As Indicated by Mortgage Records
By Miriam R. Waxberg, Pine Brook
Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society: Vol. 53, No. 1, January, 1935, Whole No. 200, pp20-26
During the Revolutionary period Morris County, a busy and active part of New Jersey, had an interesting and complicated money system. Morristown, owing to its strategic position on the main highway between New England, Philadelphia and the South has been called, "The Military Capital of the Colonies." In the first reference we have to the County in 1684, there is the following statement: "There are also hills up in the country but how much land they take up we know not, they are said to be stoney, and covered with wood and beyond them is said to be excellent land." [Letter of David Barclay to Scot Proprietors of East Jersey, March 29, 1684. Joseph Tuttle, Early History of Morris County, N.J. New Jersey Historical Society Proceedings, I, 19.]
It is accepted by historians of the area, that the first settlement of the English in the County was about 1710, along the Whippany, then known as the Whippanog River. Settlements spread, and on March 15, 1738, this territory was set off from Hunterdon County, and organized March 25, 1740, as Morris County; [Original Minutes of Morris County, N.J. Court of Common Pleas.] the name given in honor of Lewis Morris, then Governor of the Colony. ["Morristown" New International Encyclopaedia, XVI, 291.] Colonists were attracted to this region because of its natural resources. The first inducement was the abundance of iron-ore, the timber with which to make charcoal for smelting and the excellent water power supplied by the Whippany and other rivers. The second inducement was the vast amount of fertile soil, the climate and the number of game, fowl and fish. It is said that iron-ore found on the top of the earth, "was to be had by simply picking it up." [Andrew M. Sherman Historic Morristown New Jersey, p. 10] By the year 1777, there were nearly one hundred iron forges in operation in Morris County. The first forge or bloomery was started in 1710 by one Jacob Ford, along the banks of the Whippany River about where Whippany stands today. In 1716, John Reading started the Succasunna Mine: in 1745, many mines in Dover and thereabouts were started, and in the early sixties, the Ringwood and Hibernia Mines were opened. [Joseph Tuttle, Early History of Morris County, New Jersey. New Jersey Historical Society Proceedings, I, 21.]
As a result of this growing iron industry, money and other mediums of exchange were important factors in Morris County. A search of the Abstracts of Mortgages recorded in the County Clerk's office dating from 1765 (that being the earliest recorded mortgage available) to 1782, shows that mention is made of no less then 25 different kinds of money and mediums of exchange. They are—
*[The author makes no distinction between different kinds of money and the same money under different names. The above list could be considerably reduced.—Editor.]
Money in Morris County, as in the rest of the Colonies, was under the control of Great Britain. The Imperial Government legislated with a view to regulate Colonial Currency. On June 18, 1704, Queen Anne signed a Proclamation which fixed the maximum rating of a Piece of Eight, after 1728 called Dollars, [Robert Chalmers, History of Currency in the British Colonies, p. 16.] at six shillings, and directed that all other current (silver) coins should be proportionately rated according to their intrinsic content. They should not be worth more than one third above their sterling value at five shillings two pence per ounce. But great difficulty was experienced in enforcing the Proclamation. In 1790 a law [Imperial Act, 6 Anne ch 57, ibid, p. 15.] passed by Parliament ordered that any person violating the Proclamation rates "should suffer six months imprisonment without bail or main prize." [Ibid, p. 15.] The Colonies sought refuge in paper issues, mainly the Lawful Current Monies, which speedily drove out the coin. Dollars became merchandise and bore a varying premium for purposes of export according to their Gold price. This money circulated so much, it became almost worthless on the exchange market. In 1740, the exchange in North Carolina was 1000 pounds paper for 100 pounds sterling. [Ibid, p. 18.] In 1750 Great Britain passed "A Bill to prevent the issuing of Paper Bills of credit in the British Colonies and Plantations in America to be legal tenders in payment for money." [Great Britain House of Commons Sessional Papers, Bill 1731-1800, No. 267.] After some time, Dollars being the general currency of American colonists, also became the American currency; they gave credit to the British merchants for a dollar (valued at 4 shillings 6 pence sterling) for a crown of 5 shillings sterling. [Chalmers, op. cit., p. 18.] This was a premium of eleven per cent. In many of the colonies laws were enacted against passing light Pieces of Eight. These laws not being put into execution, heavy and light dollars passed promiscuously; and, as always happens, a bad currency drove out the good currency and heavy dollars were shipped away. This current money growing lighter daily, a difference was made between heavy money which became merchandise, and light money, in which they paid their debts. This difference gradually increased from ten, fifteen, twenty, to even twenty-five per cent. The light money, which was used in the colonies, was money that was clipped and shrunk so that in some cases it contained only three shilling of sterling instead of six, as required by the Proclamation. During the French and Indian War there was a laxity of law enforcement, and as a result a trade with the West Indies grew, Spanish Milled Dollars and Gold Portuguese Milled Johannes (commonly called Joes) found their way into the colonies, where they soon came to be quoted as standard. In 1764, the Imperial Government pursuing the policy of 1750 passed the Act 4 George III c 34, whereby paper issues as legal tender in all American Colonies should be null and void. But in 1773, on account of the shortage of gold and silver in American Colonies, Parliament amended the act, and provided that colonial paper, voluntarily accepted by public creditors in satisfaction of their claims might be made legal tender to the Colonial Treasurers in payment of taxes and other liens. [Chalmers, op. cit., p. 18.] This made legal the Lawful and Current money in the Colonies.
