Easy Money: New England Puritans and the Invention of modern currency

Two years before the Salem witch trails, the Puritan Massachusetts elite invented a new type of money, one that was based on its acceptance by the state as legal tender for taxes rather than its gold content or any type of gold backing. Centuries later, this form of currency – based on trust in government – came to dominate the world. Click here for this 71-minute video posted on February 7, 2024 by the Partnership of Historic Bostons. (Use of closed captions may be helpful.)

Dror Goldberg (above, left), a senior faculty member in the Department of Management and Economics at the Open University of Israel, began by describing the items that were used in place of money prior to 1690, including beaver pelts (above, right) and wampum (below, left).

The English empire suffocated the renegade colony with regulations on the polity, property and currency. So, as the commercial and intellectual hub of English America, the Puritan colony took it upon itself, and was well-suited, to evade these regulations including the minting of coins and printing early forms of paper money (above, right).

Its revolutionary currency of 1690 made this breakthrough into modern currency – probably the least appreciated contribution of colonial Massachusetts to world history.