of October 6, 1659 at Fort Orange the plaintiff stated he was owed 33:16 guilders in beaver while the defendant claimed the sum was in seawan (Fort Orange Court Minutes, vol. 2, p. 220). In addition to confusion over whether the amount was in wampum or beaver, there were also cases that deemed it necessary to clarify the wampum rate, which had increased from six to eight white beads per stuiver by the ordinance of October 9, 1658. In a New Amsterdam case of August 26, 1659, the court ordered Cornelis Janzen Clopper to pay his servant Marten Janzen Meyer, "half beavers and half seawant, the beaver at eight guilders and the seawant 8 white or four black beads for one stiver." (RNA, vol. 3, p. 31).
Their was a reticence to accept wampum payment at this time. Not only do most of the contracts and cases specify beaver, we also find a case were the individual clearly had wampum but needed to acquire beaver to meet the contract stipulations. In this New Amsterdam case of September 2, 1659 the defendant stated, "he has sent some seawant to Fort Orange to trade for beaver, but has received no beavers yet." (RNA, vol. 3, pp. 33-34). At this time there was also an increased use of alternative money substitutes. In an example from the same September 2nd New Amsterdam court session there was a case that in earlier years would have included wampum in the payment options but clearly the plaintiff was willing to take almost anything except wampum. The plaintiff demanded his, " fl. 445:9 payable according to arbitration fl. 224:9 in goods at price current and fl. 221, Holland currency in beavers at fl. 6 per beaver, or in good tobacco at 4 stuivers the pound in tubs, with cost." (RNA, vol. 3, p. 34). Thus the plaintiff would accept any goods as well as beaver or tobacco but not wampum. [Notes: fl. 221 Holland currency refers to 221 florins at the rate of silver money which meant the value of beavers were reduced 25%, for additional information on the crying up of silver, which had been increases 25%, as was mentioned in a letter from the directors of April 4, 1652 (Fernow, History, p. 169) see the section on coinage in New Netherlands; the term "with cost" refers to the cost of transporting the tubs of tobacco to the plaintiff.]
Wampum rates during this period are rarely mentioned. However the two examples I have found reflect up to the 50% difference from beaver that was mentioned in Stuyvesant's letter of July 23, 1659. In agreements detailing conditions for the sale of four plots of land in Esopus at an auction held in Fort Orange, it was stated the prices would be distributed over two payments each to be made in beaver or half in beaver and half in seawan at the rate of 11 guilders per beaver. This represents a 37.5% difference from beaver and may reflect a favorable rate, as I have noticed public auction rates were frequently lower than private sale rates; most likely this was done to encourage maximum participation and solicit higher bids. The date of these four documents is not included but it does mention the first payment was to be made, "July this year 1659." leading one to assume the agreements were from the first half of 1659 (Early Records, vol. 4, pp. 101-103). There were no wampum rates mentioned in the Fort Orange court minutes but one case from New Amsterdam specified a rate. In a case of August 26, 1659 the plaintiff demanded, " 7 1/2 beavers for half a years rent or seawant at fl. 12 per beaver" (RNA, vol. 3, p. 28). Thus in two examples extant from the year we find rates of 11 to 12 guilders of wampum per beaver, probably reflecting the rates current during at least the second and third quarters of 1659.
The economic problems in New Netherland increased during the final years of Dutch control. Due to the dwindling profits in the fur trade the WIC directors no longer had the funds to continue supporting an expanding New Netherland population and took measures to make the province self sustaining. Their first concern was over the payment of company employees in the province. New Netherland employees were contracted at a Holland money rate and had traditionally been paid in beaver. As provincial receipts did not cover the full payroll the Amsterdam directors made up the difference. The situation was further complicated in that, by 1659, the beaver supply was diminishing from years of over hunting and the company no longer had the pelts on hand to meet the payroll. In a letter of December 22, 1659 to Stuyvesant the WIC directors approved a suggestion Stuyvesant had made previously to pay soldiers and other company employees in wampum. From the WIC director's perspective this would be equitable if wampum was put on par with silver. In 1659 beaver traded at a 25% reduction and wampum at a 50% reduction in relation to Holland money value, thus, 6 guilders in silver equaled 8 guilders in beaver or 12 guilders in wampum. As silver was 50% more valuable than wampum, it could only be put on par with wampum if wampum was reduced by half, that is, by doubling the number of beads required to equal a stuiver. The directors felt this measure was necessary but understood it would cause short term economic hardship, thus they recognized the need for a carefully planned gradual implementation. They considered a two part approach in which the company treasury made the first reduction of wampum and beaver followed by a second general reduction. The population needed to be warned beforehand, important citizens needed to support the measure and the plan had to be implemented so as to cause the least disruption. The directors realized they needed to rely on the judgment and administrative ability of Stuyvesant for implementation of the devaluation. This became a significant point of contention as Stuyvesant did not agree with the directors and continually refused to carry out a further general devaluation of wampum, as he felt it would only exacerbate the economic problems of the province.
The WIC directors also felt they could reduce beaver in the same way they reduced wampum, so the value of a beaver pelt could be brought in line with silver. By placing all three currencies on the same footing the directors felt there would be no need to make any payments from Amsterdam, thus the province could begin to pay its own way. In their letter of December 22, 1659, they stated:
Your order concerning the payment of the soldiers and the other servants of the Company in wampum has our approval, as it will have the tendency of placing all on the same footing and thereby giving satisfaction; but as it has not the value of Holland money, we have concluded to direct and authorize you, to calculate wampum at that rate and for the same reason we reduce the currency value of beaver from 8 to 7 guilders; we do this principally, because we have resolved, henceforth to pay here neither monthly salaries, (the two months' pay advance excepted), nor any other amounts earned there no matter who the employee of the Company may be. You will strictly conform to this rule. (Fernow, History, p. 450)Thus, wampum was to be reduced to half its value so that it would be at the Holland money rate and then beaver value was to be reduced from 8 to 7 guilders. This was not to be a general reduction but was only limited to the company treasury and thus primarily affected the payment of company employees.
