Wastebook B

Wastebook B is an old, rough book depicting daily, monetary activities along the Philadelphia waterfront. A wastebook was a daily diary documenting transactions, meant to be discarded once it was recopied into a more formal ledger. Wastebook B is on display as part of the Tides of Freedom: African Presence of the Delaware River exhibit. Portion of this book can be viewed by clicking the photo of Wastebook B (right). The remainder of the book will be up shortly.

  1. Background
  2. Colonial Accounting
  3. System of Money
  4. Understanding British Currency
  5. Totals of the Wastebook
  6. Glossary of Terms


Wastebook B, an accounting book, was donated to the Seaport Museum, the Philadelphia Maritime Museum, in 1971 as a gift of J. Welles Henderson, founder of the institution. The ledger dates from 1763 to 1764 and was purchased at auction with other historical maritime items. the original description for the item was:

"Waste/day book of unidentified Philadelphia merchant dealing in groceries, liquors, dry-goods and slaves, May 13, 1763 - July 2, 1764. Includes references to payments for French lessons for the merchant's daughter and for relief of the poor. The brigantine Mergery, ship Tyger and sloop Peggy are frequently mentioned."

The Wastebook's accession number is 1971.044.021.

Colonial Accounting

Accounting in colonial times is similar in some ways to modern accounting, but different in others. A counting house or merchant needed many books to maintain their company's inventories and accounts. The three major books of accounting were: the waste book, the day book and the ledger. A waste book and day book served as organizational tools and memory aids for the entry of information into the ledger. A waste book comprises a daily diary of all transactions in chronological order of a company. A day book comprises a diary of transactions of certain categories. There is only one wast book kept at a time, until its pages run out, while many day books are kept at once. Waste books were intended for temporary use only, since the information was then entered into the ledger to balance the accounts. The name of the waste book comes from the fact that it was unneeded after its contents were transferred to a ledger. Waste books were used by companies to ensure that their transactions were accurate since there were many transactions per day. Note: dr. in the wastebook can also stand for 'debited,' instead of delivered.

System of Money

In 1763 and 1764, the currency handled by the counting house would have been both Great Britain Sterling pounds, shillings and pence along with colonial currency printed in the colonies. The colonies always had a shortage of currency from England of which to conduct trade. So, many colonies printed 'Bills of Credit' as their own money, but with no way to regulate or standardize it, there was much confusion.

There was no standard value of common to all of the British colonies. British merchants disliked the colonial currency since it was complex and the fluctuations of the colonial economy. Thus, on September 1, 1764, Parliament passed the Currency Act which prohibited the colonial currency system. However, Wastebook B ends before the Currency Act was passed, which is why there are many exchange prices in the ledger, and why it is extremely hard to understand them.

Understanding British Currency

Money was divided into pounds (£), shillings (s. or /-) and pennies (d.). Here is the breakdown:

- 20 shillings in £ 1

- 12 pennies in 1 shilling

-240 pennies in £ 1

Pennies were then broken down into other coins, like a farthing 
(1/4 of a penny) and a halfpenny (1/2 of a penny). There were also other coins that were less than 1 shilling, but more than a penny. 
And, there were coins worth more than a shilling but less than £ 1. There were only two coins more than £ 1: a guinew (£ 1 and 1 shilling) and a £ 5 coin. A £ 1 coin was called a Sovereign and made of gold, while a paper point was called a quid.

Totals of the Wastebook


Named enslaved people: 2 (Cato and Corucuda)
Unnamed enslaved people mentioned: 268
Unnamed people sold: 235 at least (unknown multiples we counted as one)


Snow Polly

Schooner Carragon

Ship Elizabeth and Mary

Schooner Africa

Ship Delaware

Ship Sally

Sloop Polly

Brigantine Africa

Schooner Nelly

Glossary of Terms

Charles Town - Most likely Charleston, South Carolina

Chuck - Type of fabric

Cryer - Auctioneer

Ferrage - Ferrying

Merchandize - Goods bought and sold in business; commerical wares

Polacco - Unknown

Port Dolphin - Port on west coast of Africa

Sundry account - An account for miscellaneous items that are usually temporary, and which an appropriate avvount has not yet been established

Swelled - Pregnant

Tyall - Unknown place

Vendue - Public auction