Mortgage records are a barometer of the financial conditions. When people are willing to invest money it is plentiful, and commercial activities are progressing. Just prior to the Revolution, it is estimated that about one hundred bloomeries were in full action. The Ringwood Mines, of which Robert Erskine was the manager, were able to put out fifteen or sixteen tons of iron ore weekly, valued at from twelve to thirty pounds per ton, [Tuttle, op. cit., p. 45.] and Ford's bloomery was one of the most important sources of ammunition for the Colonial army. These industries were hindered, however, on account of the British Laws [Sherman, op. cit., p. 139-140.] which prohibited all rolling and slitting mills in America. There were also various laws forbidding certain kinds of trade between the colonies. In the 1770's an inventory of the London Company, the owners of the Ringwood properties, showed on hand iron, goods and cattle worth £30,000.[Tuttle, op. cit., p. 29] In spite of all the burdens placed on the colonists they were able to carry on, and trade with the West Indies helped make conditions more profitable.
For the twenty year period, 1763-1782, as shown by the mortgage records, there were approximately £149,813 (the shillings and pence were omitted in obtaining this figure) invested in mortgages in Morris County. Of this amount, £26,477 were invested by New Yorkers, £10,994 by Pennsylvanians and £1,337 by men of Great Britain; the remaining £111,005 were invested by people of New Jersey for mortgages in Morris County. £30,978 of the total amount were to be paid in New York Money, £2,675 in Pennsylvania money, and £5,270 in British money; the rest was payable in some kind of New Jersey money. The amounts of the mortgages were small, the average sum being about £100, the smallest £10 and the largest £5,000.[Abstracts of Mortgages, Books A and B, Morris County Clerk's Office.] Mortgages note in some cases the occupation of the two parties. From these facts it seems that Farmers, Tanners, Blacksmiths, Carpenters and others gave merchants mortgages for materials that they bought. Jacob Ford, the largest mortgagee in the County, lent money for the operation of forges, and took as guarantee the land and the forges which the mortgagor owned. William Alexander, Lord Stirling, the largest mortgagor, borrowed, in four mortgages, £8,624; two of the mortgagees were New York men, the Honorable Hugh Wallace and William Neilson; the others, Catherine Lawrence and John Watts, were of New Jersey. Conditions in the County from 1766 to 1776 were rather prosperous, from 1776 to 1781, during the war, conditions were very bad, but in 1782, it appears the times were getting better. During these years the number and amounts of mortgages fluctuated greatly.
The records show that men would come to the County from New York and Pennsylvania for a period of time, and during their stay would receive as many as six to eight mortgages. On December 17, 1770, William Allen of Pennsylvania, received six mortgages, and January 21, 1775, Richard Penn of Pennsylvania, received eight. Likewise from New York, there were Daniel Ludlow, Samuel Ver Planck, and John Hunt who received six, six and four mortgages respectively. In most cases the mortgages were made payable in some New York or Pennsylvania money, at the rate of 8 shillings the ounce to the Spanish Milled Dollar. This fact is interesting because the value of the money in the New Jersey currency was 7 shilling, 6 pence. The explanation for this is that the mortgagor received his principal in the foreign currency and thus made it payable at the same value. These were also some natives of the County who split the amounts paying half or part of the principal in New Jersey currency and the balance in New York money.
The first British mortgage, recorded in the County, according to the available records, was made in 1766 for £2,300, the other mortgages were small and the last one, during the period concerned in this paper, was made in May 1776. There were comparatively few on account of the high price of the British money. During the war, when there was a scarcity of money, mortgages were made payable in bar-iron and wheat, or sometimes in the equivalent of Spanish Milled Dollars, or gold or silver. Bar-iron in 1779 was valued at £24 per ton, refined bar-iron in 1782 was £45 per ton. Wheat in 1780 was six shiling per bushel. In this County there was little gold and silver used until the end of 1780, when it was used and valued at 7 shillings 6 pence to the Spanish Milled Dollar.
The mortgage records show that during the year 1766 to 1776 the people in Morris County borrowed considerable money so that at the beginning of the war they were heavily in debt; it may be on this account that Morris County had so many patriots, and that they were willing to go with the other colonists against England. The money situation was not fully corrected for nearly two generations after the war on account of the various kinds of money and the great amount of counterfeiting [Sherman, op. cit., p. 188, et seq.] during this period.
Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society: Vol. 53, No. 1, January, 1935, Whole No. 200, pp71-72
In connection with the article on Morristown money in this issue, it is interesting to note that New Jersey was the first state to provide for the minting of coins by private individuals, and that the first of these were struck by Walter Mould, Thomas Goadsby and Albion Cox at Morristown. Later Goadsby and Cox separated from Mould and formed a second mint in the old Armstrong house in Elizabeth. The debased currency issued by the Continental Congresses and counterfeiters of British coins flooding the country, caused several of the State Legislatures to turn to this form of currency.
The collection of New Jersey coins assembled by the late Frederick A. Canfield and bequeathed by him to the New Jersey Historical Society contains 315 types of copper pennies issued by private mints in Elizabeth and Morristown during 1786 and 1787, under authority from the Legislature.
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