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Turns of the Centuries Exhibit > Newcomers 1680-1720 > Working
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Page 85a
(c) Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield MA. All rights reserved.

Working : "To 1 day work at my house"


An acute labor shortage plagued the colonies in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In Europe, a large and growing population kept wage rates low and land was at a costly premium. The fledgling economy of the colonies turned this old relationship on its head. Labor, not land, was expensive and in short supply.

Indentured servants, and later, slaves met the insatiable demand for labor in the Chesapeake region of Virginia and Maryland. New England settlers also used slave labor. The settlement patterns and economy of this northern region prevented slavery from solving the worker shortage there, however. New Englanders relied for the most part upon an intricate system of labor exchange to meet their pressing need for labor. Building homes and establishing farms required intensive and often backbreaking toil. To accomplish these tasks, people coexisted in an intricate web of interdependence, performing labor for neighbors who sold and exchanged their labor in return.

Joseph Barnard was among the earliest settlers of the newly established town of Deerfield, Massachusetts. This page from Barnard's account book records transactions with Barnabas Hinsdell, also of Deerfield. Most of the transactions involved work Hinsdell and Barnard performed for one another.

The surviving pages of Barnard's account book are a window onto a world of complex social and economic relationships. His accounts also reveal the ways in which he and others navigated a cash-poor economy. Very little actual currency ever changed hands; debts usually were paid in goods and services. At the same time, the monetary value Barnard assigned to each transaction reveals that these exchanges were more than simple bartering. Debtors risked arrest and even imprisonment if they could not or would not pay what they owed. Creditors routinely sued defaulting debtors. Written accounts like the ones that Barnard so carefully kept were admissible in a court of law to prove default.


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Account book of Joseph Barnard

author   Joseph Barnard (1641-1695)
date   Apr 30, 1690
location   Deerfield, Massachusetts
width   5.5"
height   14.25"
process/materials   manuscript, paper, ink
item type   Personal Documents/Account book
accession #   #L00.083

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See Also...

"History of the Connecticut Valley in Massachusetts"

Deerfield Town Meeting

"A Biographical Memoir of the Rev. John Williams"

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