When the first Europeans began to settle in America during the 1500s, there was little use for coins. Where would you spend them in a complete wilderness? Coins meant nothing to the native people, yet the Europeans found that they needed to trade with them in order to survive, particularly during winter. The colonists soon adopted the native practice of exchanging wampum (small clamshells fashioned into beads) for food, animal skins and other necessities. Another highly prized commodity, especially in Europe, was a plant native to America called tobacco. Both items were so commonly exchanged that the English colonies of the Atlantic coast actually passed laws regulating their values by weight or by count.