Colonial Coins by Type | U.S. Coins by Denomination

Obverse of 1796 Castorland - Silver Original     Reverse of 1796 Castorland - Silver Original

Images courtesy of David Akers Numismatics

Significant examples:
In the February 2005 issue of NUMISMATIST (page 63), William Anton offered a 1796 Brass Castorland Half Dollar for $245,000.00, describing it as follows: "Unique, struck in brass and probably the finest Castorland struck.  Gem Proof.  Ex. J.H.U."

PCGS MS-64.  Ex - Paul Arthur Norris (purchased privately) - Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles, Inc.'s "Pre-Long Beach Sale", September 23 & 24, 2002, Lot 89, illustrated, where it was described as follows: "Original unbroken die. PCGS graded MS-64. A rare original example of this medal, that approaches gem! The surfaces display a delicate pinkish hue over silvery gray tones atop the mirror fields. Boldly struck on both sides, without any signs of weakness on the high points of the devices. These were struck at the Paris Mint, and were made to circulate in the new French colony being formed in upper New York, along the Beaver River. As the political climate changed dramatically with the French Revolution in 1792, those who had been in power or sympathetic to the Royals feared for their safety. The Reign of Terror began, and many aristocrats were hung or jailed. Those that could moved away, and some signed on to move to the new French American colony.
The legend FRANCO AMERICANA COLONIA translates to "French American Colony", with the central head device that depicts a women with a veil, and an unusual crown which appears like the crenelated tower from a castle. The French word "Castor", translates to "beaver", hence the colony became known as Castorland. Hence, the beaver motif on the bottom of the reverse, with the maple tree above, next to which stands the Goddess Ceres, patroness of agriculture, with a drill in one hand (to free the maple sap from the tree), and the open tap in the tree below, with the sap flowing freely, and a cornucopia in the other hand symbolizing the hoped for success in agriculture from the new colony. The Latin motto SALVE MAGNA PARENS FRUGUM, means "Hail, great mother of crops" (Breen), and is from Virgil's Georgics.
Epidemics and severe winters plagued those hearty souls in the first years of the new colony, and in short order most of the original inhabitants of Beavertown had either died or moved away, and within a few more years nothing remained of the colony except the original name. Most of the coins that arrived with the colonists were well circulated during these times, and few are found in mint condition, as we see here.
The Paris Mint retained the original dies, and continued to make more of these to order, but the reverse die cracked fairly early in the process, and subsequent strikes show a die crack. Further, the restrikes were of lighter weight, and can be easily distinguished from these originals. PCGS has graded a total of 15 of these in all grades of the originals, this one is tied for the finest with 2 others. Certainly an important coin for the colonial specialist, as many of these did circulate in America near their time of issue having been brought over with a few asylum seekers from post revolutionary France."

Recent appearances:
AU (illustrated above).  Ex - James's Kelly's 1949 CSNS sale, Lot 776, sold for $9.00, "Proof" - David Akers Numismatics, Inc. sale of the John Jay Pittman collection, October 21-23, 1997, Lot 119, plated, "Almost Uncirculated"

PCGS EF-45.  Superior Stamp & Coin's "The ANA 2000 National Money Show Auction", March 2-3, 2000, Lot 40, plated, "Original Strike with Reeded Edge"
  

  
THE 1796 CASTORLAND "JETONS"

by Ron Guth and Mike Ringo

INTRODUCTION

The Castorland jeton belongs to that curious group of American Colonial issues which consists of coins or medals used in America during the Colonial era; but which, in fact, were not struck on native soil.  Included in this group are the London Elephant tokens (struck in England), the William Wood series of Rosa Americana (struck in England), and Hibernia pieces (originally intended for circulation in Ireland), the Maryland coinages (struck in England), the Saint Patrick or Mark Newby coinages (believed to have been struck in England), the French Colonies copper and billon coinages (struck in France), many of the Washington issues (most were struck in England), and others.  None of these issues has ever enjoyed the tremendous favor of collectors as have the so-called legitimate "state coinages" of Vermont, Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts, etc.  Nonetheless, because they were actually used by American colonists, they continue to be listed in standard catalogues, and it is doubtful if the wishes of the "purists" will prevail against traditional listings.  

