First Money In Use in New Netherlands.

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The first money in use in New York, then New Netherlands, and also in New England, was seawant, wampum, or peague, for it was known by all those names. Seawant was the generic name of this Indian money, of which there were two kinds_wompanj, (commonly called wampum,) which signifies white, and suchanhock sucki, signifying black. Wampum, or wampumpeague, or simply peague, was also understood, although improperly, among the Dutch and English, as expressive of the generic denomination, and in that light was used by them in their writings and public documents.

Wampum, or white money, was originally made from the stem or stock of the metean-hock or perriwinkle; suckanhock, or black money, was manufactured from the inside of the shell of the quahaug.venus mercenasia,) commonly called the hard clam, a round thick shellfish that buries itself a little way in the sand in salt water. The indians broke off about half an inch of the purple color of the inside, and converted it into beads. These before the introduction of awls and thread, were bored with sharp stones and strung upon the sinews of animals, and when interwoven to the breadth of the hand, more or less, were called a belt of seawant or wampum. A black bead of the size of a large straw, about one third of an inch long, bored longitudinally, and well polished, was the gold of the Indians, and always esteemed of twice the value than of the white; but either species was considered by them of much more value than European coin.

An Indian chief, to whom the value of a rix dollar was explained by the first clergyman of Rensselaerwyck, laughed exceedingly to think the Dutch should set so high a value upon a piece of iron, as he termed the dollar. Three beads of black and six of white were equivalent among the English to a penny, and among the Dutch to a stuyver; but with the latter, the equivalent number sometimes varied from three and six to four and eight, depending upon the finishing of the seawant. Seawant was also sometimes made from the common oyster shell, and both kinds made from the hard clam shell.

The use of wampum was not known in New England until it was introduced there in the month of October, 1627, by Isaac De Rasier, the secretary of new Netherlands, while on his embassy to the authorities of Plymouth colony, for the purpose of settling a treaty of amity and commerce between that colony and New Netherlands, when he carried wampum and goods, and with them purchased corn at Plymouth. To this introduction of wampum into New England, Hubbard attributes all their wars with the Indians which afterward ensued, and in his history speaks of this circumstance in the following manner:

"Whatever were the honey in the mouth of that beast of trade, there was a deadly sting in the tail. For it is said that they (the Dutch) first brought our people to the knowledge of wampum-peag, and the acquaintance therewith occasioned the Indians of these parts to learn the skill to make it, by which, as by the exchange of money, they purchased store of artillerry both from the English, Dutch, and French, which proved a fatal business to those that were concerned in it. It seems the trade thereof was at first by strict proclamation, prohibited by the king.

Sed quid non mortalis pectora logis dusi sacri fames! The love of money is the root of evil, &c. Although the general distinction of this seawant was black and white, yet, that in use in New England, was black, blue, and white, and that of the five nations of the Indians was of a purple color. A string of this shell money one fathom long, varied in price from five shillings among the New Englanders, to four gilders (or one dollar sixty-six and a half cents) among the Dutch. The process of trade was this: The Dutch and English sold for seawant to the Indians of the interior their knives, combs, scissors, needles, awls, looking glasses, hatchets, guns, black cloth, and other articles of aboriginal traffic, (the Indians at this time rejected fabrics in which the least white color in their texture was discoverable;) and with the seawant bought the furs, corn, and venison from the Indians on the seabord, who also, with their shell money bought such articles from the aborigines residing further inland; and by this course, the white men saved the trouble of transporting their furs and grain through the country.

Thus, by this circulating medium, a brisk commerce was carried on, not only between the white people and the Indians, but also between different tribes among the latter. So much was this seawant the circulating medium of many of the European colonies in North America, that the different government found it necessary to make regulations on the subject. In 1641, an ordinance in council in the city of New Amsterdam (Now New York,) was enacted, and the Dutch governor, Kieft, which recited that a vast deal of bad seawant or wampum, nasty rough things imported from other places was in circulation, while the good splendid seawant, usually called Manhattan's seawant, was out of sight or exported, which must cause the ruin of the country. Therefore, in order to remedy the evil, the ordinance provides that all coarse seawant, well stringed, should pass at six for one stuyver only, but the well polished at four for a stuyver; and whoever offered or received the same at a different price should forfeit the same, and also ten guilders to the poor. This is the first public expression of an apprehension of evil to the country from the exportation of specie that we have met with in our history; but like most other matters of the kind, it seems to have regulated itself, and the country went on prospering from the little city of about two hundred and fifty inhabitants, as New York then was, to the great commercial mart, with a population of near four hundred thousand, as it is at present."

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Website: The History
Article Name: First Money In Use in New Netherlands.
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: From my collection of books: Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York by D.T.Valentine 1853
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