Fiscal Documents: Massachusetts
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Treasury Certificates - December 1, 1777
Massachusetts Treasury Certificates - dated Dec.1, 1777 (due March 1, 1781)
During the Revolutionary War the Commonwealth of Massachusetts issued several bills of credit in lieu of payment for goods and services they needed. Individuals who were issued these bills of credit could use them to pay taxes or could hold on to them in hopes of payment at a future date. At times these notes were also sold at a discount to speculators or may have been used as currency, if the other party was willing to accept them. By 1777 so many different types of bills of credit had been issued by the Commonwealth that the situation was confusing and payment was in some cases long overdue. On October 13, 1777 an act was passed to consolidate all outstanding bills of credit.
By this act all bills of credit (excepting small change notes under one dollar) were to be exchanged for treasury notes. Bills of credit did not accrue interest for they were considered short term loans for which the holders soon expected compensation from the Commonwealth. By this act these bills were converted into longer term treasure notes but with the benefit of accruing six per cent interest. In this exchange the first £250,000 in bills of credit received by the treasurer would be exchanged for certificates bearing 6 per cent interest with a due date of March 1, 1781. Any additional outstanding bills of credit would be exchanged for similar certificates but with a due date of March 1, 1782.
Certificates were issued in denominations of £10 and above. Individuals were given until January 1 ,1778 to make the exchange. After that date any outstanding bills of credit were deemed to be void and anyone attempting to pass one was subject to a £5 fine. Soldiers and others who were prevented from participating in the exchange in a timely manner were given an additional year to make the exchange, provided they produced a certificate stating they swore an oath before a justice of the peace that they had been prevented from participating in the exchange. The law also provided for £400,000 in individual and property taxes to be collected in 1780 which would provide the funds to pay off the certificates.
Unlike most treasury receipts which begin "Borrowed and received of" this issue simply states "Received of" as the funds had been borrowed at an earlier date. The certificates were printed from a copperplate engraved by Nathaniel Hurd with the vignette of a soldier with a sword in his right hand and a scroll with "Independence" in his left. Around this is the state legend "Ense petit placidum sub libertate quietem." (By the sword one seeks peace under tranquil liberty). The entire symbol is encircled by a rattlesnake. According to Brigham the floriate acanthus border was copied from an earlier border Hurd had engraved in 1769. The title "State of Massachusetts-Bay," "No." the date "1777" followed by a geometric design, the word "Committee." as well as the bracket and the phrase "Witness my Hand," are all engraved. The remainder of the certificate is typeset or handwritten. According to the act a committee of John Scollay, Peter Boyer and Ezekiel Price would sign the blank forms before the treasurer completed them. Anderson has estimated at least 6,200 of these certificates were issued with between 76-200 surviving (an R4), while for the March 1, 1782 due date there is no estimate on the number issued but an estimate of (low R7) 7-12 surviving examples.
See: William G. Anderson, The Price of Liberty: The Public Debt of the American Revolution, Charlottesville: University of Virginia, 1983, MA-10 on p. 132, Clarence S. Brigham, Paul Revere's Engravings, New York: Atheneum, 1969, p. 234 and The Acts and Resolves, Public and Private of the Province of the Massachusetts Bay, Boston: Wright and Potter, 1886, vol. 5 (of 5), pp. 734-737, Province Laws 1777-1778, 3rd session, Chapter 7, "An act for drawing in the bills of credit of the several denominations, not on interest, which have at any time been issued by this government and are still outstanding, and for prohibiting the currency of said bills and the bills of any one of the United States, after a certain time."