The Castorland jeton holds a curious position in this group of "un-American" coins in that it has been extensively restruck in various metals from original and copy dies, resulting in confusion over whether a given coin is an original or a restrike.  Understandably, collectors have ignored the true potential of this series.  Therefore, the purpose of this article is to clear up some of the misconceptions concerning the Castorland jeton, to identify various dies, and to offer a systematic means of collecting the various die and metal combinations.

THE HISTORY OF THE CASTORLAND SETTLEMENT 

The following account of the Castorland Settlement is reprinted with the kind permission of the American Numismatic Association.  The original article, authored by Victor Morin, appeared in the October, 1942 issue of  THE NUMISMATIST:

At the beginning of the bloody days of the French Revolution, a group of citizens wished to find shelter by founding a colony in an alien land.  The new republic of the United States seemed to offer an ideal refuge, and, to that end, Pierre Chassanis, citizen of France, on August 31, 1792, purchased from William Constable, acres of land in the northwestern part of the State of New York, between the Black River, and the forty-fourth degree of latitude, in the region where the towns of Greig, Brantingham, Lowville, Castorland, Carthage, Great Bend, Black River and Watertown, in the counties of Lewis and Jefferson are situated today.  The purchase was made for fifty-two thousand sterling, by an agreement signed before Master Rene Lambot, notary at Paris, the money to pass to the seller on presentation of a certificate of valid title to the French Consul at Philadelphia. 

In the following month of October a prospectus was issued to those who would be interested, dividing the six hundred thousand acres in six thousand lots of one hundred acres each, at a price of $152.28 a lot, fifty acres to be paid for immediately and fifty at the end of seven years.

The subscription having reached nearly a third of the capital  offered, a meeting of forty-one leading subscribers to eighteen hundred and eight portions took place at the home of Chassanis, No 20 rue de Jussienne, in Paris, June 28, 1793, and the constitution of the society was adopted under the name of the "Company of New York," with a seal representing a maple tree nibbled by a beaver and the word "Castorland", in exergue.

It was stated in the constitution that two hundred thousand acres of the land acquired by Pierre Chassanis in New York State on the borders of Lake Ontario and the Black River were retained by him for the account of the company thus formed, of which the duration was fixed at twenty-one years from the first of July 1793.  The management was given to Chassanis for the whole term and to four trustees living in Paris and eligible for election every three years, meanwhile the administration of the property was delegated to two other trustees in America who were obligated to give a bond of forty thousands livres for fidelity in the exercise of their duties.

The four trustees associated with the director at Paris, were the citizens Guyot, Mailot, Guinot, and La Chaume and the two assigned to the colony were Pierre Pharoux and Simon Desjardins; the first were not entitled to any salary but were to receive two " tokens of presence," of the weight of four to five gros in silver (about fifty cents) for each meeting they served, while those in America had the right to an annual indemnity of six hundred dollars to compensate for the expenses of a change of residence and installation there, besides a commission of the profits if their work gave satisfaction.

Pharoux and Desjardins embarked at Havre on the following eighth of July, on board the American ship "Liberty", of one hundred and eighty tons capable of accommodating a dozen passengers, but there were forty really, most of whom were returning to Cuba by way of New York.  Many of them formed family groups which were quite picturesque.  After many visits of the national guard at the moment of departure, the encounter with pirates near the heights of Bordeaux, near the  Bermudas, and even in the Bay of New York, the attempt at suicide by a lady of Palais-Royal who was numbered among the passengers, and many other incidents related by Desjardins in his diary, they landed on the seventh of September, 1793.

