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European & Euro-American Wampum

(The First American Money)

The Origin of Wampum Previous Page in Article Series Next Page in Article Series Original Wampum Sizes & Colors

On This Page:

Euro-merican Wampum Factories
The First New World Money

eagle feather Euro-merican Wampum Factories
When the Dutch learned the value Native Americans placed on wampum, it didn't take them long to realize a potentially profitable trade opportunity. They quickly set up Dutch colonials as "cottage industrials" to produce wampum beads for trade with the Indians.

When the British later forced the Dutch out of the New World many of those Dutch colonials remained behind, and continued making trade items for the Indian trade, including beads and other shell items, such as earrings and gorgets.

After the British were sent home Abraham Campbell established a home factory in 1808 and started making wampum and shell ornaments in Pascack, NJ (currently Ridge Park). Much like the Dutch had done, he set up some of his neighbors as "cottage industrials". Campbell provided the tools and the shell material.

The locals made wampum and other shell items in their spare time, and bartered their work back to Campbell for needed household items. Campbell sold the wampum and shell ornaments to customers such as the American Fur Company and government agencies for the Indian trade as far west as the Great Plains. After his death his sons continued the business until 1899. Some of his equipment is still on display in the museum in Ridge Park, NJ.     [Top of Page]

eagle feather The First New World Money
Observing Native Americans trading wampum for other items, many people have written in their journals that Indians used wampum as money. Native Americans did use Wampum as a trade item - but NOT as money. There is a difference between the two.

A "trade item" is anything another party will accept in exchange for something of theirs. It has no definite value established prior to the meeting of the traders. The same item may reap you much more or less in subsequent trades with the same person, depending on that person's desires or need for what you are offering. A "trade item" has no specific, permanent value assigned to it, as money does.

With no coinage of their own, as in the Old World, it was the early european colonists that began using wampum as money. Until the mid-1800's the Boston Ferry would give you a lift for 10 white or 5 purple wampum beads. In later years you could still pay for an education at Harvard with shell wampum beads. "Shell Wampum" may sound redundant, but by the 1700's the imported porcelain "wampum" beads (explained on page 4, " What Is Porcelain Wampum") were also quite commonly referred to as wampum.     [Top of Page]

The Origin of Wampum Previous Page in Article Series Next Page in Article Series Original Wampum Sizes & Colors

Copyright Jan 1999, 2015, Gary A. Reneker. All rights reserved. All text, graphics, programming, and coding are protected by U.S. and International Copyright Laws, and may not be copied, reprinted, published, translated, hosted, or otherwise distributed by any means without explicit permission from Gary A. Reneker.