The WIC directors' letter of December 22, 1659 went on to explain this limited reduction of wampum would need to be followed by a second general reduction. Not only did the directors feel this was necessary to bring wampum more into line with silver but they also believed a general reduction in wampum value would stop the importation of wampum from New England. They felt the New Englanders were bringing large quantities of wampum to New Netherland and taking out goods imported to New Netherland from Holland as well as leaving with valuable beaver pelts. This hurt profits as merchants and inhabitants in New Netherland were left for months and months with wampum that could only be traded on an annual basis. In this context it should be remembered in the early 1650's the wampum producing portion of Long Island had been ceded to New England. Thus, the complaints about New England wampum in the late 1650's and 1660's are not the same as the complaints of the 1640's and early 1650's, when the British colonies were simply getting rid of their uncurrent money substitute. Rather, New Englanders controlled the wampum production areas, and according to the Amsterdam directors, they were flooding the New Netherland market with this wampum. They stated the New Englanders were trying to "draw the best goods out of the country in exchange for this villainous wampum." (Fernow, History, p. 451). To add a further concern, the directors informed Stuyvesant they felt the English colonists would smuggle goods into New Netherland and smuggle other goods and furs out of the province without paying any duty. The Amsterdam directors stated:
This special reduction of wampum must necessarily be followed by a second, more general one, if we desire to prevent its complete debasement, caused by the abundant importation of wampum by the people of New England, who make their payments with it and take out of the country [i.e. New Netherland] not only the best goods sent from here [i.e. Holland], but also many beavers and other furs to the detriment of the Company's revenues, while the merchants here have to wait so much longer for profitable return freights, their factors [i.e. agents] and the inhabitants sitting meanwhile on their boxes full of wampum, a medium of trade current only among the savages of New Netherland. Some merchants here, with whom we have consulted, fear, that the natives may change their minds in this respect, and state, that the tribes begin to incline towards another kind of beads, which they mix with the wampum for the sake of ornament, so that it will have less value and finally be entirely depreciated, unless its over abundant importation be stopped by a general reduction of it in New Netherland to the Holland standard. Such a reduction can, we think, be introduced so much easier, because the Company sets an example by the mode of paying their employees and thereby fixing the price and value of wampum. We feel assured, that the tradesmen also will find it a convenience in the purchase of necessary commodities and there is no danger, that the beaver and fur trade with the savages or the tobacco trade with the people of Virginia shall be led into other channels by this measure. We have therefore to consider the New England people, who, as we have said above, draw the best goods out of the country in exchange for this villainous wampum. However, in order to prevent as far as possible the losses, which the inhabitants of our province might suffer by a general reduction, it will be necessary, that they be previously warned of it by public notices to be given in March and in June, the reduction taking place the following year. We desire that you carry out this order strictly according to our wishes.
Before we leave off discussing this matter, we have to say, that we have learned, that European goods and merchandise are imported there by way of New England and Virginia in order to avoid the payment of duties.... We further repeat our directions to watch the exportation of beavers and other furs by our English neighbors, as mentioned before. (Fernow, History, pp. 450-451)
The letter of December 22, 1659 was sent on the ship Trouw, arriving in New Amsterdam on April 15, 1660. Stuyvesant was clearly distressed by the letter and responded rather quickly. In his reply to the directors, dated April 21, 1660, Stuyvesant cautioned against reducing wampum to the value of silver since a continual supply of wampum was needed for the beaver trade. He stated,
We wish that what you say regarding the reduction of wampum to the value of silver or at least of beavers and your arguments for it, could be put into practice without any trouble and without diverting our trade into other channels. We believe, it cannot be done without considerable risk, for wampum is the source and mother of the beaver trade, and for goods only, without wampum, we cannot obtain beavers from the savages. If we receive no wampum from the outside - we have none in our country - this would certainly cause a diversion of the beaver trade. (Fernow, History, p. 470)Stuyvesant went on to explain in a few cases the company had already reduced wampum to ten white beads per stuiver. This was done by contract when farming out certain of the excise taxes to be collected on company owned lands and it was also used when paying the wages of the officers of the company, but all other employees were paid at the standard rate of 8 beads per stuiver. Stuyvesant stated the ten beads per stuiver rate was:
done only in consequence of a previous contract or stipulation in letting, selling or farming out some of the company's demesne and that except to officers of the Company it is not issued to individuals for either days' wages or commodities at any other rate, than the one established by the general reduction, to wit, 8 for a stiver, unless call for by previous stipulation... (Fernow, History, p. 471)However, Stuyvesant felt it premature to make this the standard wampum rate stating: "the reduction from 6 to 8, made last year, has been such an obstacle to its overabundant importation, that wampum is somewhat scarce now" (Fernow, History, p. 471). Interestingly, right after stating the wampum reduction had some positive effect, Stuyvesant went on to say in the long run the depreciation of the wampum bead rate would have little effect in remedying the situation, for the real problem centered around the quantity of wampum needed to acquire a beaver. As the supply of wampum increased, individuals would demand more wampum for a beaver, irrespective of how wampum was rated. Stuyvesant saw wampum as a necessary commodity with a fluctuating rate based on supply and demand, and therefore he saw it as a poor money substitute. He once again stated the only way to obtain a stable economy was to replace wampum as a currency with silver coin. He said:
it matters little, whether 8 or 10 pieces are counted for a stiver, because the dealer marks, holds or sells his goods, according to the abundance of wampum and the price he had to give for beavers. It would be desirable therefore, as we have repeatedly stated to you, that wampum and beavers, as well as tobacco, should be declared an absolute commodity or merchandise and that the importation of no other small currency, than silver, should be allowed here. (Fernow, History, p. 471)He also commented on the director's suggestion about the smuggling of furs. Stuyvesant did not see a problem with the Virginia tobacco trade but suspected a third to a half of all beaver obtained by New Englanders were clandestinely carried out of the country without paying any duty.
In a letter to the directors dated June 25, 1660 Stuyvesant made some further comments on the December 22nd letter. He reluctantly agreed to reduce the value of beaver from 8 to 7 guilders in the company treasury when paying salaries, stating:
This measure can and must be received and carried out with grateful heart and faithful service and although not the equivalent of what is due to them, their pay being stipulated in Holland money, your order concerning this matter will be obeyed and observed, as far as regards your employees here, when the new books are opened. (Fernow, History, p. 476)He also addressed the directors' request that all employee salaries be paid by the provincial treasury without financial assistance from Amsterdam, stating the ledgers would prove the provincial treasury simply did not have the necessary funds to meet the payments.
