Chapter XXIX - Money and Currency

History of Hampshire County West Virginia From Its Earliest Settlement to the Present
By Hu Maxwell and H. L. Swisher
Morgantown, West Virginia; A. Brown Boughner Printer; 1897

PART 2 County History
Pages 344-347

The mere enumeration of substances and commodities that have been used as a medium of exchange or money would fill much space and occupy much time, and though it would possibly be interesting to show how the currency of today has been evolved, and to conjecture as to a means of exchange in future years, such a treatise does not fall within the scope of a county history. The earliest currency used in this country was that in use among the Indians at the time white men arrived here. This consisted of shells strung on string's and circulated freely among the different tribes and to some extent among the first settlers on the James river. Furs were another primitive means of exchange and we find a considerable traffic in these along the South branch at an early day. It was not until a later time that we find tobacco the standard of value. The unsavory weed was used for this purpose and to a much larger extent than is generally supposed. In an old order book of the Hampshire justice court for the years 1788 to 1791 we find continual reference to the payment of judgments in tobacco. Witnesses were invariably paid in tobacco for their attendance at court. The rate was twenty-five pounds a day and four pounds for each mile travelled in going to and from court. Clerks' and sheriffs' salaries as well as those of other county officers were paid in tobacco a little more than a century ago. The specie value of this tobacco was a penny and a half-penny per pound or about three cents in the money of today. At a justice court held April 16, 1789, judgment was awarded "Andrew Wodrow against James Anderson, late sheriff of Harrison county, for one thousand three hundred and eighteen pounds of tobacco at a penny and a half- penny per pound, being the amount of fees put into the hands of said Anderson to collect on which he never reported." We can easily see how clumsy this medium of exchange was in the adjustment of large accounts. Then it was no small matter to transport such a load of money.

We cannot wonder that in 1792 tobacco as money was abandoned and the present system of dollars, cents and mills was introduced with some modifications. Coins of other countries circulated freely, but led to considerable complication in business transactions, so that the general assembly passed an act in 1792 regulating the value of foreign coins. It stated that twenty-seven grains of the gold coins of France, Spain, England and Portugal should be equal to one hundred cents in Virginia money. The gold of Germany being of less fineness, it required twenty- nine and eight-tenths grains to equal one dollar in Virginia. Spanish milled dollars were worth one hundred cents and other silver coins, uncut, were worth one dollar and eleven cents an ounce. A "disme" was one-tenth of a dollar.

The first bank in this county was the Bank of the South branch of the Potomac. The building in which it did business stood on the ground now occupied by the Literary hall in Romney. The date of the organization of this bank could not be ascertained, but it was, in all probability, in operation at the beginning of the present century* An act was passed November 16, 1816, which was "to give the Bank of the South branch of the Potomac more time to close its business." Unchartered banks had been ordered to quit circulating their notes and this act was meant to suspend the order temporarily. The same year banks were ordered to pay specie on penalty of an addition of six per cent. This bank continued in business as late as 1819, at which time Nathaniel Kuykendall was cashier. The Bank of the Valley of Virginia, at Winchester, was authorized by act February 5, 1817, and the provision was made that if the counties of Jefferson, Berkeley, Hampshire and Hardy would subscribe one hundred thousand dollars stock, an office of deposit and discount should be established in each county, or if they subscribed two hundred thousand dollars two such offices were to be established. By taking advantage of this provision a branch of the Valley bank was established at Romney about 1825, with John McDowell, president, and John Jack, cashier. Other branches were established at Moorefield, Charlestown, Christiansburg and Staunton. It was this bank that served the people of the county until the civil war, when the mother bank at Winchester suspended and the branch banks went out of existence.

During the war there was no bank in the county and the circulating medium, which consisted largely of confederate money, was in a disturbed condition. The frequent incursions of union and confederate forces and the capture and recapture of the territory by the opposing parties lent such an element of uncertainty to business transactions that no one knew what kind of money to accept. A great many, firm in the belief that the confederate cause would be triumphant in the end, accepted its money without hesitation, and finally had only worthless paper to represent the large estates they owned at the beginning of the war. The counterfeiting of bank notes seems to have been quite common previous to 1860. Each month there was a "Bank Note List," taken from BucknelPs Reporter, published in the county papers. In a copy of the Virginia Argus for August 21, 1851, there is such a list published. The whole number of banks in Virginia at this time was forty-one, three of which are reported closed and two of which have failed. Out of this number, forty-one, there are twenty- six banks on which there were "either counterfeit or altered notes of various denominations in circulation throughout the United States, for the description of which we refer our readers to the Detector." The Romney branch of the bank of the Valley is among the number having spurious notes in circulation.

Immediately following the war there was a great dearth of money and in consequence business was hampered and hindered. The considerable volume of confederate money then in the county having become utterly worthless, the people were left without a medium of exchange and consequently transactions of a business nature were carried on largely by barter. For more than twenty years after the war there was no bank in Romney or in the county. People generally did. business with the Second National Bank of Cumberland for which J. C. Heiskell acted as agent. While this method of banking was quite satisfactory so far as methods were concerned it was found to be very inconvenient. It was therefore decided to organize a bank in the county. The Bank of Romney which is still in operation and doing business in the building occupied by the branch of the Valley bank previous to the war, was granted its charter September 3, 1888, and went into operation January 1, 1889. It was organized with the following board of directors: H. B. Gilkeson, president; Judge James D. Armstrong, R. W. Dailey, Jr., I. H. C. Pancake, R. E. Guthrie, J. C. Heiskell, J. W. Carter, members and John P. Vance, cashier. The convenience of having a bank within the county's limits for the accommodation of its citizens is likely to make the Bank of Romney a permanent institution.

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