Native American Money

Native American money has its place in American history. The United States is the world’s richest nation. It is very surprising seeing its humble beginnings in regards to money. The colonies had a short supply of money and often used things to barter for the items they needed. The Native American money system already consisted of a barter system. It would seem that this system was adopted by the early colonists. One cannot say that the Native American money system of bartering was the first known system of its kind. Bartering can be found thousands of years ago in the Bible.

Native American money was not what you would think. It did not consist of dollar bills or coins with a leader’s name on it. Native American money was based on exchanging one thing for another. One of the earliest forms of Native American “money” -- in its truest sense as it relates to money as we know it today – was the wampum. Wampum is beads that were strung together. Some strands could be as long as six feet.

Wampum was used for trading with other Native Americans, as well as colonists. It is important to note that even wampum was affected by inflation. Tribes that were specialized in making wampum could out produce tribes that were not as skilled or quick with their manufacturing practices. Sadly, when the colonists arrived bringing their drills and other equipment with them, they too started to produce wampum. This drastically reduced the value of wampum. The earliest known white man manufacturing of wampum was set up in 1760 by J.W. Campbell. He opened a factory for manufacturing wampum in New Jersey. His factory produced wampum for one hundred years. However, it should be noted that the wampum made from steel drilling and assembly lines are not as valuable or as beloved today as the very old wampum that were not made from these “modern” tools and instruments.

In addition to wampum, early American colonists used many forms of Native American money to barter with including furs, tobacco, indigo, rice, wheat, maize. Most of the things that were used as money were natural commodities. Tobacco was widely used in Virginia. It remained a currency and lasted almost 200 years in that area. The colonists also used coins, both from official and unofficial. Portuguese and Spanish coins played a role in trade, as did the rare British coinage.

Native American’s are part of American history. The early colonists learned a lot from the Native American’s. Their later stance on the Indians greatly contradicts the value that the Native Americans had on the early colonist way of life. If it were not for the Indians helping out the early colonists, who knows what would have happened to these early settlers? American history would certainly be much different.

Joseph Paige 2006

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