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Monday, November 24, 2008

Beantown banking

My Research magazine article on Boston's financial history is now online. Excerpt:

The need for a real bank in Boston had been evident for a while. Back in the 1760s, a merchant named Nathaniel Wainwright had acted in effect as banker for shopkeepers and others in the city. He accepted deposits and issued interest-bearing personal notes, which circulated like currency. Unfortunately, he went bankrupt in 1765, causing a panic.

The Bank of Massachusetts, also known simply as the Massachusetts Bank, financed the first U.S. trade mission to China , in 1786, and five years later funded the first U.S. voyage to Argentina . It was renamed the Massachusetts National Bank in 1864, and in 1903 merged with First National Bank of Boston to become the Bank of Boston, which merged with BayBank in 1996 to become BankBoston, which was acquired three years later by Fleet Bank, which in 2005 was merged into Bank of America.

And thus Bank of America can now trace part of its ancestry back to the 1780s, and the institution holds some historic documents to prove it (which have been displayed in recent years at its Charlotte headquarters). These include ledgers containing the accounts of, among others, Hancock, Sam Adams and Paul Revere, and a 1784 register of the bank’s original 105 shareholders, of whom, incidentally, 15 were women.

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