John Alden’s Inventory

I did an interesting “art project” or “history project” with my seventh grade, working in concert with our fifth and second grades. We assembled a little museum exhibit of things borrowed from around school and from parents of all the objects listed in the inventory of  Mr. John Alden, Mayflower passenger and Plimouth colonist.

We didn’t manage to get the sheep, cattle, or horses… and we lacked a saddle, and some of the tools (what does a mortising adze look like?), but we did create a pretty good little exhibit.  The kids are going to see it later this morning, but I felt like sharing a picture…

A miniature exhibit of the things John Alden owned at his death
John Alden's inventory

The Inventory of John Alden, died 1689

John Alden was one of the Pilgrims who came to America on the Mayflower.  He married a woman named Priscilla Mullins in Plymouth, and together they had ten children.  He was the last of the Mayflower men to die, but he didn’t own very much when he died — his estate was worth £ 50 — about $10,000 in today’s money.

John Alden’s family may have been poor, but some of his descendants became important in America — Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams, actors Orson Welles and Marilyn Monroe, and poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

L s d
Herd of Cattle, Sheep, pigs & one horse 13
one Table, one formal chest, one carpet, one cupboard and cupboard cloth (cover) 15
2 Wooden Chairs 3
2 bedsteads, 2 Chests & 5 boxes 15
Andirons, pot hooks, and hangers 8 6
2 cooking pots, Tongs one quart kettle 10
brassware: candlesticks 1 11
1 adze and 3 saws 8 6
Augur and 3 Chisels 5
wedges and cooper’s drawknife 1 7
Carpenter’s tools 1 6
12 Cart bolts (large iron bolts) 13
dripping pan & gridirons 5
pewter dishes and bowls 

old Iron bowls

1 15
2 old guns 11
Table linen & other linen 1 12
bedding 5 12
one Spit & various bags 2s 3 6
one mortising axe 1
marking Iron 

a case of plates with other things

7
Wooden ox-yoke and washtub 2 6
one gown and a bit of linen cloth 7
one horse bridle & Saddle gear, 

Cash and wearing Clothes

18 9
other old lumber 15

CONVERTING TO MODERN MATERIALS

In the list on the other side of this page, 1 L, or £ 1, is worth about $200.  There were 12 shillings (s) to the pound ( £ ), and 20 pennies (d) to the shilling (or 240 pennies to the pound).

For our purposes, this means that 1 shilling is about $16.00 of value, and a penny of John Alden’s money is worth about ninety cents — so the items listed for six pennies in the inventory cost about $5.00 apiece.

THE INVENTORY

When a man in the Plymouth Colony died, his friends and relatives put together a list of his property and possessions.  It was the custom that when a woman died, her property passed to her husband if she was married, or her father or brother if she was not.

9 comments

    • He almost certainly did own a horse, a house and land. Why they aren’t listed in the inventory is a question of some debate. There’s some issues about what he owned. There’s a lot of legal records about Alden transferring land and goods and interests in mines or timberland to sons and other relatives. Apparently estate taxes were already an issue, and Alden wanted to avoid paying them. So what he owned at his death is really only what he had in retirement. And it may be that his land and house was already transferred, but in documents that don’t survive.

      Alden himself, it must be remembered, probably was born about the same time that Shakespeare died. So this is a way of linking the Northern Renaissance to American colonization, as well.

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