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The York rating, named for the North American colony of New York, was a currency exchange established and used in the 18th century. When the United States declared independence from Britain and developed its own currency, the York rating began to shift out of favor. Along with the closely related Halifax rating, it was used in Canada into the 19th century. This historic currency rating played an important role in early European trade in New York.
Under the York rating, the value of one Spanish dollar was set at eight shillings, making each Spanish real worth a shilling, as the Spanish dollar contained eight reales. These “pieces of eight,” as they were known, were widely used in trade all over the world, with the Spanish dollar being a generally accepted piece of currency for numerous kinds of transactions. Setting up the York rating made it an officially accepted legal currency in New York, facilitating trade.
Trade across the colonies relied heavily on the Spanish dollar, as the colonies maintained trade with Spain, as well as with Spanish colonies. Merchants in places like New York and Boston provided salt beef and other supplies for Spanish colonies in the Caribbean and often received Spanish dollars in trade, along with sugarcane. Formalizing an exchange rate allowed the pound and the Spanish dollar to be used with equal ease.
The practice of accepting Spanish dollars in British colonies persisted in Canada among United Empire Loyalists, British subjects who chose to leave the United States for Canada during the Revolutionary War. Many trading communities in Canada accepted Spanish dollars, using the York rating as an exchange rate. These communities had access to trading goods like furs from beaver and other wild animals trapped in Canada and did business in gold, as well as other commodities, to build Canadian wealth and stability.
Historians are interested in the history of currencies and trade, as they can provide important insight into how communities were run. The existence and acceptance of the York rating is evidence for lively trade relations between Britain and Spain, as well as their colonies, and the British appetite for Spanish gold was a well documented phenomenon. In the 17th century, British monarchs even issued “letters of marque,” essentially formal permission slips for British buccaneers to seize ships laden with Spanish gold in the name of the British crown, receiving a cut of the proceeds as a fee.
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