Cash Scarce in Early Days

Footnotes to Long Island History

Cash Scarce in Early Days

November 25, 1954


Thomas R. Bayles


          The towns of Suffolk were settled in the following order, Southold and Southampton in 1640, East Hampton in 1648, Shelter Island in 1652, Huntington in 1653, Smithtown in 1663, Brookhaven in 1655, and Islip in 1666.  Riverhead was a part of Southold town until 1790, and Babylon was a part of “Huntington South” until 1872.

          When the first settlements were made on Long Island all the produce raised was needed by the settlers, and for several years most of their trade was among themselves.  Money was very scarce in those early days, and business was carried on by barter and exchange.

          In 1658 the town of Hempstead agreed to pay the herdsmen who watched their cattle, 12 shillings sterling a week, payable in butter, wheat, corn and oats at prevailing prices.  In 1659 the same town allowed six bushels of corn for killing a wolf.

          In 1659 the town of East Hampton agreed to pay Thomas James, its minister, 100 pounds a year, payable in winter wheat at five shillings a bushel, Indian corn at two shillings, six pence a bushel, tallow at six pence per pound, green hides at three pence, dry hides at six pence, beef at 40 shillings per barrel, whale bone at eight pence a pound, and oil at 30 shillings a barrel, to be collected by the town constable or overseers, or by men to be appointed by them.

          In 1654 magistrates at East Hampton ordered that the town tax should be paid in wheat at four shillings six pence a bushel, and Indian corn at three shillings and six pence a bushel.

          Between 1655 and 1687 the prices allowed for various kinds of produce was as follows:

          Pork, 3 pence a pound; beef, 2 pence; wheat, four shillings a bushel; rye, three shillings six pence a bushel; corn, two shillings six pence per bushel; oats, two shillings; butter, six pence a pound; tallow, 6 pence a pound; hog fat, six pence a pound; board, five shillings a week; meals, six pence a meal; lodging, two pence a night; beer, two pence per mug; labor, two shillings six pence a day.

          The practice of paying in produce continued until about 1700, when wider trade had rendered money plentiful, and introduced it into general circulation.

          The English towns of Long Island were settled by companies of individuals who had first landed in some part of New England, but had remained there but a short time.

          Many of the first settlers were well educated and had left important connections in England.  The early records of the several towns give evidence that the leading men had a thorough knowledge of public affairs and the laws of England.

          They left England during the turbulent times of the reign of Charles I, and fled from tyranny and oppression at home.  They were devoted to the cause of civil liberty and to the simplicity and purity of the Protestant religion.  They held that every man had a right to adopt the mode of worship according to the Scriptures, and that religion was essential to public order and social happiness.  For the peaceful enjoyment of these blessings they had forsaken the scenes of civilization, had broken the ties that bound them to their native soil, and were anxious to incorporate these principles in their settlements on the shores of a new land.

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