The trustees departed immediately for their destination by way of the Hudson and Mohawk rivers without knowing exactly where they would find the territory which was the object of their journey...part of which was between the Black River and the forty-fourth degree of latitude.  But they had the good fortune to meet at Albany one of their compatriots, Marc Isambart Brunel, a famous engineer (and, at the time, a political exile) who greeted them most cordially and was of much assistance.

Having engaged four woodland guides, procured by a Canadian named Baptiste, they left Albany on the twenty-seventh of September in a boat under the guidance of a German called Simon, with baggage that consisted of tents, provisions, arms, and surveying instruments, rowed up to the Mohawk river to Fort Stanwix, descended, through Wood Creek and Fish Creek, to the Oswego River, then to the Stoney River, then to Hungry Bay, and reached the mouth of the Black River on the 20th of October.

As the season was advanced , they did not wish to run the risk of having to spend the winter under a tent in that place, and so they decided to return to Albany after having taken note of the geographical situation , and the topography and geology of their territory.  They crossed Oneida Lake and arrived at New-Rotterdam where Mr. Van der Kemp regaled them with a banquet of bear meat which they found "delicious even though somewhat unsavory," and Colonel Wisher had them dine with him at Schoharie, excusing himself for wearing his hat at the table " because he had been scalped by the Indians".

It was necessary , meanwhile, to look after the title to the property.  Pharoux and Brunel went as soon as possible to Philadelphia on this account.  They were not received very cordially by the Secretary of the Treasury and with even less courtesy by the Secretary of State.  " Mr. Jefferson, " so says the diary, " did not even ask us to be seated, and when we told him that very large numbers of out countrymen intended to seek refuge in America, he made a very significant grimace."

On their return to Albany, Desjardins and Pharoux asked the Legislature of New York State to recognize the title of Pierce Chassanis, director of their society and chief owner of two hundred thousand acres, in view of the fact that the political situation in France prevented his coming to the country, and they demanded the same privilege for those who intended to remain there permanently.  That authorization was accorded the petitioners by the law of March 27, 1794, but refused to their representative because he was an alien.

The returned to Castorland on the thirteenth of May, passing the home of Baron Steuban who received them very cordially, and on the fifteenth of June they commenced to build a log house and various other works incident to residence.  But the question of title ownership was not regulated , and Desjardins was compelled to return hastily to New York on this account.  During his absence, the little colony was decimated by a malignant sickness which forced those remaining to return to Albany, which they reached after having endured a hard journey.

The courage of the colonists was, nevertheless, superior to suffering.  They started back to Castorland on the first of June 1795, and, reaching it on the twentieth of the same month, they built a mill, a forge, a canal , and other works during the course of the summer, but still greater misfortune to test their strength fell on them soon.  Pharoux crossing the river, with seven companions, for the purpose of surveying land, on the twenty-first of September was whirled on the raft  into Long Falls. He was drowned, with two other men, and all their geodetical instruments, clothes, and provisions vanished into the water.  Sickness broke out anew in the colony, and snow commenced to fall on the seventeenth of October and at the same time provisions were exhausted.  Desjardins decided to return to Albany with his fellow workers and leave the colony to the care of Mr. Robinson and  Canadian family for the winter.

In the following spring (1796) Desjardins retraced his way to Castorland with other colonists , but found that a large number of domestic animals had died of hunger during the winter while others were lost in the woods.  These reverses, meanwhile, did not daunt his courage.  "Accustomed to disappointment in all we undertake," he said," I am concerned solely with the remedy."  For to increase the bad luck, a stranger whom whom he had hired for temporary work, stole the money of the company on the night of June twenty-eighth, escaping in a canoe with six hundred dollars in silver and bank notes, besides important papers contained in a small trunk.  The thief was pursued, caught and arrested, but Desjardins was the most surprised man in the world to see , at the finish of the examination, the accused enter the tavern with the constable who guarded him, and chat familiarly with the magistrate who was to render sentence.

