If someone were paying a bill or for a debt in 1790, did they pay with cash or a note of some sort?

  • The Revolutionary War had already ended in 1783 and the Constitution came in 1789 if that is what you are talking about. Apr 26 '16 at 0:41
  • I know ... but when trying to find a proper tag, Revolution was the only one it would allow for some reason. Thank you so much for responding though.
    – KDierking
    Apr 26 '16 at 1:04

It varied from one place to another. Some of the common possibilities:

  • In relatively civilized areas with good access to British commerce, like Boston, New York and Philadelphia prices and rents were often denominated in terms of the penny sterling.

  • In farming areas bushels of wheat were commonly used to pay rents and bills

  • Privately coined "tokens" were very common due to the scarcity of British silver and there are about a hundred or so well-known tokens; a typical example was the Kentucky token (see photo below); these tended to be used for smaller bills, not large payments

  • In many areas, especially the south and midatlantic, Spanish milled dollars were widely used; our term "dollar" comes from this coin, which was a reale; for larger commercial transactions the gold Spanish doubloon (32 reales) was a standard of money

  • Private banks issued "bills of credit" and "promissory notes" which often circulated as a paper form of money

  • The Continental Congress issued large amounts of bills as a paper money denominated in Spanish dollars and these circulated widely, often at a heavy discount

  • The individual states had each originally issued a lot of paper money, but by 1790 most of these bills were worth less even than Continentals and the Constitution, enacted in 1789, made them illegal to produce so they were dying out; nevertheless they were still in use

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The Kentucky Token

  • Thank you very much. I am writing a novel set in 1790 and the daughter must pay her deceased father's debt. They were a fairly wealthy family and she is the only heir to her father's land. I was trying to determine if she would have actual money to pay the debt or, as you mentioned, a promissory note. Thank you again.
    – KDierking
    Apr 26 '16 at 1:08
  • @KDierking: I've examined many records from Detroit, between 1780 and 1830; cash was always in short supply there, so though prices were set in nominal dollars or New York pounds, or the French system, debts were paid in labor or product, and private notes were very common. The main supply of coin was the government payroll for the troops. Up until 1796 these were British; then American. But always short of coin. Apr 26 '16 at 3:13
  • @ Tyler Durden Could you recommend some further reading on this topic, by chance? I'd love to get a better grasp on the economics of that era. (I know reading recommendations are not usually condoned on this board, but I figured I'd ask anyway shrug) Apr 26 '16 at 16:31

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