Leesburg, VA’s Dog Money
While in transit from my old home in Ohio to my new home in North Carolina, I had an occasion to visit Leesburg, VA, where I lived for eight years prior to moving to Ohio. My old neighbors and I gathered at an eatery called Dog Money. I knew from my time in the town that Leesburg has a long and rich history and played a pivotal role in the Civil War. But dog money? I had a lot to learn.
At the start of the Civil War, Leesburg was a prosperous southern town, located two miles south of the Potomac River.
Because of its strategic location, it became a coveted spot for both the Confederate and the Union forces. During the four years of the war, Leesburg changed hands about 150 times. Since each changeover brought in different types of money, it was virtually impossible to conduct business. The townspeople needed a solution, so Leesburg decided to issue its own municipal currency.
First made available in May, 1861, this money was in small denominations. Martin C. Casey was responsible for the design of the notes. He was given $50 to cover the design and the plate for engraving, which took place in Baltimore. The money also covered his travel expenses. Each bill had a portrait of George Washington on the left side. In the center was a large American water spaniel dog in front of a chest with a key under his left paw. On the right side was Lady Justice with the scales but not blindfolded. “Dog Money” was the unofficial name given to this currency. Under these embellishments was a serial number and wording to the effect that the town of Leesburg promised to pay the bearer upon presentation to the Mayor’s office. The initial printing was for $18,500, in notes of $1, 50 cents, 25 cents and 12-1/2 cents. By the end of the war, the total amount of dog money in distribution was $93,500.
If one were to get technical about it, this money was in fact, illegal. There was an act to authorize towns in Virginia to issue their own money, but it wasn’t passed until a year after Leesburg issued its first dog money. At the time, Virginia had just seceded from the United States and had not yet joined the Confederacy, so it was not in violation of any constitutional amendments. Even after the state officially became part of the Confederacy, dog money continued. The Confederacy had bigger fish to fry than to worry about some dog money in a town so close to the north.
The money received in exchange for the notes was held by the town in the form of county and Confederate bonds. Leesburg’s dog money was well received and in high demand. It proved to be a successful stop-gap measure to allow the townspeople to carry on business as usual despite the turbulence of the times.
As the war carried on and the south continued to lose ground, the Confederate bonds became worth less and less, causing the value of dog money to lose its value. Dog money notes were relegated to musty attics. Such is not the case today, though. In the 1960s, these notes could be purchased for up to $5 a piece. Alas, the only place they can be found today is in a museum or a private collection. Leesburg’s Loudoun museum has several dog money notes on display.
Becky Lower writes mostly American historical romances, but occasionally crosses the pond to Regency England. In addition to History Imagined, she has a weekly blog at http://beckylowerauthor.blogspot.com.
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