As an early American Settler in the New World, it must have been a very confusing and difficult era. The land was divided into territories of various countries, each with their own languages, customs, and traditions. The settlers had to learn to survive in a new and sometimes hostile environment. They lacked many of the essentials, and one of the most important was a monetary system.
In the American Colonies, there were French coins, and Dutch coins, but a majority of the coins that circulated were English, Portuguese and Spanish. One thing was for sure all coins were very scarce. That is probably why the early settlers mostly used the monetary system of the Native Americans: bartering and wampum.
In 1681, there was a Northumberland Quaker named Mark Newby (sometimes spelled Newbie), who moved to Dublin. Suffering religious persecution there, he moved to Ballicane. There, he made his plans to join other Quakers who were emigrating to the American Colonies. Newby conjectured that small denomination coinage would be in short supply in the new world, and acquired a cask containing 14,400 coppers at a cost of about £30.
The coins he acquired were know as “St. Patrick coppers” and were originally struck in 1641 and 1642, and were used to pay the Catholic troops who fought Cromwell’s Protestant army in the Ulster Rebellion. A Puritanical movement in England suppressed everything Catholic, including these copper pieces. The coins reappeared in Ireland and the Isle of Man, but in 1679 the Manx Parliament rescinded their use as legal tender. These coppers were struck in two denominations a halfpence (1/2 penny) and a farthing (1/4 penny).
In September of 1681, Newby left Ireland, with about 20 other Quakers, heading for the American Colonies. He sailed on a fishing ship called “Owners Adventurer.” About a month later, the ship anchored off what is now Salem, New Jersey. After spending the winter in Salem, Newby moved to Gloucester County near present day Camden. It was there he set up the first bank in the Province of New Jersey.
From 1676 to 1702, New Jersey was divided into two separate colonies, the East Colony and the West Colony. Newby quickly developed considerable political clout within the region, and on May 18, 1862, the General Free Assembly of West New Jersey granted Newby’s coins legal tender status thus, allowing the St. Patrick coppers to circulate as small denominational change at the rate of a halfpenny. The only restrictions placed on Newby was: that he had to put up 300 acres of land as security against the coinage, and that any person would not have to accept more than five shillings in copper at any one time in payment.
Newby died in the fall soon after his St. Patrick copper coins were approved as legal tender. The coppers fulfilled an important role in local commerce. In fact, these coins remained in circulation and were found in change in Western New Jersey well into the early 1800s.
There is nothing in recorded history showing what the purchasing power was of the halfpenny (halfpence), or any coin in colonial times. It was all based on Supply and Demand as the underlying factor to a coin’s value. Recent investigations show, even though the St. Patrick coppers were made as two separate denominations, the halfpence and the farthing, the weight of the St. Patrick farthing was not ½ of the halfpence, as one would expect. It was heavier therefore, both were considered as a halfpenny for purposes of commerce in Colonial America.
The St. Patrick coppers were unique in appearance, to say the least. The obverse, of both coins, portrays King David kneeling while playing a harp and looking up at the English crown. A strategically placed splash of molten brass was added to the planchet (coin blank) before striking, so the English Crown appears gold against the copper color of the coin. Examination of uncirculated examples of these coins show the face of King Davis is, in reality, that of King Charles I of England. The reverse of the halfpence depicts St. Patrick with miter and crozier blessing his congregation with a shamrock. Behind St. Patrick is the Coat-of-Arms of the city of Dublin. The reverse of the farthing shows St. Patrick wearing a miter and holding a staff, topped with a Metropolitan cross, as he drives the snakes and various other beasts from Ireland. There is church in the background. Both size coppers have a reeded edge similar to that of the present day U.S. dime, quarter and half dollar.
The St. Patrick coppers are only two of many coins that circulated throughout Colonial America. The value of the coins were based on the Supply and Demand of goods and services at that time, and held no real value except what the market dictated. Imagine just how difficult the American colonists had it. Aren’t you glade we live in current times?
To view a picture of the St. Patrick halfpence, go to the following URL.
To view a picture of the St. Patrick farthing, go to the following URL.