Spanish cuarto coin
Spanish cuarto

More than 500 coins, jettons, and tokens have been found around the original James Fort site. Most of the coins are English. Others are European coins — showing how connected 17th century economies were and how much people valued metal money, even if it displayed another nation’s king. Jamestown’s barter economy still needed a way to count value.

This Spanish copper coin is known as a cuarto, or four maravedís, and was minted in Santo Domingo on the Spanish-controlled Caribbean island of Hispaniola. Dating c. 1542-56, the coin is the third of these Spanish colonial coins found in James Fort. These 16th century coins from the early European colonization are extremely rare in North American archaeological contexts. The obverse, or primary side of the coin, contains a crowned gothic “Y” flanked by the assayer mark “F” (for Francisco Rodriguez) and the denomination “4” with the legend “CAROLUS ET IOANNA.” The reverse side of the coin depicts the crowned columns of Hercules flanked by the mint mark “S” and “P” for Santo Domingo del Puerto, with the legend “REGIS ISPANIARUM ET” (Indiarum), King of Spain and the Indies.

Other Spanish base metal coinage recovered from James Fort features in the Virginia Company period (1607-1624) include a dinero, two four maravedís, and a single eight maravedís.

Other European coins found at James Fort include the oldest Swedish coin found in America: dated 1576, the coin is a 1 öre of King Johan III. There is also a German sechsling dated 1629 and issued in Lubeck, Germany. Lubeck was part of the Hanseatic League, a union of towns involved in the east-west trade of the Baltic Sea. The Hanseatic League dominated European trade by the 15th century. Lubeck merchants were very active in trade all over the world and were particularly involved in the slave trade in the Americas.

A Dutch two stuiver piece was minted in Zeeland, in the southwestern Netherlands, and dates to the second decade of the 17th century. It bears the date 161(?) (the last number is obliterated). These coins were issued as emergency coinage by the seven northern Dutch provinces during their Eighty Years’ War with Spain.