Massachusetts bills of credit like this one (a 1776 12-pence note engraved by Paul Revere) were nicknamed "codfish bills" for the fish on the top border.
Image courtesy Harvard University and Wikimedia

Download this file

  • Select Text Level:

    On February 3, 1690, the Massachusetts Bay Colony issued the first paper money in what would become the United States. Years earlier, in 1652, Massachusetts Bay was also the first colony to mint its own (silver) coins.
    The money was called a “bill of credit”—soon just shortened to “bill.” Bills were originally printed to help finance soldiers in the French and Indian Wars. Massachusetts Bay soldiers could spend and trade the paper currency just like coins or trade goods.
    Eventually, every American colony issued its own paper money. These bills were all called “pounds,” after the British unit of currency, the pound sterling. The value of colonial currencies did not match up, however, A “Massachusetts pound,” for instance, was worth fewer (British) pounds than a “New York pound.” This made trade between the colonies, as well as Great Britain, very complex.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    colony Noun

    people and land separated by distance or culture from the government that controls them.

    complex Adjective


    currency Noun

    money or other resource that can be used to buy goods and services.

    finance Verb

    to fund or provide money to an organization or individual, usually for a specific purpose.

    mint Verb

    to physically create or fabricate coins by stamping metal.

    trade Noun

    buying, selling, or exchanging of goods and services.