Elisha Hutchinson, quietly standing in his family tree between a famous grandmother and a famous grandson, was a key figure in a revolutionary moment in the global history of money. He led the first-ever use of money that relied neither on intrinsic value like gold nor on totalitarian forced acceptance in all transactions, but merely on money’s circulation into and out of the treasury of the emerging modern fiscal-military state. In this sense, today we all use Massachusetts money. In spite of its flimsy appearance, this money has been a double-edged sword of immense power, second perhaps only to nuclear weapons: it has performed miracles in wars and recessions but has created nightmarish episodes of inflation worldwide.
The article is based on parts of the author’s book Easy Money: American Puritans and the Invention of Modern Currency, published by the University of Chicago Press in 2023. Specifically, Hutchinson’s first-ever biography (covering his life until the Glorious Revolution) is detailed there in Chapter 11 and is mostly based on records of the City of Boston, Suffolk County, and the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Company, and Samuel Sewall’s diary, as listed in the book’s Notes and References. Chapters 12 and 13 cover the background for the 1690 invention and the invention itself; most of the relevant facts for the episode appear in: Robert E. Moody and Richard C. Simmons, eds. The Glorious Revolution in Massachusetts, Selected Documents, 1689–1692 (Boston: Colonial Society of Massachusetts, 1988). A general account of the Hutchinson dynasty, as written by Governor Thomas Hutchinson, was published in: Peter Orlando Hutchinson, ed. The Diary and Letters of His Excellency Thomas Hutchinson, Esq., vol. 2 (London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington, 1886). All these sources are freely available online at the Internet Archive, except for the Colonial Society of Massachusetts volume which is available on the Society’s website.
This article originally appeared in April 2023.
Dror Goldberg is a senior faculty member in the Department of Management and Economics at the Open University of Israel. Before publishing the abovementioned book, his research on the theory, history and law of money was published in academic journals in economics, legal history, and economic history.