A Pine Tree Shilling story by Nathaniel Hawthorne
"The Pine Tree Shillings"
In the early colonial days Captain John Hull was the mint-master of Massachusetts, and coined all the money that was made there. This was a new line of business; for, in the earlier days of the colony, the current coinage consisted of gold and silver money of England, Portugal, and Spain. These coins being scarce, the people were often forced to barter their commodities instead of selling them. For instance, if a man wanted to buy a coat, he perhaps exchanged a bear's skin for it. If he wished for a barrel of molasses, he might purchase it with a pile of pine boards. Musket bullets were used instead of farthings. The Indians had a sort of money, called wampum, which was made of clam-shells; and this strange sort of specie was taken in payment of debts by the English settlers. Bank-bills had never been heard of. There was not money enough of any kind, in many parts of the country, to pay the salaries of the ministers; so that they sometimes had to take quintals of fish, bushels of corn, or cords of wood, instead of silver or gold.
As the people grew more numerous and their trade one with another increased, the want of current money was more sensibly felt. To supply the demand, the General Court established a coinage of shillings, sixpences, and threepences. Captain John Hull was appointed to manufacture this money, and was to have about one shilling out of every twenty to pay him for the trouble of making them. Then all the old silver in the colony was handed over to Captain John Hull. The battered silver cans and tankards, and silver buckles, and broken spoons, and silver buttons, and hilts of swords were thrown into the melting-pot together. But by far the greater part of the silver consisted of bullion from the mines of South America, which the English buccaneers had taken from the Spaniards and brought to Massachusetts.
All this old and new silver being melted down and coined, the result was an immense amount of splendid shillings, sixpences, and threepences. Each had the date, 1652, on the one side, and a figure of a pine-tree on the other. Hence they were called pine-tree shillings. And for every twenty shillings that he coined, Captain John Hull was entitled to put one shilling into his own pocket.
When the mint-master, Captain John Hull, had grown very rich, a young man by the name of Samuel Sewell came a-courting his only daughter. His daughter, Betsey, was a fine, hearty damsel; by no means as slender as some young ladies of our own days. On the contrary, having always fed heartily on pumpkin-pies, doughnuts, Indian puddings, and other Puritan dainties, she was as round and plump as a pudding itself. With this round, rosy face did Samuel Sewell fall in love. As he was a young man of good character, the mint-master very readily gave his consent. "Yes, you may take her," said he, in his rough way; "and you'll find her a heavy burden enough!"
On the wedding-day, John Hull dressed himself in a plum-colored coat, all the buttons of which were made of pine tree shillings. The buttons of his waistcoat were sixpences, and the knees of his small-clothes were buttoned with silver threepences. Opposite to him between her bridesmaids, sat Miss Betsey. She was blushing with all her might, and looked like a full-blown peony, or a great red apple.
There, too, was the bridegroom, dressed in a fine purple coat and gold-laced waistcoat, with as much finery as the Puritan laws and customs would allow. His hair was cropped close to his ears, because Governor Endicott had forbidden any man to wear it below his ears.
The mint-master was pleased with his son-in-law, especially as he had courted Miss Betsey out of pure love, and had said nothing at all about her portion. So, when the marriage ceremony was over, Captain Hull whispered a word to two of his men, who immediately went out, and soon returned lugging a large pair of scales. They were such a pair as wholesale merchants use for weighing bulky commodities.
"Daughter Betsey," said the mint-master; "get into one side of these scales."
Miss Betsey--or Mrs. Sewell, as we must now call her--did as she was bid, like a dutiful child, without any question of the why and wherefore. But what her father could mean, unless to make her husband pay for her by the pound she had not the least idea.
"And now," said honest John Hull to the servants, "bring that box hither." The box to which the mint-master pointed was a huge, square iron-bound, oaken chest. The servants tugged with might and main, but could not lift this enormous receptacle, and were obliged to drag it over the floor. Captain Hull then took a key from his girdle, unlocked the chest and lifted its ponderous lid. Behold! it was full to the brim of bright pine tree shillings, fresh from the mint and Samuel Sewell began to think that his father-in-law had got possession of all the money in the Massachusetts treasury.
Then the servants, at Captain Hull's command, heaped double handfuls of shillings into one side of the scales, while Betsey remained in the other. Jingle, jingle, went the shillings, as handful after handful was thrown in, till, plump and ponderous as she was, they fairly weighed down the young lady from the floor.
"There, son Sewell!" cried the honest mint-master, "take these shillings for my daughter's portion. Use her kindly, and thank Heaven for her. It is not every wife that's worth her weight in silver!"
(Story excerpted from Nathaniel Hawthorne. The Whole History of Grandfather's Chair / Or, True Stories from New England History, 1620-1808. Available through Gutenberg.org )