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Understanding Maryland Records

Because coined and printed money were in short supply during the early Colonial period, records frequently showed payments being made in pounds of tobacco. Sterling and current money used the English monetary system, which had 20 shillings to a pound, 12 pence to a shilling, and 4 farthings to a penny. Farthings were usually shown as a fraction of a penny, that is, 5} pence, rather than 5 pence 2 farthings. When listing amounts, as in an inventory, periods were put between pounds, shillings, and pence, that is, 143.l8.10 meant 143 pounds, 18 shillings, 10 pence.

An example of  adding pounds, shillings, and pence:
    Begin with 143.18.10
    add           _10._9._9
Because there are 12 pence to a shilling, it is necessary to subtract 12 from 19 pence and carry a 1 to the shilling column. Because there are 20 shilling to a pound, it is necessary to subtract 20 from 28 shillings and carry a 1 to the pound column. This gives a total of 154. 8. 7.

In addition to tobacco and sterling, other kinds of money were widely used, including foreign coins such as the Spanish dollar, which was cut into eight pieces when small change was needed. Finally, in 1732, Lord Baltimore agreed to print paper currency, to be backed by Maryland's tobacco export revenues invested in Bank of England stock. Because of the extensive use of the Spanish dollar, some Maryland currency used the term "dollar," even printing pictures of two Spanish milled dollars on some 1770 two-dollar notes. The variety of money in circulation is evident in the 1751 estate of a merchant in which the inventory listed Spanish currency, identified as "gold currency," and the list of debts collected had separate columns for tobacco, sterling, Maryland currency, and Virginia currency. The value of Maryland currency in relation to sterling varied from time to time, but because merchants paid for British imports in sterling, the inventory listed goods in the decedent's store in sterling, then added 75 per cent to that total as "the value of the store goods in current money."

Continental money was paper money issued by the Second Continental Congress beginning in 1775. Originally redeemable in gold or silver coins, it became nearly worthless after the Revolution because notes printed exceeded the gold and silver reserves.

In 1784 Thomas Jefferson then a member of the House of Representatives, advocated that United States money be based on a simple dollar unit and that  the decimal system be used to make calculations easier. A bill was passed in 1792 stating that money of the United States should be in dollars, with dimes for tenths and cents for hundredths. Half-dimes were minted in 1792, copper cents and half cents in 1793, and gold and silver dollars in 1794. Dollars did not circulate long. Due to price changes on the international market, gold dollars became worth more when melted down into bullion than their face value as coins. There was a similar problem with silver dollars. The Bank of Maryland had been chartered in 1790 and began issuing paper money redeemable for hard coin, as did other banks. Until the 1830s, money in circulation consisted mainly of bank notes, foreign gold and silver coins, and domestic fractional silver and copper coins. The United States did not issue its first paper currency until 1861.

Maryland records show a gradual, but uneven,  change in currency from "pounds" to "dollars." Montgomery County tax assessments in 1793, 1798, and 1804 were listed in pounds; in 1813, the currency changed to dollars. In the land records is a deed in 1801 giving the price in dollars; as late as 1816, there is a deed listing it in pounds.

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