On September 20, 1660 the Amsterdam directors sent Stuyvesant a curt reply to his two letters completely ignoring the plea for silver coin. The letter covered several topics but the response on the wampum situation was made in two long sentences:
We will not discuss the arguments and difficulties, raised by you on account of our order for reducing wampum, as far as the time to carry it out is concerned, for we perceive by your prolix explanations, that you understand, what we mean and therefore we need not repeat it. But about the manner itself we say again and maintain, that it is based upon good reasons, into the explanation of which we have no wish to enter now; we only recommend to you most seriously and order, that this reduction be put into practice as soon as time and circumstances are favorable, without fail. (Fernow, History, p. 481)
Before this reply had arrived in New Netherland Stuyvesant felt he had not fully explained his position to the directors and sent another long discussion to them on October 6, 1660. In this letter he discussed the fiscal problems of the province in relation to paying salaries at an equivalent of silver money with a beaver rated at 7 guilders as had been ordered by the directors. He also included some comments on current wampum value in his discussion of the revenues collected from the excise taxes, as they were farmed out and paid in wampum at the rate of 10 beads per stuiver. Stuyvesant explained wampum value had been on the declined so that by October of 1660 it took as much as 16 guilders in wampum to equal 8 guilders in beaver value. Because of this depreciation the provincal treasury was no longer accepting wampum on par with beaver, as had been stated in the ordinance of November 29, 1657, but accepted it at a two to one ratio so that 7 guilders in beaver equalled 14 guilders in wampum, explaining:
Before the wampum is reduced to the valuation of beaver, at 7 fl., it suffers a depreciation of 50 per cent, because beaver, calculated at the usual rate of 8 florin, is bartered and valued at public sales at the rate of 15 to 16 florin in wampum.... (Fernow, History, p. 484)
Stuyvesant continued to point out to the directors that wampum was a commodity that could not be regulated as a stable money substitute. He went on once again, to explain at length:
Whatever orders, rules and reductions may be made and carried out, they do not prevent its depreciation and further losses. The lower it is reduced, the more the trader gives for a beaver, going, as we have said before, as far as 15 or 16 fl. To reduce the price of wampum to 12 or 16 [beads] for a stiver, as we reduced it from 8 to 10 in receiving it at our offices, will remedy the evil only for a brief period; the trader would give the length of one hundred hands, instead of fifty and he, who receives it at so much a guilder, would lose so much more time and have so much more trouble in counting it. To declare it absolutely bullion and not receivable at so much a guilder, would endanger the beaver trade and lead it into other channels; nor can it be done as long as we have no other currency here for retail trade. On the other side we are taught by experience, that if we let it go, as at present, wampum will depreciate more and more every year, the inhabitants grow poorer and houses and lands go to ruin. We would therefore request you once more, to consider measures by which coin or some sort of currency may be brought into this country. (Fernow, History, p. 485)
On December 24, 1660 the Amsterdam directors replied to Stuyvesant's October 6th letter. In answer to Stuyvesant's complaints about inadequate revenue to meet the employee payroll the directors stated the province should trim down the number of employees, specifically suggesting they let go of some of the 250 salaried soldiers. As to wampum the directors stated they were unable to understand Stuyvesant's explanation of the wampum problem. This was primarily because the directors thought of wampum simply in terms of a money substitute and not as a commodity with a fluctuating value that needed to be acquired for trade. They simply could not understand that the Indians did not think of wampum in terms of guilder value, but rather in terms of how many hanfulls they could obtain per beaver. Also, the directors did not understand the role of Spanish (and Massachusetts) silver in the mercantile economies of the English colonies and West Indies. They thought more in terms of an agrarian economy as Virginia, where tobacco produced by the colonists was the primary money. Of course, this differed from New Netherland in that wampum was primarily produced by Indians and then sold to the colonists. Further, unlike tobacco which was traded worldwide, wampum could only be traded back to the Indians. Since the directors could not fully understand the economics of the situation they continued to order the reduction of wampum but left the timing of the reduction up to Stuyvesant. Specifically they stated:
We have written you several times about the depreciation of wampum, but we cannot discover any other means to prevent it, than to reduce it again, which must be done, whenever you think, that the time and circumstances are convenient, as we told you in our last letter. Your statement, that the continued reductions impoverish the inhabitants and ruin houses and lands and that therefore we cannot go on reducing it, unless some other currency is brought into the country, astonishes us, because we have before us so many instances to the contrary, not only among the heathens, but also among Christian people, for instance your own neighbors, English and French, there and in the Caribbean and other islands of the West Indies, where no silver money is in circulation, and nevertheless they flourish. We see no way of bringing coin there, much less to keep it, if brought over. (Fernow, History, p. 488)
As wampum became more plentiful it was often implied in New Netherland documents that the Indians required more and more wampum for their beaver. Indeed, Stuyvesant frequently mentioned that wampum devaluation would induce the Indians to ask for larger quantities of wampum and require the traders to hand over larger and larger quantities in exchange for beaver. It was stated in the Ordinance of November 11, 1658, "it is presumed, that the more Beads the Traders receive for a stiver, the greater length of hands or fathoms they will give for a Beaver." This sentiment was echoed in a letter of July 23, 1659 from Stuyvesant to the Amsterdam directors, where he characterized the bead devaluation in similar terms, "the trader can afford under these circumstances, receiving more pieces for one stiver, to give a longer string to the native for a beaver." Again in another letter to the Amsterdam directors on October 6, 1660 Stuyvesant stated, "the trader would give the length of one hundred hands, instead of fifty."
There is little written evidence in the Dutch documents as to how much wampum the Indians were paid for beaver pelts. It may be recalled on January 3, 1635 Harmen Meyndertsz van den Bogaert reported in his journal that during trade negotiations the Indians asked for four handfuls of wampum and four hand breaths of duffel cloth for each large beaver. Bogaert stated he would need the approval of his superiors before consenting to the agreement so we do not know if this price actually went into effect.
In July of 1660 we once again have a glimpse at negotiations with some Indians over the price of beaver. From a record of negotiations with the Seneca Indians at Fort Orange, we have a general idea of Indian expectations during 1660. The Indians put forward a proposal on July 25, 1660 in which it was reported that they, "request that it may from now on be settled that they can get 30 handfuls of black seawan for one beaver ... [or]... 60 handfuls of white seawan for one beaver." (Fort Orange Court Minutes, vol. 2, pp. 283-285). On the following day Director General Pieter Stuyvesant along with the full court and Vice Director Johnannes LaMontagne, who was the leading company officer permanently stationed at Fort Orange, replied to the Indians that they could not afford to pay such a high price for beaver (Fort Orange Court Minutes, vol. 2, pp. 285-286). Although we do not know precisely what price was being paid for pelts, it is clear the quantity of wampum traded for a beaver had increased considerably since the 1630's. If the 1635 report referred to white wampum the price requested in 1660 was some 15 times higher while, if the 1635 negotiations referred to black wampum, the price was about 7.5 times higher.
