- Historic Sites
John Smith’s Bill: Then & Now
November 1989 | Volume 40, Issue 7
To meet these needs, I found: a Newcor twenty-piece stoneware dinnerware for four at $24.94; twenty pieces of Oneida flatware for four at $12.96; a package of four skewers for 94 cents; a three-piece set of wooden spoons for 97 cents (and I decided we’d need two sets); a spatula from Great Cooks at $1.48; a large (16 by 22 inches) “hardrock” maple cutting board/pastry board for $9.97 that could do double duty as a platter; and a set of five knives—8-inch slicer, 7-inch butcher, 6-inch boner, 4-inch parer, and 3¼ inch paring knife—for $11.98. I decided to include a coffeepot ($6.96) and four cups ($3.84), all of cheap metal. Taken together, these items totaled $75.01. [$75]
Total for household implements £1 8s. [$154]
÷6 = 4s. 8d. [$26]
Grand total £12 4s. 2d. [$3,181]
12s. 6d. [$51] How much should that be? I consulted Carl Bridenbaugh’s excellent book Vexed and Troubled Englishmen, 1590-1642 (New York, 1976, p. 5), which had the following advice: “Each passenger was usually allowed to take five pounds of provisions, such as salted beef, pork, and fish; also butter, cheese, pease, water-gruel, ‘Biskets, and six-shilling Beere.’ [William] Wood [ in New Englands Prospect (London, 1634)] urged them to take some conserves, good wine to burn, and ‘Sallet-oyl’ in addition—all for seasickness—and for relief from the salt diet, sugar, eggs, bacon, rice, some poultry, and a wether sheep. Most important was lemon juice to cure or prevent scurvy.”
With this weight limit, I wondered about how much money to spend. Only three of the food items (aqua vitae, oil, and vinegar) were available in comparable quantities so as to judge prices. Since the amount of aqua vitae, oil, and vinegar that Smith called for would have cost him 96 pence, or $32.81 in today’s dollars, I arrived at the conclusion that 1 penny of 1624 was about the same as 34 cents in today’s money ($32.81 divided by 96). Thus 12s. 6d. equaled 150 pence, and I had $51 to spend on these food items (150 times .34). In this case, rather than the cost being restrictive, the 5pound allowance would be limiting, but I decided to get as close as I could, remembering that for six people I could get 30 pounds (480 ounces).
For this shopping I went to Dillon grocery store. I bought Armour bacon ($2 for two 1-pound packages), Armour Spam (two 12-ounce tins for $3.58), Lipton chicken noodle dry soup mix (2 packages, each with two envelopes and weighing 4.5 ounces, for $1.98), Best Choice butter (1 pound, $2.29), Kraft sharp cheddar cheese ($5.97 for 24 ounces), a dozen large Grade A white eggs (89 cents for a carton weighing 28 ounces), Kraft orange marmalade (18-ounce jar for $1.45), ReaLemon lemon juice ($1.33 for 16 fluid ounces), Sun-Maid raisins (15-ounce package for $1.59), raw Trail Mix (consisting of raisins, peanuts, almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds, dates, and coconuts—6 ounces for $1.12), dried banana chips (5 ounces for 93 cents), Creamette vermicelli ($1.09 for a 1-pound box), Pillsbury Country biscuits (four tubes, each with ten biscuits, 99 cents and a total of 30 ounces), Riceland white rice (2 pounds for $1.26), Best Choice Great Northern beans (2-pound bag for $1.19), C & H Superfine sugar (89 cents for 1 pound), Meister Brau beer (carton of a dozen 12-ounce cans, $3.69), Maxwell House French Roast coffee ($3.09 for 12 ounces), and cans of McCormick spices, including ground cinnamon (1 ounce for $1.09), ground black pepper (2 ounces for $1.23), ground cloves ($2.23 for .9 ounce), and ground nutmeg ($1.85 for 1.1 ounces).
The total weight came to 480 ounces exactly. The price for all that food was $41.73, about four-fifths of my allowance, so 1 added one more package of beans ($1.19 for 2 pounds), Budget egg noodles (a pound for $1.05), kielbasa (16 ounces for $2.75), a bottle of K.C. Masterpiece barbecue sauce (original flavor, 19-ounce jar for $1.50), another bottle of ReaLemon juice (more scurvy remedy—$1.33 for 16 fluid ounces), one more pound of Armour bacon ($1), and 2.4 more ounces of raw Trail Mix (45 cents), all of which brought the total to the exact amount required. In weight, however, 1 ballooned to 597 ounces, or about 6¼ pounds of on board provisions per person, a situation I suspect Smith would have permitted. Just how long these would have lasted on the voyage over is questionable, and certainly I would have to rely on my hunting prowess and the Indians for food in America, as did the settlers in Virginia.
In addition, remember that the voyage itself took about five weeks to several months to accomplish. The first expedition of the Susan Constant, Godspeed , and Discovery departed London on December 19, 1606, dropped down the Thames to the sea, and spent six weeks there waiting for favorable winds, all the while consuming precious food stocks. Finally the winds changed, and then the ships began the long journey to the Canary Islands, across the Atlantic to the West Indies, and up the coast past Florida to the Chesapeake. They made landfall at the future site of James Town on May 13, 1607, after a trip that took in all about twenty-one weeks. Look again at that food supply and imagine an impecunious landlubber, seasick and terrified, rationing his meager provisions and hoping for a quick end to the ordeal. Total per man for sugar, spice, and fruit 2s. Id. [$9]