Someone mentioned last week that I didn’t include pieces of
eight in my examples of coins from around 1700, so this week I thought I would
look around for some definitions of what a piece of eight was.
I missed getting the URL of one web site, but you’ll get the
idea from these others!
Pieces of eight were the world's first global currency. As
the coins of Spain they were used across the vast Spanish Empire, stretching
from South America to the Philippines, but were also used outside the empire as
well. In 1600 one coin would have been worth the equivalent of a modern £50
note. The front of the coin is decorated with the coat of arms of the
Habsburgs, the rulers of Spain and the most powerful family in Europe.
Where did the silver for pieces of eight come from?
The inscription on this coin - King of the Spains and the Indies - refers to
European Spain and the great new Spanish Empire in the Americas. The silver
used to create the coins and finance Spain's armies and armadas came, above
all, from the 'silver mountain' of Potosi in Bolivia. This wealth came at a
terrible cost to human life. Thousands of indigenous American Indians and
African slaves died in the brutal conditions of the mines to support Spain's
thirst for silver.
Pieces of eight were legal tender in
the USA until 1857
During the 1700’s and 1800’s, gold coins and silver coins became
very popular in nearly all parts of the world as trading grew. Coins were used
as “commodity money”. This means that the value of a coin was dependent on the
amount of silver or gold it contained. Below is a list of brief
descriptions of various gold coins and silver coins that were used in the
1700’s and 1800’s.
GOLD COINS AND SILVER COINS
For over eight hundred years,
the Maravedis was Spain’s standard gold coin. It’s value and weight
dramatically changed according to who ruled Spain at the time. Over time,
the Maravedis became available in copper and silver varieties,
particularly in Spanish colonies. The faces of several kings, including
Philip V, Philip IV, Philip III, Ferdinand VII, Ferdinand VI, Joseph Bonaparte,
Charles III and Charles IV were etched into the Maravedis. Queen Isabel
II, made it onto the Maravedis from 1843 to 1868, when she was
In the 1300s, King Pedro 1 of
Castile introduced the Reales, which is a silver coin that means “royal.”
The Reales remained in circulation until the Escudo was
introduced in 1864. The weight and value of Reales changed over time,
according to the ruler at the time.
Escudos are divided into silver and gold categories. The
original Gold Escudo was introduced in 1566 was minted in one-half,
one, two, four, and eight escudos. It was the official currency of Spain from
1864 to 1869. MostEscudos were minted in either
Seville or Madrid. An Escudo coin from Seville is marked with an S
and one from Madrid will have an M.
piece Escudos were known as theDoubloon, which
means “double” in Spanish. They were manufactured in Nueva Granada, Spain,
Mexico, and Peru. The Doubloon featured the a coat of arms or cross
that was known as Hapsburg Shield on one side and the busts of Isabel or
Ferdinand on the other. The Doubloon was last minted in 1849.
BRITISH GOLD COINS AND SILVER COINS
The Guinea was first introduced in 1663 and remained the main gold
coin in Britain until 1816. Its name was derived from the British colony of
Guinea, which had rich gold reserves that were imported into Britain. Most of
the Guinea gold coins bear a small elephant in their design, to
commemorate their African origins.
The Sovereign was first created in 1489. After a break of more
than two hundred years (1604 to 1816), this gold coin was given a new
lease of life under the reign of George III. Large numbers ofSovereigns were
produced using the steam-driven minting machines of Matthew Boulton.
A daring governor shows his mettle in a bloody April 29, 1700 pirate battle
Mark St. John Erickson
Gov. Francis Nicholson was nothing if not a man of action.
before coming to Virginia in 1698, he'd shown his mettle time and time
again, fighting Moors in North Africa, English rebels at the battle of
Sedgemoor and hostile Indians in New York and New England.
no one would have raised an eyebrow had he hesitated on the afternoon
of April 28, 1700 - when a Royal Navy officer interrupted him at a
prominent Hampton home with news of pirates.
Even the other navy
captain in the room - who'd stopped to pay his respects - had no doubts
about leaving the protesting governor behind as he rushed to the King
Street docks and readied his ship for battle.
By 10 p.m, however, Nicholson had not only alerted
the militia on the south side of the James but made his way across the
dark waters on a rowboat to board the HMS Shoreham.
