Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

The Frontiersmen of New York
by Jeptha R. Simms
Albany, NY


Wampum This is a good site to visit and read about money substitutes in the early days of our nation. Many say the Indians were cheated when the white man gave him beads as payment for their land. The beads were called Wampum, which was a legal tender in the early days, along with various other money substitutes.

Volume I Pg 30: "Wampum" said Colden (Colden's History, about 1724), "is the current money among the Indians. It is of two sorts, white and purple. the white is worked out of the inside of the great conchs (shells) into the form of a bead, and perforated, to string on leather. The purple is worked out of the inside of muscle shells. They are wove as broad as one's hand, and about two feet long: these they call belts, which they give and receive at their treaties and seals of friendship: for lesser matters a single string is given. Every bead is of a known value, and a belt of a less number is made equal to one of a greater, by so many as is wanting fastened to the belt by a string." Those belts, says the historian Smith, were four inches wide and thirty inches long.

Says a writer, quoted by Noah Webster, (Palfrey) "Wampum consisted of cylindrical pieces of the shells of testaceous fishes, a quarter of an inch long, and in diameter less than a pipe-stem, drilled lengthwise so as to be strung upon a thread. The beads of a white color, rated at half the value of the black or violet, passed each as the equivalent of a farthing in transactions between the natives and the planters." They were often much larger than here described. In their use upon belts the latter were made of the skins of animals, until the whites introduced cloths among the natives. Many of the shell beads taken from Indian graves once constituted a part of their wealth in wampum.

Small shells were formerly the medium of exchange in almost all the uncivilized and semi-barbarous nations of the world. In Africa and the East Indies it was for centuries their money medium of commerce. Indeed, it is only 40 or 50 years since the money, cowry of Siam, of a small univalue shell, began to give place in Bankok to silver coins, much resembling bullets in shape.

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