The summer was devoted to the preparation of a map of the territory of the colony which was forwarded to the society's headquarters in France.  Without taking into account some irregularities in the land, the trustees at Paris laid out lots, also the streets which passed at times through marshes and under impassible precipices, but as the instructions were peremptory, the colonists had to conform to them.

But this was not all.  At the end of September a new leader, by the name of Rudolph Tillier, "member of the supreme council of Berne," arrived on the property to carry on the duties in place of Desjardins.  His salary, which was six hundred dollars yearly, began the first of July, 1796, and he was given a commission on the lots he sold , and , also, the right to pass four months of the winter in New York for personal affairs.

He was a intriguer who had succeeded in imposing himself on the company through the influence of Swiss financiers who had loaned money on the real estate, and Chassanis, the director , discouraged by the bad results of the enterprise, clung to him as a savior who would retrieve the losses.  Tillier brought with him, probably, the coins of Castorland of which we have spoken at the beginning of this article, and intended to distribute them when he took charge of the property.  Chagrined beyond measure, Desjardins turned over to his successor the papers and other goods of the colony to which he had given the best part of his life, and on the second of November he left  Castorland "with the presentiment," he said, " that he would never return."

Tillier, who had expected to accomplish wonderful things, real marvels, was no more fortunate than his predecessors.  He sought, but without any more success, to obtain from the Legislature of New York, the ratification of the titles of Chassanis.  With very heavy expense for agricultural tools and implements, animals and provisions, he established twenty Parisian families on the banks of the river Castor where they knew all the privations and sufferings of pioneers in the virgin forest.  It was an enterprise destined for inevitable failure.

The integrity, too, of Tillier's administration seems to have been questioned, for, about two years after his arrival in America, Chassanis asked Gouverneur Morris, former Ambassador of the United States to France, whom he had known in Paris, to take control of the affairs of the company, examine Tillier's accounts of all new expenses.

In order to circumvent the impossibility of obtaining title to the property in his own name, Chassanis was authorized, by a meeting of the stockholders held on May 14, 1798, to have in transferred to his brother-in-law , Jacques Donatien Le Roy de Chaumont, who was an American citizen and whose father had entertained Benjamin Franklin during his sojourn in Paris.  Le Roy got in touch very soon with Morris to whom to whom he sent Father Pierre Joulin, cure of Chaumont, who had refused to take the constitutional oath of the French Republic and who seized with alacrity the chance to escape the guillotine.

But Tillier retaliated with audacity.  By a notification published in Albany newspapers, on the eighth of January 1800, he requested the public " not to put any trust in the envious reports of Gouverneur Morris, Pierre Joulin, or their agents; to wit, Richard Cone ( named to succeed Tillier), Jacob Brown ( land agent), Patrick Blade (constable of notary Lambot) or any other persons acting against himself in the name of the New York Company  or of Pierre Chassanis or Jacques Le Roy."  In the following month of October, he published a virulent pamphlet attacking Chassanis, to which the latter deemed it necessary to respond by a written justification that he addressed to the stockholders of the Company.  Morris instituted an action at law for an accounting and reclaiming of titles to land from Tillier, and Tillier countered with a demand for $22,493.92, which he offered subsequently to reduce to $2,000.00 payable in real estate.  He was last heard of in Louisiana.

Chassanis dies in Paris, on the 28th of November, 1803, and the lands of the New York Company were sold, little by little, to American colonists, who more inured to the kind of life and the climate of the country, made the territory prosper. The memory of the pioneers lived meanwhile in the names given to the localities in the region, such as Castorland, Le Roy, French River ( today the Oswegatchee) and Beaver Creek.  A native poet, Caleb Lyon, of Lyonsdale, has dedicated a poem to that courageous adventure.  He has alluded to the commemorative coin, of which we have spoken, in these lines:

"There was struck a classic medal by visionary band; Cybele was on the silver, and beneath was Castorland;  The reverse a tree of maple yielding forth its precious store, SALVE MAGNA PARENS FRUGUM was the legend that it bore."

