Information - the Barter System
By 1771, of
the eighty-nine taxpayer residents in Deerfield, seventy-three were
wealthier than John Partridge Bull. Money was never in abundance,
but the barter system allowed for a fairly comfortable situation.
The total income
recorded in Bull's account book was 223 pounds, 18 shillings, 8
pence over a twenty year span. From this, thirty-five percent was
from gunsmithing. Like farmers, artisans such as Bull conducted
their business with little exchange of actual money. Credit was
the rule of the times, but there was no formal institution to regulate
the exchange nor to articulate the rules. Instead, people used the
The barter system
required, in addition to faith and trust in one's neighbors, a well-developed
system of record-keeping. Debts were computed in terms of monetary
equivalents according to the prevailing standards of value and were
then recorded as so many pounds, shillings, and pence owed. (Note:
20 shillings to a pound, 12 pence to a shilling).
Any rural householder
at any given time could owe and be owed by many of his neighbors.
Actually, the mutual indebtedness acted as a powerful social cement.
Ideally, local debts were always collectible. Some customers continually
brought in cash, goods, and labor in payment while others incurred
debts that were carried for years before any effort to settle was
made. Few men had the assets sufficient to settle all of their debts
on demand, and, to most, economic survival meant not being called
upon to settle frequently -- or, worst of all, unexpectedly.
Bull's account book allows us to examine this system in detail.
While we do not have time here for a thorough study of the document,
we can analyze smaller sections of it to see what types of conclusions
can be drawn
the navigation at the top of this page to move on to Part
2: Learning to "Read" Account Books