Ipswich Price Act 1777

The Price Act, passed at Ipswich, February 1777

During the Revolution, with no national treasury or power to levy taxes, the Continental Congress and former colonies undertook to bankroll the war by the issuance of paper money, which quickly resulted in market place chaos.. The newly created “Continental” fell in value, and to keep prices from spiraling out of control, a meeting of delegates from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut held at Providence in December, 1776, and a schedule of prices was created with recommendation for its adoption by the states.

In Ipswich on February 10, 1777, the Selectmen and the Committee of Correspondence and Safety, acting under the authority of the General Court, issued a schedule of prices covering all articles of food, clothing, wages of labor of every kind, entertainment at hotels, shipping rates etc.

Ipswich Price Act
Click on the image then zoom in to view the Ipswich Price Act in high resolution at Digital Commonwealth

In April, the Committee appointed to draft a vote relative to the Act of General Court to Prevent Monopoly and Oppression reported that “Some persons from an inimical Disposition to the Glorious Cause are doing their best to prevent the regulation of prices from being carried out.”

The citizens of Ipswich at a Town meeting on April 14, 1777 unanimously adopted a resolution that “The Inhabitants of this Town will not only strictly adhere to & observe the aforesaid act but also use our utmost endeavors to detect and bring to punishment those unfriendly selfish persons who at this important crisis shall have the effrontery to counteract the good wholesome laws of this State.”

The Selectmen were instructed not to approbate any innholder or retailer who did not strictly adhere to the regulating Act. A Committee of seven persons was chosen on June 9 to prosecute all persons guilty of any breach of the Act, and the Town’s Representatives were instructed to oppose the repeal of the Act.

In August 1779, a Committee was chosen to meet with Committees of other towns to consider proposals for new regulations respecting the high prices of several articles of consumption. In October, John Baker and Stephen Choate were the Ipswich delegates to a convention which met in Concord to regulate prices. A month later, a Town Committee was chosen to regulate the prices of innholders, mechanics’ wages etc. according to the recommendations of the Convention.

Th economy of Massachusetts was more stable than colonies where price-fixing laws were generally disregarded. The economic chaos subsided after the war with establishment of credit by the new country, and creation of a stable Colonial currency.

Ipswich Price Act
Bottom right corner of the Ipswich Price List


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