In the very earliest days of the colony of Georgia, people didn’t have a national, or even a state currency, to use for the payments of debts and the purchase of goods. Only in the bigger cities were the coins of the realm (COR – also known as British Currency) used on a regular basis. Imagine, then, the suspicions with which early colonists viewed the first local paper money as something unnatural. Many times crops like rice, tobacco, sugar or corn were used in a barter system of trade.
As early as 1766, the citizens of Savannah witnessed the printing of the very first official Georgia “Emission” of paper bills to be “Used the encouragement of settlers” and for repaying “the cost of rebuilding the Court House.” These “bills of credit” were simply a promise to pay at some time in the future, and had no precious metals held in reserve to back them up. This printing of money was done despite the prohibition of such currency printing in the “Royal Currency Act of 1764” which specifically forbade colonies south of New England from using anything other than the “COR” released by the British Crown.
There were several good reasons for the colonial money ban. First and foremost was the fact that while the colonists had always expected the British Crown to heavily subsidize them, the Crown had expected the colonists to make them rich by buying all of their supplies from them and sending them most of their finished products. Further aggravating this situation was the fact that the colonists had become quite irate over the additional financial burdens placed upon them with the passage of the Sugar Act (direct taxation of non-British goods shipped to the colonies) and the Stamp Acts (which taxed the colonists newspapers, legal documents, books, and many other items).
The next major issues of these bills of credit were made between 1776-7, in at least 12 different printings. Once again typeset, these bills came in many different denominations. The smaller denomination bills had a geometric design, while the higher denomination bills had a “revolutionary design”, with a colored circular seal. This seal differed in color depending upon denominations, and was added to make counterfeiting of the bills virtually impossible. They were redeemable in amounts as small as three pence (p) and as large as 10 pounds sterling (PS) COR, or in Spanish Minted Dollars (much preferred throughout the New World) for between 1 and 10 dollars.
These bills were printed in the company formally owned by James Johnston of Savannah, who as a British sympathizer had been arrested and had had his shop seized. The bills came in a gold exchange notes, as well as silver certificate, and ranged from as little as 3-p up to 10-PS. The sterling emission of 1776 came out in a wide range of values, from 3 p all the way up to 1-PS in value.
Another 1778 emission was funded by the amount of Tory assets seized in Georgia at the end of the war. Some $150,000 in specie was printed by W. Lancaster of Savannah. What made these bills even more unusual were the rather large denominations of $20, $30, and $40 dollars. In fact, the new American Government was so fiercely opposed to levying any taxes on the American people, that instead they (the Continental Congress) and the Georgian state government began printing both Continental Dollars and State Dollars without any thought about how they would redeem them.
By 1779, the Congress had ordered printed $242 million dollars worth of Continental Currency, and the 13 state's legislators had authorized printing another $210 million dollars of the state currencies. Having no gold or silver deposits to back them up, this paper specie became, for all intents and purposes, worthless. Therefore, the inherent suspicions of Americans to paper money once again resurfaced, as a $10 bill might be able to be redeemed for no more than $2 or $3 dollars. This caused President Andrew Jackson to pass his 1836 Species Circular, which required all purchases of land to be made with coins of gold or silver, or paper money which had a precious metal backing.
The dollar has gone along way to gain acceptance since then, both in the United States, and all around the world.
Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look at Bulloch County's historical past. E-mail Roger at roger email@example.com