Do You Accept Turnpike Dollars?

{Posted   04 March 2013}

  According to Bruce Champ (former senior research economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland), the Federal Government of the United States of America is not the only entity that is allowed to issue 'money' or specie. And throughout our history, various other entities, such as banks and turnpike companies, have issued their own currency (usually backed up by dividend-paying stock in the bank or company itself) to pay their workers for use in their regional communities. The practice continues to the present time. For example: banks issue paper currency in the form of personal checks, which are accepted by businesses in the community, under the assumption that the checks are backed up by funds deposited into the bank by the check user. A turnpike company would issue their own paper money, commonly known as scrip to its workers, who could then use it to pay for goods in community businesses, under the assumption that it was backed up by equity in the turnpike company, and/or eventually, in the proceeds that would be collected from users of the turnpike.

  The image above is of a turnpike dollar, variously called a note or scrip, issued by the Chambersburg and Bedford Turnpike Road Company in the year 1818. In the late 1700s and early 1800s, the south central region of Pennsylvania was growing in population. Following the end of the American Revolutionary War, there was widespread migration of families westward, and roads were being constructed throughout the region to accommodate that westward movement. Turnpike companies sprang up to construct roads between the various towns dotting the region. They would usually disassemble once the road was built, except for the collection of tolls from travelers using the roads.

  This particular piece was issued for the value of five dollars. It was specifically issued to a man by the name of J. Noble. The note could be used by Mr. Noble to purchase five dollars worth of whatever commodity he desired, and the businessman whom he paid with this note could either use the note to pay some other person, or cash it in to the turnpike company.

  One additional item of interest that I found in this note was that it was signed by the Chambersburg and Bedford Turnpike Road Company's president, Jonathan Dickey. Jonathan Dickey married Elizabeth Smith, a granddaughter of my paternal ancestor, Jacob Schmitt, Sr. (Jonathan Dickey was one of my great-great-great-great-uncles.)