During 1661 the situation in New Netherland deteriorated further. In his letter of October 6, 1660, Stuyvesant had mentioned wampum had been trading at 15 to 16 guilders per 8 guilders in beaver, however by mid 1661 the rates had worsened so that it took 18 to 20 guilders in wampum to equal 8 guilders in beaver. Under these conditions Stuyvesant continued to refuse to make a general reduction in wampum, as he feared it would only cause larger quantities of wampum to be demanded for a beaver and thus further depreciate wampum value. Stuyvesant's reply to the directors' December 1660 letter requesting that a general reduction of wampum be instituted, was written on July 21, 1661. In that reply he further explained to the directors the past devaluation of wampum beads from 6 to 8 white beads per stuiver has been ineffective in halting the continuing drop of wampum value. Under the current conditions Stuyvesant steadfastly refused to further reduce wampum rates, fearing a reduction would further exacerbate the situation and could lead to a lack of confidence in wampum which would damage both local merchant trade as well as the beaver trade. He stated:
We are not less than formerly, troubled in regard to your order about the reduction of wampum, for our daily experience convinces us more and more of how little use the former reduction from 6 to 8 has been. We have already told you, that in the trade wampum is handled by the handful or length of string and that there is so much underselling going on, that no redress by reduction is possible. A beaver, bartered formerly for 6, 7, at the highest for 8 guilders in wampum at the rate of 6 for a stiver, is now bought and sold for 18 to 20 guilders, wampum rating at 8 for a stiver. If we were to go on reducing wampum at this rate, we would at once drive away all our trade, which is already suffering; for this and other reasons we dare not carry out at present the reduction, though repeatedly ordered by you. (Fernow, History, pp. 503-504)
Wampum devaluation was out of control and Stuyvesant feared if he devalued it further, as the company directors suggested, it could ruin the economy. Since the Amsterdam directors continually refused to supply silver coin to the province, the New Netherland council discussed an alternative approach to the issue in October of 1661 with the discussion of the establishment of a mint. On October 12, 1661 the New Amsterdam Court agreed to write to the WIC directors requesting the authority and silver necessary to establish a mint so coins could be produced to replace wampum. It is not known if a letter to this effect was ever sent to Amsterdam, for there is no record of such a letter or any reply, and no further discussion of a mint exists. Sylvester Crosby quoted Charles Bushnell on this incident, simply stating on October 12, 1661 application was made to the directors for authority to establish a mint, but he did not cite any contemporary document (Crosby, the Early Coins of America, p. 289). As this document has not been readily available to numismitists and was the only item in the court minutes for that day, the entire record of the court minutes for October 12, 1661 is quoted:
Wednesday, 12 October 1661. In the City Hall. Present the Herren Pieter Tonneman, Allard Anthony, Paulus Leenders van der Grift, Tymotheus Graby, Pieter van Couwenhoven, Joannes van Brugh, Jan Vigne.Note: At this time Tonneman was the Schout [Sheriff], Anthony the senior Burgomaster [mayor], van der Grift the junior Burgomaster, Gabry the senior Schepen [Alderman], with Couwenhoven, van Brugh and Vigne as Schepens and one Schepen, Jeronimus Ebbinck being absent. As the mint was not established the beaver and tobaccco rates were not put into effect.
The President proposes, whether some means ought to be taken to bring silver money here into circulation among the public and to keep seawant only as an article of trade, and that the Honorable Director General asks the advice of each one hereupon.
After putting the question and some conversation over and hither, it was unanimously decided first to write to Fatherland and demand a mint. Having that, to cry down the seawant and to fix the beaver at six guilders and the tobacco at four and a half stivers per lb. and that the Lords Majores should please to furnish some silver and silver coin for that purpose. (Fernow, Records of New Amsterdam, vol. 3, pp. 382-383)
The request for a mint and for the silver to be used to make coinage clearly would not have the financial support of the company directors, who had continually turned down Stuyvesant's repeated requests for a one time supply of silver coinage, but it does show the dire straights in which New Netherland found itself. There was an immediate need to have a viable alternative to wampum for small purchases but none was available. Furthermore, wampum was essential to the beaver trade, so it could not be abandon. Even if the mint had been established it was recognized wampum would still be needed as an article of trade. With no alternative or substitute available, wampum remained in use and the economic situation continued to deteriorate.
Examples of specific rates are rare as most of the daily business contracts of New Netherland are no longer extant. However a group of notarial records survive from the area of Fort Orange and Beverwyck (including some documents from Esopus and Rensselaerswyck) dating from 1658 and continuing well into the British era, with documents as late as 1696. These documents include wills, contracts for major purchases, rental agreements, indentures, bonds, transfers of power of attorney and depositions. The purchase contracts are often referred to as mortgages since they usually identified items delivered on a specific date but not paid for until a future date. As the contracts required future payment, the parties involved in the transaction paid a notary to file an official record of the debt. These contracts only represent larger purchases, not the smaller daily transactions, thus they do not give us a complete picture of the way wampum was used. However, realizing the limitations of the documents and the possibility some documents may reflect special deals or special rates either offered to consummate a contract or to make up for lesser quality products, one can get some idea of the use of wampum and its going rates in the western part of the province.
On August 22, 1661, the master mason Jan Cornelissen Vyselaer acknowledged receipt of 100 guilders in "good strung seawan" which he promised to repay in July of 1662 in good whole beavers at the rate of 16 guilders in seawan per beaver (Documents, vol. 3, p. 94). This represents a 100% depreciation of wampum, in relation to the 8 guilders beaver rate. Later that year in a bill of sale dated November 9, 1661, a sloop (a type of boat) was sold for 2,800 guilders in three annual payments. The first two payments were to be in "good strung seawan" while the final payment was to be in whole beaver valued at the rate of 20 guilders in seawan per beaver (Documents, vol. 3, pp. 136-137). This represented a 150% depreciation of wampum. However the rate did not always decrease, sometimes it was more favorable. Six months after this contract, on May 4, 1662 two farmers leased a plot of land along the Esopus Creek for the period up to April 1667; among the payment options was the possibility of payment in either beaver at 8 guilders each, grain at the market price or seawan at the rate of 16 guilders per beaver (Documents, vol. 3, pp. 154-155). This wampum payment was at the 100% depreciation rate. The only other document that specifically mentioned a rate for wampum was an indenture of December 4, 1664 by which Symon Claessen Turck promised to work for Jacob Jansen Flodder for one year in return for room and board and 75 beavers at 8 guilders each, payable in beavers or seawan calculated at 20 guilders in seawan per beaver (Documents, vol. 3, pp. 307-308). Thus we are back at the 150% depreciation rate.
