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In the Classroom > Course Overveiw


Background 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 barter system.

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.

John Partridge 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

Use the navigation at the top of this page to move on to Part 2: Learning to "Read" Account Books


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