John Smith’s Bill: Then & Now


A trip to Consumers Market gave me prices for these items, but I was able to get only small packaged amounts and had to calculate the approximate value of the quantity Smith called for. This would include:

8 bushels of meal. £2.

In today’s language Smith was calling for wheat flour. The equivalent of 8 bushels is 256 pounds. I could get a 5-pound paper bag of Gold Medal flour for 99 cents at my local store. I needed a little more than 51 of those bags at a cost of $50.49. [$51]

The armor Smith called for has an equivalent in the bulletproof vest. According to my local police department, an “everyday, walk-outon-the-street type” vest costs $350.


2 bushels of peas. 6s.

For a 17 ounce can of Del Monte sweet peas I would pay 66 cents. Two bushels translates into 120 pounds, or not quite 113 of these cans: $74.58. [$75]

2 bushels of oatmeal. 9s.

The equal of 68 pounds, that much oatmeal would require about 26 cartons of Old Fashioned Quaker Oats in the 42-ounce carton at $2.39 each and cost $62.14. [$62]

1 gallon of aqua vitae. 2s. 6d.

Evans Liquor Store had grain alcohol by McCormick at $24.83 a gallon. [$25]

1 gallon of oil. 3s. 6d.

A gallon of Food Club brand vegetable oil cost $5.69 in a plastic jug. [$6]

2 gallons of vinegar. 2s.

The store priced a gallon of Food Club cider vinegar at $2.29 [$5]

Total cost of victuals £3 3s. [$225]

Grand total £7 9s. Od. [$1,745]


Arms for a man, but if half your men be armed it is well, so all have swords and pieces. 


1 armor complete, light. 17s.

Although armor, light or heavy, did not long survive Smith’s day, what he called for had an equivalent, 1 decided, in the bulletproof vest and protective helmet worn by police officers. According to the Pittsburg Police Department, an “everyday, walk-out-on-the-streettype” vest able to withstand gunshots less than .45 caliber would cost $350. A police helmet fitted to the individual would require an additional $110, plus $35 for the face shield. [$495]

1 long piece five feet and a half, near musket bore. £1 2s.

Both Wal-Mart and John’s Sports Center told me I could rely on paying between $300 and $400 for a good, contemporary hunting rifle. [$350]

1 sword. 5s.

Although I found advertisements for U.S. Army surplus bayonets and Chilean police swords, I doubted they were what Smith had in mind. Also available from several sources were reproductions of Scottish broadswords, battle-axes, and even a Roman gladius, but I suspected these were hang-on-the-wall models rather than military hardware. Both Wal-Mart and John’s Sports Center displayed a Taiwanese machete for $4.96. I decided to go for the Oriental slasher, despite the fact that my Scottish ancestors whispered unkind things in my ear about the selection. Doubtless Smith expected the sword’s use in fighting the natives, but few today would choose swordplay over firepower from that hunting rifle. Since funds would be limited, I opted for what I thought would do me the most good, not what would add swash to my buckle. [$5]

1 belt. 1s.

I found two different types of leather belts for outdoorsmen at John’s, one for ammunition, costing $17.95, and the other, for general purposes, priced at $20. The latter appeared more useful and of better quality. [$20]

1 bandolier. 1s. 6d.

An old Banana Republic catalogue listed a “Swedish bandolier” of leather and canvas for only $24, but I decided instead to get an internal-frame backpack (18 ½ by 11 by 6 inches, from American Camper, for $19.96) as more versatile and roomy. [$20]

20 pound of powder. 18s.