The court records for New Amsterdam are extand for this period, however, although there are several volumes of records, almost none mention a wampum rate. Several cases include specific amounts in wampum but without relation to the beaver-wampum ratio. As will be discussed in the third section of this essay, the court records show an extensive use of several other money substitutes (as well as some use of silver coin) in place of wampum. The only case i was able to discover that included the wampum rate was a case from September 18, 1663 where it stated a debt was to be paid in beaver with the beaver rated as 20 guilders in seawan (RNA, vol. 4, p. 302). There were also two cases that continued to feel the need to clarify the wampum bead rate, one from March 16, 1660 that mentioned the eight beads per stuiver rate (RNA, vol. 3, p. 146) and another from February 24,1664 that stated, "Zeewant as it presently circulates betwem man and man, 8 white or 4 black per stuiver." (RNA, vol. 5, pp. 29-30). These very limited records from Fort Orange and New Amsterdam document the fluctuating rates of 16 to 20 guilders in wampum per beaver during the waning years of Dutch control, lending support to the rate information supplied by Stuyvesant's letters and the ordinance of December 28, 1662.
The final attempt by the Dutch at regulating wampum was in a December 22, 1662 letter from the directors of the West India Company ordering the Director General of New Netherland to reduce the value of wampum so it would be in line with the beaver rate, which had recently been reduced from 8 to 7 guilders. The idea behind this action was to reduce what the directors felt was an excessive importation of wampum. The company directors stated in their letter that New Englanders brought wampum to New Netherland where they traded it for beaver pelts. The directors felt the New Englanders were robbing the company of their revenues by exporting the beavers and at the same time causing problems for New Netherland by bringing into the colony excessive quantities of wampum, which the directors stated, "is a currency utterly valueless, except among New Netherland Indians only." (Laws p. 434) The directors felt a reduction in the value of wampum would cause a decline in its importation. On December 28th an ordinance was promulgated carrying out the directors demand. The province devalued white wampum beads from 16 to 24 per stuiver and devalued black beads to 12 per stuiver. The new rate were to be effective January 1, 1663. (Laws, pp. 433-434)
This was the last mention of wampum in Dutch law. In a letter from the company directors to Stuyvesant dated January 20, 1664 we learn wampum continued to depreciate in value. As this severely affected public employees (including soldiers), who were paid in wampum, the directors authorized that at the end of the year those persons would be credited with one fourth of their wages to obviate the imbalance (O'Callaghan, vol. 2, p. 219). This benefit was never dispensed. On September 8, 1664 the province surrendered to the British and Dutch rule came to an end.
Wampum is mentioned in the British articles of agreement with the provincial deputies at Albany (formerly Fort Orange) promulgated by the new governor, Richard Nicolls on October 10, 1664. The deputies were required to pay 120 guilders in wampum each month for the wages of the soldiers. The rate of the wampum was expressed as at the New York price, which was defined as eight white or four black beads per penny (Fernow, History, p. 559).
Based on the evidence of the documents recording major purchases from the Rensselaerswyck / Albany area the use of wampum declined in larger purchases. In the early 1660's wampum had been frequently mentioned in the documents, sometimes it was the only method of payment discussed or, more often, it was used in conjunction with beaver pelts. There appears to be a continuous use of wampum in sales agreements until about a month after the British took possession of the colony. On October 13, 1664 Anthony Jansen promised to pay Gerrit Hendrickson van Rys 430 guilders in good strung seawan for two hogsheads of French wine (Documents, vol. 3, p. 302). Following this transaction wampum is not frequently mentioned. The situation during the second half of the 1660's is relatively unknown due to a gap in the documents. For the years 1665 through 1669 there are only five surviving documents from the Albany materials, none mentioning wampum. Therefore nothing substantial can be concluded for this period.
An interesting document from Long Island dated to November 2, 1669 indicated the wampum situation had changed dramatically. On that date the town of Hempsteed, Long Island, where one would presume wampum was plentiful, requested they be allowed to pass wampum at the rate of six beads per penny, as opposed to the British rate of eight per penny, but Governor Lovelace denied the petition (Fernow, History, pp. 631-632).
This was an attempt to increase the value of wampum! After years of devaluation, the situation with wampum was changing. A proclamation recorded during the Council Meeting at Fort James (previously Fort Amsterdam) in New York City on June 24, 1673 explained what had occurred:
Whereas ye great Scarcity of Wampum throughout these his Royall Highness his Territoryes hath been taken into consideration, great quantityes thereof being yearely transported & carryed away by the Indyans, & little or none brought in as formerly, which is conceived to bee occasioned by ye low Value putt thereupon; And for that there is noe certaine Coyne in ye Government but in lieu thereof [,] Wampum is esteemed & received as currant payment for Goods & Merchandize as well as otherwise betwixt man & man, To the end there may bee an Encouragement for the bringing in of ye said Commodity of Wampum into Government, and that those who have it by them may bee Induced to deliver out ye same,... In stead of eight white & foure black Wampums, six white & three black shall passe in equal Value thereof as a Stiver or Penny, & three times soe much ye Value of Silver, (Fernow, History, p. 679)
This situation is reflected in the Albany contracts, which reappear starting with items dating from June of 1670. There is a dramatic decline in the use of wampum when compared to the documents of the early 1660's. For the decade 1670-1679 there are 168 documents of which only five specify the use of wampum while only four others list it as an alternative form of payment (Documents, vol. 3, pp. 314-482). For the years 1670-1671 three documents specifically mention payments in wampum and one mentions a penalty calculated in terms of wampum value. The documents specifically mentioning payment in wampum are as follows. Excerpts from a day book of Reyndert Pieterson dated to July 1670 list amounts due to him from Celitie Joachimsen (wife of Andries Joachimsen), primarily for for several small purchases. Fourteen of the ninteen entries were listed as due in seawan, while the other four were due in beaver. These items were basic household goods, for example, four skeins of silk for 1 guilder 12 stuivers in seawan; although three items were for loans of seawan rather than purchases, two loans at 14 guilders in seawan and one loan at 13 guilders. Also included was a list of amounts due to Pieterson from Sweer Teunissen Van Velsen on July 5, 1670, of which three were to be paid in pine boards and two in seawan. (Documents, vol. 3. 317-318). The one significant use of wampum is documented in a contract of July 19, 1670 in which a house and two lots on High Street in New York City were sold for two payments totalling 2,600 guilders in good strung seawan (Documents, vol. 3, pp. 374-375). The third of the four items was the fine. On July 15, 1671 it was decreed anyone in Albany who was not able to provide themselves with a gun and ammunition was to be fined 100 guilders in seawan (Documents, vol. 3, p. 322). The final document from the two year period 1670-1671 mentioning payment in seawan was an agreement on November 29, 1671 concerning the delivery of hops to a brewery in Albany for a payment of 243 guilders and 2 stuivers in seawan (Documents, vol. 3, p. 387). After November of 1671 wampum is rarely mentioned in major contracts. After 1671 it is not found again until 1674. This is precisely the period discussed in the June 24, 1673 ordinance increasing the value of wampum beads.
