A bead made from the clam, conch, and similar shells, and used in for- mer times by the North American Indians as money. The aborigines called it Sewan, which name was copied by the Dutch colon- ists, and written Seawant and Zewant. The French settlers named it Poreelaine, and the English traders usually referred in it by the name of Wampum.
In 1627 Isaac de Rasieres sailed from New Amsterdam on a trading expedition to the British colony at New Plymouth. Massachusetts, and among other merchan- dise he had fifty pounds of Wampum, which was accepted with great reluctance by the New Englanders ; nevertheless it soon must have become a standard circu- lating medium of exchange, as in 1637 it was ordered that throughout New England Wampum should pass at " six a-penny " for any sum less than twelve Pence. Three years later, on October 7. 1640, a proclama- tion was issued that white Wampum should pass at " four a-penny " and blue at " two a-penny." also that not more than twelve Pence in value should be tendered at one time, unless the receiver desired more.
In the following year the Council of New Amsterdam promulgated an ordi- nance to the effect that all coarse Wam- pum should pass at six for a Stuiver, and well polished beads should be valued at four for a Stuiver.
Wampum is referred to in Roger Wil- liams' treatise entitled A Key into the Language of America , published in Lon- don in 1643, as follows (cap. xxvi.) :
" Their white [money] they call Wom- pam, which signifies white; their blacke Suckauhock, Sucki signifying blacke. Both amongst themselves, as also the English and Dutch, the blacke peny is two pence white."
On May 22, 1661, the law authorizing the use of Wampum as legal tender in New England was repealed, and gradually the coinage of silver drove it out of circu- lation. See Roanoake.
Source: Frey's Dictionary (American Journal of Numismatics, Vol. 50, 1916)