John Smith’s Bill: Then & Now


Prowling around several aisles, I observed that what once we called a frying pan we now refer to as a sauté pan, probably because of recent health concerns. I did find a lidded “chicken fryer”—it must still be okay to fry chicken—for $14.97 and opted for that. [$15]

1 gridiron. 1s. 6d.

Since I had determined to purchase a barbecue grill instead of a spit, buying a separate grid on which to cook seemed an unnecessary duplication, so I skipped this item. [$0]

2 skillets. 5s.

Ten-inch ($5.47) and eight-inch ($3.68) nonstick skillets totaled $9.15. [$9]

1 spit. 2s.

No spits were available, but Wal-Mart did have a Weber Smokey Joe Grill for $21.96 that combined an adequate size of cooking area with portability. [$22]

Platters, dishes, spoons of wood. 4s.

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]

For sugar, spice, and fruit, and at sea for six men.

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 5-pound 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).