Where in the realm of Colonial numismatics can you find a squirrel
eating a nut, a cock fight, a merman, a coiled rattlesnake and even a
All of these appear on one extensive series of notes issued by
North Carolina’s Fourth Provincial Congress in April 1776.
The Congress’ April meeting is best known for passing the Halifax
Resolves of April 12, 1776, the first state-sponsored document
recommending independence for the American Colonies. However, just
over a week later, on April 22, and during a busy session that created
new militia units to protect North Carolina from both invading
Redcoats and domestic Loyalists, the Fourth North Carolina Provincial
Congress authorized its first large scale issuance of paper money
(dated April 2, 1776). The previous year’s Provincial Congress at
Hillsborough had authorized £125,000 worth of currency, but the
Halifax Congress of 1776 authorized 10 times that number: $1,250,000.
For reasons unknown, 56 different varieties were created, spread
over 17 different denominations. They ranged from $1/16 (equivalent to
a Spanish half real) to $20, an immense sum. Compared to the
Continental Congress emissions of 1775 and 1776, which authorized
between eight and 12 denominations, an issue of 17 denominations was
already alarming. But 56 different varieties, including six different
types of $1/16 notes, eight different types of $1/8 notes and eight
different varieties of $1/4 notes? There’s simply nothing else like it
in the whole history of American paper money.
The plates were engraved in Baltimore by Gabriel Lewyn, a jeweler
and silversmith who also happened to regulate gold coins in this era.
Though just one Gabriel Lewyn-regulated gold coin is known (a
Brazilian 6,400-real piece that was discovered with a metal detector
in southeast Georgia), the paper money he printed is widely available.
Some even include a monogram of his initials, a situation rather like
the TS signature of Thomas Sparrow on Maryland currency of this era.
Though it’s fun to see animals like alligators, beavers, goats,
bees, barracudas and more on Colonial currency, the most historically
significant of the vignettes on the April 1776 North Carolina notes is
on the $7½ note: the first appearance of an American flag on paper
money. With a British Union Jack in the canton and 13 red and white
stripes, the flag has been called the Continental Colors and the Grand
Union Flag, among other monikers. It was first flown aboard John Paul
Jones’ ship USS Alfred in 1775.
As for the sea urchin vignette on one of the $1/4 varieties, that
was not only the first appearance of an echinoderm on American paper
money, but also the last.
John Kraljevich Jr. is an independent professional numismatist and
researcher specializing in early American coinage.