Wampum was still used during this period, but usually in smaller amounts. The minutes for court cases held in Albany survive from September 1668 - February 1673 (and for August 1675 - November 1685) detailing cases brought before the court with sums requested and fines levied. Many of the cases concerned smaller sums, usually between 10 and 300 guilders, and were often expressed in wampum. For example, on July 8, 1669 Dirckie Hermsz was ordered to pay 63 guilders in seawan for beer he had received (Minutes, vol. 1, p. 89), on November 17, 1670 the court ordered Herman van Gansevoort to pay 25 guilders in seawan for the boarding of two horses (Minutes, vol. 1, p. 202) and on May 9, 1672 Roeloff Jansz was ordered to pay 76 guilders and 9 stuivers in seawan for tavern expenses (Minutes, vol. 1, p. 299). Some cases specified payment in beaver, wheat or boards but we cannot be sure fines handed out in seawan value were actually paid in seawan. Clearly a certain number of the cases must have been paid in the specified medium, thus we can conclude wampum continued to be used for smaller scale, daily purchases.
As discussed in the historical section, the Dutch retook the colony on August 7, 1673 and held it until November 10, 1674. During this period wampum is conspicuously absent from the laws. In the laws and ordinances for the English settlement of Elizabethtown, dated November 18, 1673, it is specifically stated that all public rates, that is, taxes, were to be paid in commodities. 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) Again, although amounts were calculated in wampum value, there was no provision for the use of wampum as a means of payment. At this time wampum was rather scarce and was replaced by commodities, especially wheat.
Undoubtedly wampum continued to be used during this period, especially for smaller purchases. It is once again found in the Albany court case minutes when the records restart in August of 1675. The first session of the reconstituted British court contained a case in which Frederick Phillipsen demanded 806 guilders in beaver and 110 guilders and 8 stuivers in seawan from Gerrit Swart (Minutes, vol. 2, p. 12). Wampum was also mentioned in the laws soon after the British retook the area in November of 1674. However, this time we notice a difference in that values were not expressed using either wampum or the beaver pelt as the standard, rather we see an attempt to adopt silver coinage as the standard of value. About seven months after retaking New York, on June 23, 1675 the British once again prescribed monetary values and rated the following: a piece of eight was valued at 6s in Boston silver; three black or six while wampum beads passed for a penny; Massachusetts silver was valued at 25% less that British sterling, with the ratio to wampum being, 3:1 with Massachusetts silver (i.e. 3s in wampum equal 1s in Massachusetts silver) and 4:1 with sterling; also a beaver pelt was rated at 8 guilders or 13s4d in country pay, that is, commodities (Fernow, History, pp. 690-691).
In the later part of the 1670's, wampum was only mentioned in five of the contracts from Albany. Interestingly, in four of these instances wampum was simply mentioned as a possible alternate form of payment (that is, payment in either beaver, wheat or wampum) and may not have been used at all. These four documents all date to after the British retook the area, specifically they are from December 24, 1674 (p. 423), January 12, 1675 (p. 424), November 19, 1677 (p. 443) and May 12, 1679 (p. 475). The only actual mention of payment in wampum from the second half of the decade is dated August 16, 1679 where Albert Jansz Reeckman was acknowledged to be absolved of a debt incurred almost a decade earlier with payment of 35 whole beavers and 3 guilders and 5 stuivers in seawan. While wampum did not often appear in the major purchase agreements it was frequently mentioned in the Albany court minutes, which survive for the period from August 1675 - November 1685. For example, the court session of July 8, 1678 heard cases concerned with the following values: 30 guilders in seawan, £300 sterling, 20 guilders 13 stuivers in beavers, 2 beavers, 50 guilders 10 stuivers in seawan, 62 guilders 10 stuivers in seawan, 50 guilders (method of payment not mentioned), 25 guilders in seawan, 300 guilders in seawan, 25 guilders in seawan, 5 beavers, 248 guilders 7 stuivers and 8 pence in seawan (Minutes, vol. 2, pp. 340-348). Thus while wampum was rarely used for major contract purchases it was regularly used for smaller payments.
Surviving contracts from New York City during this period are similar to the Albany contracts. In these documents the price was listed in guilders at wampum value with diverse wampum methods of payment, of which wampum was one option. On January 18, 1677 John Shakerly purchased a house and lot in New York City for 2,500 guilders payable in three equal installments of which one installment could be in zewant or merchantable winter wheat at 6 guilders a skipple, another was to be in "merchantable meal at the current price" and the finally installment in whole merchantable beavers at 24 guilders each (Andros Papers, vol. 2, p. 12). A little over a year later, on February 21, 1678, Shakerly purchased half interest in a sloop for 3,400 guilders payable in zewant or in merchantable whole beavers at 24 guilders per beaver, in merchantable tobacco leaves in barrels at 10 stuivers a pound or in merchantable winter wheat at 6 guilders a skipple (Andros Papers, vol. 2, p. 257). From these New York City documents we see the diversity of products usable as currency and see the explicit use of the 3:1 ratio for wampum to beaver, so that with a beaver rated at 8 guilders, one beaver would equal 24 guilders in wampum.
