Musket Ball Money

Celtic arrowhead money, Black Sea Region ~600 BC.

I’m of the belief that if you have a sufficient supply of guns and ammo, you don’t need money. Money is an instrument of persuasion, and what could possibly be more persuasive than the business end of a rifle?

Back in the early days of New England, colonial governments had to deal with the problem of insufficient coinage. Citizens were accustomed to transacting in shillings and pounds and pence, but lacked the actual coins to do so.

After fumbling about with different types of commodity money, in 1634 the Massachusetts general assembly made musket balls a legal tender:

It is likewise ordered that muskett bulletts of a full boare shall pass currantly for a farthing apiece, provided that noe man be compelled to take above XIId at a tyme in them.

This was great. Everyone needed ammo for hunting game and defending against Indians. But bullets weren’t needed in mass quantities, unless you were planning to field an army. So musket ball acceptance was only compulsory up to, uh, XIId (I think this means 12 pence, or 48 bullets) at a time.

Lead balls are heavy, and this currency was unfortunately unscalable. You couldn’t very well pay off a large debt by dropping a cannonball on the creditor’s desk. In 1643, the Massachusetts court added:

It is Ordered, that Wampampeag, shall pass currant in the payment of debts to the payment of forty shillings, the White at Eight a penny, the black at four.

Black wampum was more valuable than white wampum due to its relative scarcity.

So you could pay up to 40 shillings, or 480 pence, in wampum. This was canceled by 1661 because markets were flooded with low quality wampum. In 1690, the Massachusetts government started issuing paper bills of credit and commodity money was banned.

Bullets remain timeless.

C. Priest. Currency Policies and Legal Developments in Colonial New England. 110 Yale Law Journal 1303, 2001.
The colonial laws of Massachusetts : reprinted from the edition of 1660, with the supplements to 1672
A bibliographical sketch of the laws of the Massachusetts colony from 1630 to 1686. In which are included the Body of liberties of 1641, and the records of the Court of assistants, 1641-1644.

4 thoughts on “Musket Ball Money

      1. There are lots! You’d just exchange an ox for it’s equivalent in seashells, quartz, bitcoin, helmets, silver, pokemon cards. In the SF Bay Area there are even occasions where you could exchange startup equity for oxen but I have not been able to confirm if this is true.

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