By 7 a.m. the
next day, he was standing on the Shoreham's quarterdeck, firing his
pistols at close range in a bloody, 10-hour clash that defined him as
one of the era's great pirate hunters.
"I can't think of any other battle like it," says
Mark G. Hanna, a University of California-San Diego historian who
studied colonial piracy at the College of William and Mary's Omohundro
Institute of Early American History and Culture.
"Nicholson went toe to toe with the pirates - and ended up being a huge story in London. He was a hero."
Nicholson's daring and resolve may have been born of frustration.
nine months earlier, the small, inadequately armed HMS Essex Prize had
been outgunned and outsailed in a humiliating Chesapeake Bay clash with a
pirate pretending to be the dreaded Capt. William Kidd.
And while the newly arrived Shoreham - with its 32
guns - introduced a larger, far more potent warship as the sentinel of
the Chesapeake - Capt. William Passenger had been forced to make do with
a short-handed crew weakened still more by inexperienced and underage
Still, the captives scooped up by French pirate Louis
Guittar as he bore down on the Virginia capes from the West Indies knew
nothing about this recent change of guard.
Not until his ship had
overwhelmed eight rich merchant vessels - including one carrying an
intoxicating cargo of strong beer and red wine - did a tortured
carpenter finally reveal the potential challenge waiting on the other
side of Hampton Roads.
Emboldened by their successes and the
alcohol, however, Guittar and the 150-man crew of the 20-gun La Paix
scoffed at the threat and focused instead on plundering the small fleet
of prizes they'd anchored off Lynnhaven Inlet.
They were still
groggy from drink when the Shoreham sent a shot across their bow just
after dawn, setting the stage for what would become a murderous battle.
was a tough, close fight with severe casualties. Peter Heyman - the
Hampton customs collector - was killed by a volley from the La Paix as
he stood next to Nicholson firing from the Shoreham's deck," Colonial
Williamsburg historian Carson Hudson says.
"At times, they were
blasting away at each other from pistol range - only 20 to 30 yards -
and the pirate ship was shot to pieces."
Knowing they would be
hanged if taken, Guittar and his crew fought for their lives, firing
broadside after broadside as they attempted to maneuver in and board
their outnumbered foe for a more favorable fight at close quarters.
time after time, Passenger rallied his crew of boys in a heroic display
of courage and seamanship, maintaining his distance and his advantage
on the windward side of the clash even as his short-handed gunners
struggled to answer the pirates' volleys.
Spectators watched from
the shore as the grisly fight wore on, felling so many pirates they
clogged the decks and had to be thrown overboard. Others looked on from
Old Point Comfort as the Shoreham's mainmast fell in the thunderous
cannon fire and gunpowder smoke filled the approach to Hampton Roads.
until late afternoon did the Royal Navy's slow but superior fire
finally prevail. Consuming nearly 30 barrels of powder, its guns fired
1,671 rounds in a determined attack that "shot all his masts, yards,
sailes, rigging all to shatters, unmounted several guns and hull almost
beaten to pieces," an observer reported.\
The end came soon after
the Shoreham's guns blasted the La Paix's rudder, leaving the floating
wreck helplessly grounded. But as the pirates lowered their blood-red
flag, their captain played one last gambit.
Priming 30 barrels of
explosives with a trail of gunpowder, Guittar vowed to blow up his ship
and 50 captives if not given quarter. Nicholson replied with the
pirates' threats of "Broil! Broil! Broil!" ringing in his ears,
scrawling a note that promised to "referr him and his men to the mercy
of my Royal Master King William the third ..."
Of the 124
buccaneers who surrendered, 111 were manacled and transported from
Hampton to London, where they were tried and condemned to death.
Three others were convicted in an admiralty court at Hampton and hanged on the beaches overlooking the scene of the battle.
officer Peter Heyman was buried in the yard at Hampton's third St.
John's Church, where his grave is still marked by a stone Nicholson
"(He) went voluntarily aboard ye king's Shippe Shoreham in pursuit of a pyrate who greatly infested this coast," it reads.
he had behaved himself seven hours with undaunted courage (he) was
killed with small shot ...(as) he stood next ye Govenour upon the
quarter deck ..."
For more on the history of Hampton Roads during the Golden Age of Piracy, click here.
-- Mark St. John Erickson