Note: The following is part of a series of columns looking at how hard currency was introduced in Georgia and Bulloch County.
In 1749, the Savannah firm of Harris & Habersham chartered the first ship to carry local goods to England. It was loaded with deer-skins, staves (wooden planks used in making barrels), rice, and pitch and tar (naval stores).
Harris & Habersham's records showed they accepted trustee sola bills, military money, Carolina coppers and their own private small bills of credit in their growing trade.
Colonial records show some Charles Town Merchants didn't want to accept Georgia's sola bills for payment of debts. This, it was reported, "put a very Great Damp on the Credit of Georgia."
After merchants and tradesmen complained repeatedly of counterfeit sola notes, new bills of credit were printed with the stark warning: "To counterfeit is Death without Benefit of Clergy."
Georgians were very poor during the 1760s. Records show that an average Georgian had approximately 15 times the indebtedness of a person in New York, and 1,500 times the indebtedness of a person in New Jersey.
Despite this, in 1761, The American Negotiator stated that Georgia's banknotes were the only colonial currency still trading at or near par with the British pound sterling.
Savannah sees an economic boom
Thankfully, then came the economic boom of the 1770s. Savannah merchant James Habersham wrote to a friend, saying, "We have a greater Number of Vessells in the Savannah Harbour than has ever been known."
He continued, "The Demand for our Produce … is so very great … we have scarcely sufficient on Hand to give the Vessells now here … the necessary Dispatch."
In 1794, the City of Savannah printed its own fractional currency. This issue of "Animal Money" was designed so that even residents who couldn't read would be able to use it.
Savannah's public was told, "If it bore the image of a ship it was worth ten cents; a horse, then it was worth five cents; a cow, four cents; and a dog, two cents."
Georgia's government money?
With the onset of war, Georgia printed bills "for the support of the Continental Troops." Signed by one of five prominent citizens, the 1776 bills included fractional bills of 1/4 and 1/2 of a dollar; and then 1, 2, 4, 7, 10 and 20 dollar bills.
The 1777 bills included 1/5, 1/2 and 4/5 of a dollar; and then 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 8 dollar bills. In 1778, W. Lancaster of Savannah printed $150,000 of bills of credit backed by the value of seized Tory assets in Georgia.
According to the April 30, 1788 issue of the "Pennsylvania Gazette," Georgia's paper money was being accepted at the rate of between 4–5 Georgia dollars' to 1 dollar's worth of coins.
Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look each week at the area's past. Email Roger at email@example.com.