Thus the documents verify the situation mentioned in the 1673 proclamation describing the scarcity of wampum. However this was a relative scarcity, compared to the oversupply of wampum in the 1650's and early 1660's. Wampum was still available and regularly used for small purchases but apparently it was not readily available in quantities needed for larger purchases. Reducing the number of white beads needed to equal a stuiver from 8 to 6 was a method of insuring enough wampum would be available for small change. However the relative value of wampum remained low, at 24 guilders in wampum per beaver wampum was 300% below parity.
In the diary of Jasper Danckaerts, describing his travels during 1679-1680 through the lands formerly held by New Netherland, the author mentioned several payments in wampum. Upon disembarking in New York on Monday September 25, 1679, Danckaerts had his belongings sent from the ship to his lodgings at a cost of 16 stuivers in wampum, which he said equalled 3 stuivers in Dutch money. This is about a 5:1 ratio, less favorable than the 3:1 ratio prescribed in 1675 for Massachusetts silver or the 4:1 ration for British sterling. On the 26th Danckaerts paid an import duty on a package he brought from Holland, the duty was 24 guilders in wampum, which he equated with 5 guilders in Dutch money. Under the entry for September 29th Danckaerts mentioned the ferry to Manhattan cost 3 stuivers in wampum per person, while later in the day he stated he purchased a side of venison for 3.5 guilders in wampum, which he equated with 15 stuivers in Dutch money (there are 20 stuivers per guilder). From these examples it seems wampum was commonly used for small purchases and, according to Danckaerts, was discounted at about 5:1 with Dutch coins.
Several other instances of the use wampum are mentioned in Danckaerts journal, especially while travelling to Delaware and Albany. On January 31, 1680 Danckaerts mentioned 1 beaver was equal to 25 guilders in wampum which was equal to 5 guilders in Dutch money. After returning to New York Danckaerts paid a tailor 77 guilders in wampum, which he calculated was equal to 25 guilders and 8 stuivers in Dutch money. In this case the difference was slightly over a 33% devaluation, which is much closer to the 1675 prescribed values. Possibly for smaller exchanges loose wampum was used and was therefore discounted more drastically. Larger purchases, at least those mentioned in the Albany documents specifically state good strung wampum, if this was the type of wampum used for the 77 guilder payment it could account for the difference, although this remains a matter of speculation.
On October 18, 1679, Danckaerts was on Long Island and mentioned the prevalence of barter or commodity money. He commented, "because no money circulates among themselves, they pay each other in wares, in which they are constantly cheating and defrauding each other." (p. 79) It is especially interesting that this remark was made in what had been the wampum manufacturing capitol. Thus it appears enough wampum was available for small change but it seems, as we saw in the Albany area during the decade of the 1670's, alternatives to wampum were regularly being used. Wampum was still used and accepted by merchants but primarily for small purchases, with beaver pelts or commodities such as wheat or tobacco, being preferred for larger exchanges.
In the Albany documents there are a few contracts from the 1680's paid in wampum. On September 9, 1680 hops were sold at a rate of 18.5 stuivers in wampum per pound of hops (Documents, vol. 3, p. 501) and on March 27, 1682 a herder was paid 18 guilders in seawan for each cow tended (Documents, vol. 3, p. 511). There were also some documents mentioning wampum as an alternate form of payment: on June 2, 1680 payment could be at 4 guilders of wampum or 2 Boston shillings (p. 495) and on October 13, 1681 a small house in New Albany sold for 16 beaver, which could be paid in beaver, silver money or wampum (Documents, vol. 3, p. 523). In a contract of May 27, 1683 to purchase a house for 120 beaver, it was stipulated part of the sum could be paid in wampum, silver coin, wheat or peas (p. 557). Similar payment alternatives were offered in a contract for the lease of a house for the price of 20 beaver, signed on February 27, 1684 (Documents, vol. 3, p. 568), and in the sale of some land for 50 beaver on August 5, 1684 (Documents, vol. 3, p. 576) and in the purchase of land on October 16, 1684, where the selling price was 625 skipples of "good winter wheat, with the privilege of paying in beavers, silver money, or seawan, all at market price." (Documents, vol. 3, p. 578). Thereafter there are only ten extant documents for the years 1685-1686, followed by a few years without any documents represented and then about ten more documents, half of which are wills from 1690, with none of the documents mentioning wampum. It seems wampum was used on a limited basis in the early 1680's and then, in the few instances when it was mentioned in these contracts, it was simply an alternative method of payment. For the period after 1684 the number of extant contracts is too sparse to analyze.
As the use of wampum was on the decline the supply of wampum also dwindled. Apparently individuals were purchasing wampum for trade with the Indians, leaving little available for local commerce. Governor Dongen heard this complaint while he was in Albany and on April 9, 1684 issued proclamation on the subject stating:
Forasmuch as ye Present magistrates of ye Toune of Albanie, have made Complaint, that it is a great Inconvenience and Dammage both to ye trade of this Government, and this toune in Particular, that any wampum, wampum Pipes, Indian Jewells, or money should be Transported out of this Government off [of] N[ew] York and Dependencies, it is therefore ordered, that no wampum, wampum Pipes, Indian Juwels or any sort off money, be Transported or carried out of this Government, and that no traders, merchants or any other Persones whatsoever shall Exchange or Traffique, give [,] sell or in any other ways dispose of money, wampum or Indian Juwells to any Person who shall Carry them out of this Government. (Court Minutes, vol. 3, p. 475)On September 14, 1686 the Common Council of Albany included very similar wording in their ordinance regulating trade with the Indians:
That no Person or Persons whatsoever shall Transport or cause to be Transported any wampum, Wampum Pipes, Indian Jewells, or money, out of the Citty or County or the Limites and Boundaries aforesaid nor shall they Exchange, Treffique [,] give or Sell, or any otherwise Dispose of such money Wampum, or Jewells to any Stranger or Person whatsoever, who shall Carry them out of this Government, upon Penalty of forfeiting, such Wampum, money or Jewells or the value thereof, Two third parts to the use of the Mayor, Aldermen and Commonalty of the said Citty, and the other third part, to the use of such Person, as shall sue for the Same. (Dongan Papers, pt. 1, p. 38)
Wampum appears to have continued current throughout the century. On February 9, 1690 a young man named Jan Cock was killed at Fort Albany during an attack by the French, when a canon in the fort burst. Two aldermen of Albany made an inventory of the dead soldier's estate, which consisted mostly of some clothes and a few possessions among which were 30 pieces of eight, 6 quarter guilders and 131 guilders in seawan. The list also added that an additional 8 pieces of eight were due to the dead man from a Harpt Jacobse and an additional 228 guilders in seawan were due to him from Samson Bensing (Records, vol. 4, pp. 137-138). Thus, wampum was still in circulation, along with silver coin in the last decade on the century.
