Fiscal Documents: Massachusetts
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Colonial Fiscal Documents
Treasury Certificates - January 1, 1780 (Commodity Certificates)
Massachusetts Treasury Certificates - dated Jan. 1, 1780 (due date filled in)
During the Revolutionary War each state provided troop to the Continental Army. These troops were often paid with IOU's or paper currency. As more equipment and men were needed the Continental Congress and the various states printed more paper money to pay the bills. As this flood of paper currency entered circulation the value of the currency quickly depreciated. Concurrently as goods became more difficult to find, prices went up. In Massachusetts in December of 1777 it took 3.1 dollars in Massachusetts paper currency or 1.33 dollars in Continental Congress paper currency to equal one Spanish milled dollar (a silver coin). This depreciation of paper continued to intensify as the war continued. During 1779 the depreciation rate tripled. In January of 1779 it took 7.24 paper dollars (either local Massachusetts issues or Continental issues) to equal a Spanish milled dollar but by December the rate was 25.9 Massachusetts dollars or 26 Continental dollars to the Spanish milled dollar. A month later, in January 1780, it took 29.3 dollars in Massachusetts paper or 29.4 dollars in Continental Currency paper to equal the purchasing power of one Spanish milled dollar. A soldier's pay was depreciating in value daily. By the time Continental soldiers came back home from a long campaign the money in which they had been paid was just about worthless.
As the depreciation of paper money worsened prices for commodities increased rapidly. The depreciation of pay coupled with escalating inflation created financial disaster for several soldiers and their families. To ease this situation for Massachusetts soldiers in the Continental Army, on January 13, 1780 the Massachusetts Bay legislature authorized the state to cover the depreciation of pay given to soldiers while they were in the Continental army. In return for their worthless paper currency or IOU's soldiers were given treasury certificates dated January 1, 1780. A certificate was made out to each soldier for their appropriate pay converted into Massachusetts pounds (in Massachusetts a Spanish dollar was valued at 6s and there were 20s to the pound). The certificate promised to pay the soldier the stated amount of money on or before the first of March during the following year (years written in were from 1781-1784) with the addition of six per cent interest.
As inflation was dramatically escalating the value of the money was listed on the certificate in terms of the sale price of staple commodities. Soldiers were to be paid their specified sum:
"in the then current Money of the said State, in a greater or less Sum, according as Five Bushels of CORN, Sixty-eight Pounds and four-sevenths Parts of a Pound of BEEF, Ten Pounds of SHEEPS WOOL, and Sixteen Pounds of SOLE LEATHER shall then cost, more or less than One Hundred and Thirty Pounds current Money, at the then current Prices of said Articles."
Thus for every £130 owed to a soldier they would be paid at a future date (usually a year) the going rate for the aggregate of the commodities listed with six per cent interest. Apparently, rather than use a single commodity (which may be overly abundant or in great demand at the future date) it was decided to use a variety of basic staples needed for daily life; food (corn and beef), clothes (wool) and shoes, gloves, harnesses, etc. (leather). Thus the soldier was insured the purchasing power of the amount of money designated on the certificate would remain stable during the wartime inflation.
Blank certificates were signed by Thomas Dawes and Richard Cranch, who served as the committee to oversee the production and distribution of the certificates. At the time of issue the certificates were hand numbered, with the name of the soldier, the amount owned and the year for redemption written into blank spaces on the certificate. Completed certificates were then signed by the state treasurer, Henry Gardner. When cashed the treasurer's name was crossed out and the certificate was endorsed on the blank back.
The certificates were printed with engraved borders by John M. Furnass of Boston. They were produced in two varieties. One variety has floral borders and the state name in plain type (Anderson MA-20, Rarity: low R-6, 21-30 extant) while another variety has scroll borders and the state name in ornate script bordered with flourishes (Anderson MA-21, Rarity: R-5, 31-75 extant). Both varieties have J.M. Furnass's name added in very small letters in the lower right in the final flourish of the r in the word "Treasurer." A variant of the more ornate variety lacks Furnass's name (Anderson MA-22, Rarity: R4, 76-200 extant)
See: William G. Anderson, The Price of Liberty: The Public Debt of the American Revolution, Charlottesville: University of Virginia, 1983, MA-20 through MA-22 on p. 134-5 and The Acts and Resolves, Public and Private of the Province of the Massachusetts Bay, Boston: Wright and Potter, 1886, vol. 5 (of 5).