Joseph Dow's History of Hampton: EFFORTS TO REGULATE PRICES

Back to previous section -- Forward to next section -- Return to Table of Contents


One of the chief sources of embarrassment during the war, was the disordered state of the currency. Soon after the commencement of hostilities, Bills of Credit began to be issued, with no other fund than taxation for their redemption. For a while these bills passed very currently; but when counterfeits were found to be in circulation -- to what amount none could tell -- and when it became doubtful whether even the genuine bills would ever be redeemed, it is not strange that gold and silver were preferred to bills of credit, and that the latter were received with reluctance. Their value then began to depreciate. Attempts were made by individuals and by government, to check the depreciation. In New Hampshire, they were made a legal tender, even for debts previously incurred; and any creditor refusing to take them lost the whole debt. Dishonest persons took advantage of this law to swindle their creditors, offering paper money which was nearly worthless, in payment of debts contracted in good faith, to be paid in specie or its equivalent.

Instances of this kind were not wanting in Hampton. In one case, if tradition can be relied on, the depreciated paper was tendered at its nominal value, in payment of a note given for valuable real estate -- the sum named in the note being the cash value of the estate. In another instance, a man who had hired money and given his note for the same at its just value, went, after the passage of this law, to the person to whom the note had been given, for the purpose of tendering depreciated paper in payment, taking with him another man as witness of the tender. But the holder of the note was too shrewd for him. Suspecting the purpose of his visitor, he did not wait for him to make known his business, but immediately said to him: "You know that the note which you gave me, was a negotiable one; you must, therefore, find the note before you tender payment for it." The bills were not tendered.

As the value of the paper money depreciated, there was an increase in the price of labor, and of articles of merchandise. Another expedient to prevent a further depreciation was to fix the prices of various articles, and to make it a penal offense to take a higher price. Associations were also formed, the members engaging to see goods and produce, and to perform labor at stipulated prices. Town meetings were holden and votes passed for the same purpose.

In the latter part of June, 1779, there was a meeting of the merchants and traders of Portsmouth, at which they agreed, for the space of one month to sell no articles, by wholesale or retail, at a higher price than such articles were then selling at -- the prices of some important articles being enumerated [Here is a specimen of prices: Molasses, £5 per gallon; Brown Sugar, 20 shillings per pound; Coffee, 22 shillings and Tea, £9.] -- and at the close of the month, and of each successive month to reduce their prices, on condition that similar measures should be adopted in the other towns in the state, respecting merchandise and produce. They also resolved that they would not directly nor indirectly sell any kind of merchandise or any property whatever, for hard money, because the direct tendency of selling goods for hard money would be to destroy the credit of the paper currency.

The town of Portsmouth ratified the action of its merchants, and circulars containing their resolves were sent to all the towns in the state.

On the 9th of August a town meeting was holden in Hampton, at which it was voted --

"That we will adopt measures siliar to those agreed to by the merchants in Philadelphia, Boston and Portsmouth, in regard to reducing the prices of the necessaries of life, and for supporting the credit of our currency."

But whatever the expedients resorted to, they all failed to provide a remedy. The state of the currency grew worse and worse. In August, 1779, £100 silver were equal in value to £1630 of the paper currency, and in September, to £1800.

August 16, 1779, the town voted that the selectmen should make up to John Lane one hundred dollars per month, including his wages, for enlisting into the service at Portsmouth. On the 25th of July, Lane had been drafted to serve as a soldier for two months, unless sooner discharged. His compensation was, in appearance, very large; but 100 dollars -- £30 -- of the depreciated currency were of less value than £2, silver. A year later, Joshua James and Jonathan Marston, Jr., received twelve hundred ninety-five dollars, in the currency of the time, for services as constables.

About the middle of August, the town voted, "to join the other towns and parishes in the State to hold a convention at Concord on the 22nd of September for the purpose of carrying into effect the several interesting and important measures recommended by Congress to the inhabitants of the United States, in their late wise, seasonable and animating address."[Among the towns invited was Andover, which at the date of the convention, had been only two months incorporated, under its new name. It was originally New Breton, named in honor of the captors of Cape Breton, in 1745; most of the grantees having been in that expedition. Of the grantees, Dr. Anthony Emery, John Marston, Simon Marston, Joshua Towle, Daniel Marston, John Leavitt, Jonathan Leavitt and Nathaniel Batchelder were Hampton men.] Capt. Josiah Moulton and Mr. Josiah Moulton were chosen delegates, and both or either of them empowered to act in behalf of the town, in accomplishing the objects for which the convention had been called.

The war was still in progress, but after the battles of Saratoga and Stillwater, and the surrender of General Burgoyne, military operations had been chiefly confined to the middle and southern states. In the latter, they were carried on with considerable activity till the surrender of Cornwallis, in October, 1781. This act virtually closed the war. But the return of peace did not bring to the country all the blessings that had been anticipated. Danger from a foreign foe had ceased, but this very danger, as long as the war continued, had been one of the strongest cords to bind the people together. That bond was now severed.

Back to previous section -- Forward to next section -- Return to Table of Contents