The company was dissolved at the expiration of the term of twenty-one years, fixed for the duration of its operation, on July 1, 1814. It owed 561,766 livres to its Swiss creditors who acquired its assets at a public sale, on liquidation.  Le Roy took charge of the considerable interest , and directed affairs on the property, but he became bankrupt ten years later, and his son, Vincent took his place, with success.

Thus ended a bold enterprise, which was repeated, nevertheless, with the same results, in the colonization of Champ d'Asile, provoked by analogous events, the following year.


A DESCRIPTION OF THE CASTORLAND MEDAL 

The most eloquent description of the jeton was presented by W. Elliott Woodward in 1867.  " The head on the obverse is that of Cybele, personifying the earth as inhabited and cultivated; the wreath of laurel, the emblem of victory, signifies that the goddess conquers the wildness and ruggedness of nature, and brings earth under the dominion, and subservient to the uses of man.  The reverse represents Ceres, who holds in one hand a 'bit' , with which she has tapped a sugar-maple--in which a faucet , technically a spile, is inserted to draw off the sap; in her right arm she supports a cornucopia of flowers, and at her feet lies a sheaf of wheat; thus combining, in a single group, emblems of three seasons.  In the exergue appears a beaver.  The obverse inscription is FRANCO-AMERICANA COLONIA ( French-American Colony) with the name Castorland and date 1796; the reverse, SALVE MAGNA PARENS FRUGUM, a quotation from Virgil, may it be rendered  'Hail ! great parent of fruits."

MEDAL, HALF DOLLAR, OR?

The Castorland pieces are properly called "Jetons de presence" items.  This is the term used at the meeting of the New York Company ( La Compagnie de New York) on June 28, 1793 ordering their design and manufacture.  A "jeton de presence" is a piece "given in certain societies or companies to each of the members at a session or meeting."  In Morin 's history of the Castorland settlement, it has been shown that the pieces were to be the sole compensation for the four trustees associated with Chassanis in Paris.  Each of the trustees was to receive two of the jetons for each meeting they served.  It should be noted that the equivalent of the silver contained in two of the jetons was approximately one dollar.  While this might sound like a lot of piddling amount, one should realize that the wages for unskilled laborers in the United States during this period was roughly one dollar per day!

Some scholars maintain however, that the Castorland jetons were actually intended to be Half Dollars.  Several strong points are made in this direction.  First, most of the originals are struck in silver, representing an intended value.  Second, their size and weight closely approximates that of the United States Half Dollars of the same period (208 grains).  Third, the place is dated.  Fourth, the edge is reeded.  Most medal show plain edges, while precious metal coins struck for circulation are reeded on the edges to prevent clipping.  Fifth, the originals are struck on a coin axis, unlike the later restrikes and most medals (which are struck with a medallic alignment).  Sixth, virtually all of the original jetons are found in worn condition, indicating that they did, indeed, circulate.

The question then becomes, should the Castorland pieces be named for their intended use or their actual use?  In this case, we are absolutely correct in calling them jetons, as that is exactly what they were called by the issuing body.  We are not so correct  in calling them Half Dollars, as such a claim is based on circumstantial evidence and is unsupported by the written instruments of the issuing body.  Based on this knowledge, then, they must be called jetons.  Further, even if both of the above assumptions are accurate, the most correct term would be jeton once again. 

For the record, these pieces are most accurately termed Castorland Jetons.

ORIGINAL OR RESTRIKE?

Traditionally, Castorland Jetons have been classified as either originals or restrikes.              

TO BE CONTINUED.....         
   

Obverse of 1796 Castorland Jeton Restrike from Original Dies     Reverse of 1796 Castorland Jeton Restrike from Original Dies

Restrike in Copper from the Original Dies
Images courtesy of Ron Guth