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What You Bought Your Boys With
18th Century Currency & Coinage and Un-Free Labor Costs

-Pence [English, penny] 12 = 1 shilling

-Shilling [English] = 1 day’s wage

-Dollar [Spanish, silver peso “piece of eight”] = 4 shillings & 6 pence

-Pistole [Spanish, gold dabloon] = 18 shillings

-Pound [English] = 20 shillings

-Guinea [English, coin] = 21 shillings

The pound was a unit of measurement and was not represented by a minted coin, making the pistole the defacto capital coin, although the guinea was used as a pound coin, though it was rare in the colonies.

The colonial administrations of the Plantation provinces were not permitted to coin their own currency.

The pistole was the primary medium of exchange in Virginia from 1700-1750. Usually a century old Spanish coin, but sometimes a French gold louis d'or, minted in the late seventeenth century, it was highly sought.

The term "shill" as in a paid advocate, comes, ultimately, from the shilling.

Three shillings were sometimes termed a “bob”

Servant Cost

-A shilling was the basic value of a laborer's day wage at the beginning of the period in the 1600s.

-The purchase price of a servant was a median of 15 pounds, or 300 shillings.

-The reward price of a servant ranged from 20 to 200 shillings [up to 5 pounds]

-A servant served for 7 years, for just over 300 days per year, including Sabbaths and holidays, bringing 3,500 days of labor to his owner.

-A man who buys a servant to ditch for 7 years would typically pay 300 shillings.

-A man who paid a ditcher by the day would expend 3,500 shillings over the same period.

-If a free man hired a ditcher and competed with a servant speculator for a ditch-digging contract, his single day laborer would cost him more than a servant speculator's crew of 10!

-Peter Williamson was sold for 16 pounds.

-African slaves sold for 25-100 pounds, with a median that seemed to be about 50, or 2,000 shillings, meaning a slave owner would have a hard time competing with a servant speculator but would still have much cheaper labor than a contractor paying a free wage laborer.

-The problem with servant speculation was runaways, expressed in reward costs and newspaper subscriptions, if the servant was recovered, which was paid for by the servant, who had time added to his term to compensate.

-Ultimately, the prime factors that turned the elite from servant speculation to slave owning were: homebred slaves cost nothing, then lived at the place of their birth, making them less likely to flee than the kidnapped, convicted and indebted servants who had preceded them.

Food is not calculated in the labor comparisons. However, servants and slaves usually ate nothing but water and corn, and were therefore more cheaply fed than cattle.

By the Wine Dark Sea

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