It has often been quoted from Del Mar's book on the colonial economy that as late as 1693 commuters on the New York - Long Island ferry could pay with either two pence in silver or eight stuivers in wampum (Del Mar, p. 87). We also find that during this decade some individuals continued to think in wampum value even when they referred to coins; thus in the will of Jan Juriaensen Becker, written on August 31, 1694, it was stated: "My son Johannes after my death shall receive first the sum of one hundred guilders seawan value, that is 50 shillings" (Records, vol. 4, p. 135).
Several authors have followed the statement in Charles Bullock's, Essay on the Monetary History of the United States from 1900 that wampum "continued to be used more or less in New York as late as 1701." (Bullock, p. 9). Some have stated 1701 to be the last year wampum was used. However, it seems wampum continued to circulate beyond that date. In an act of October 18, 1701 new rates were established for the ferry between New York and Long Island (which the British had renamed Nassau Island on April 10, 1693). In that act several rates were enumerated in wampum. An individual was charged "Eight Stivers in Wampum, or a Silver Two pence" while each person in a group was given a reduced rate of "Four Stivers in Wampum, or a Silver penny." Among the several other rates were: " each hogg in Wampum Eight Stivers, or a Silver two pence; each Sheep four Stivers Wampum, or a Silver penny; ... each Empty Barrel four Stivers Wampum, or a Silver penny; a Beast hide the like. a ffirkin or Tubb of Butter, two Stivers Wampum; every three Scipples of Corn a Silver penny, or four Stivers Wampum..." (NY Laws, vol. 1, 449-451) Clearly these rates assumed future payments could be made in wampum. Also, in the abstracts of wills filed in New York City there is an inventory recorded in October of 1702 of the estate of "Abraham De Lanoy,late of New York." It seems De Lanay owned a dry goods shop as the inventory abstract stated, "This inventory shows a very extensive stock of goods of all kinds, especially dry goods." In this context it is interesting to note two items specifically mentioned in the summary, " 12 bags with money, £1,151; 10 bags with money to buy wampum £25." (Abstracts of Wills, vol. 1, p. 313). It would be interesting to know specifically what coins (or other items as silver plate or coin substitutes) were contained in these money bags, unfortunately that information was not recorded. However, from the information we are given it does appears at the time of his death in 1702 DeLanay had set aside £25 for the purchase of some wampum. As to why a New York City dry goods specialist wanted wampum is not mentioned, however it is not unreasonable to suspect he may have wanted to use it as small change. In this context it is interesting to recall the diary of Sarah Kimble Knight, who travelled from Boston through Connecticut in 1704. In her entry for New Haven, written on October 7, 1704 she mentioned merchants traded goods for commodities or coin but that they also used wampum "which serves for change" (Knight, Diary, p. 41).
As to how long wampum continued to circulate in general commerce is not precisely documented. Wampum may have continued in use for a time as a small change substitute, after the general introduction of silver coinage, but it is rarely mentioned in documents. The DeLanay and Knight citations are the last I have uncovered. By the turn of the century contracts and wills adjusted their wording so that monetary amounts were expressed in pounds and shillings in local money of account; in a deposition of an estate given in 1704 the sum is listed as £241 16s "current money" while in a will of 1709 the amount is listed as £1 "money of this province." (Records, vol. 4, pp. 145 and 149). The De Lanay 1702 inventory information discussed above is quite unusual. The information survives because before his death DeLanay himself had recorded what the money was to be used for and the two individuals making the inventory, Leonard Lewis and Jacobus Goelet, thought it important enough to include, further, the author of the abstract also felt it noteworthy to include in his surviving summary! Rarely do such details survive to the present. Wampum does seem to have gone out of circulation almost altogether over the next decade or two. When the New York - Long Island ferry rates were next revised, on November 25, 1727, no mention was made of wampum. The rate for an individual passenger was set at "Ten Grains of Sivil [Seville] Pillar or Mexico Plate or two Pennys in Bills of Credit made Current in this Colony" (NY Laws, vol. 2, pp. 407-410). Other rates were given in pence with the explanation "in like Money." referring to the previously stated Spanish or Mexican silver or bills of credit. In the minutes of the Lutheran Church Council of Loonenburg (now Athens, New York) for February 2, 1747 there is a listing of the items in the church treasury. Along with bonds and money is listed "some sewan and clippies." which are designated as having no monetary value (Clippies are small stones, such as quarts crystals, sometimes used in trading. On the Loonenberg minutes see: Peña, p. 78). Although it is clear that by 1747 wampum was no longer an accepted money substitute, it is possible some individuals reverted to using wampum as small change in times of economic crisis, as during the Revolutionary War or possibly even during the Copper Panic of 1789. Interestingly, as late as May 2, 1797 an advertisment appeared in the New York Daily Advertiser stating Abraham Van Boskerck of 191 Greenwich Street in New York City had a quantity of black and white wampum for sale (Gottesman, Arts and Crafts, 1954, p. 313, item 1048).
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; Elizabeth Shapiro Peña, Wampum Production in New Netherland and New York: The Historical and Archeological Context, Ph.D. Dissertation, Boston University, 1990; John Franklin Jameson, Narratives of New Netherland, 1609-1664, New York: Scribner, 1909; William S. Pellatreau, Abstracts of Wills on File in the Surrogate's Office, City of New York, vol. 1, 1665-1707, Collections of the New York Historical Society for the Year 1892, vol. 25, New York: New York Historical Society, 1893; Rita Susswein Gottesman, The Arts and Crafts in New York 1777-1799: Advertisements and News Items from New Tork City Newspapers, Collections of the New York Historical Society for the Year 1948, vol. 81, New York: ew York Historical Society, 1954; John Romeyn Brohead, compiler; Edmund B. O'Callaghan and Berthold Fernow, editors and translators, Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New York, 15 vols., New York: Weed, Parsons, 1856-1887;
|Introduction to New Netherland History||Section Contents||The Beaver Pelt in New Netherland |
and Early New York