4th Grade Colonial Money Activity
The fact that there was no gold or silver on the Eastern seaboard of North America and that England had tight controls on the export of money forced the English colonists to come up with substitutes for money. So tobacco and other valuable commodities (such as furs, particularly beaver pelts.) were used because they had a ready market - merchants would take them in trade for other items (problem; tobacco deteriorates over time and is subject to large fluctuations in value depending on the size of the crop in each year). Nails were used because there were few blacksmiths in the early colonial period (17th century), so most nails were imported, making them very valuable - Maryland had a law that required that the nails be recovered from any house that was to be demolished.
By 1690, the colonists had hit on the idea of using paper money. (Background: Paper money invented by the Chinese as early as the 8th century. The first European use of paper money was in Sweden during the 1660s.) Massachusetts issued paper money for the first time in 1690 to pay for its part in the French and Indian Wars. The other colonies soon began issuing paper as well. By the time of the revolution all of the colonies were issuing paper money, as was the Continental Congress.
Beige construction paper (Used to produce two-sided copies of the sample
Have a table with photographs of various colonial coins, paper money, and commodity money (wampum, nails, furs, tobacco, etc.), along with the supplies. I did this activity with 4-5 kids at a time, 25 minutes per session. This activity would work nicely with an activity on colonial products where the kids could buy things with the money they create.
What is money?
Introduce the activity by asking the question "What is money?" The presumption is that the kids will have had a little background in the colonial period, but that is not necessary. The photographs can form a starting point for the discussion. The key points are:
1. All of the photographs represent money of some sort.
Each child gets a certain number of notes - they can sign them, number them and put designs in the empty spaces on the front and back (with the rubber stamps), and they can write their names in as the printers of the money.
Possible discussion questions:
Which founding fathers were involved in producing colonial money?
Can you find a founding father's name on one of the photographed notes?
Why does the sample note (to be used by the kids) have 1/3rd of a dollar
as its denomination? (This leads to a discussion of colonial money - the
colonists used the Spanish system as well as the English. The Spanish
dollar was made up of 8 reales (the piece of eight) - it and its fractions
(for example, the quarter, or 2 real coin) were the most common coins
used in the colonies. The English system of pounds, shillings, and pence
(pennies) was also used in which 1 pound was equal to 20 shillings and
one shilling was equal to 12 pence. The conversion rate of dollars to
pounds was 4s6p(4 shillings 6 pence or 54 pence) to the dollar. This means
that 1/3rd of a dollar is equal to 1 shilling, 6 pence (or 18 pence) -
which explains the unusual denomination. The Continental Congress chose
to use dollars as an expression of their independence from England.)