Augst. 12. Fresh Provisions have been very scarce and high for some time past: Sheep selling at 6 or 8 Doll[ar]s: apiece, Ducks 2 Doll: a pair: Squabs 1 Dollar, Butter 1/4 doll:; Eggs 2 pistareens per doz: and other things in the like proportion.On 30 November, Cheever recorded a new set of prices, again because they were so high:
Provisions and Fuel have been extremely scarce and high for some Weeks past; Wood selling for £25 O.T. the Cord — Coal (Newcastle) £36 O.T. — Charcoal 50/ O. T. Sheep £3 sterl’g, Hogs at the rate of 1/6 sterl’g alive, Geese a Guinea per Pair; Fowls 5/ sterl’g a Piece, Cheese 1/ sterl’g lb, Butter 2/ sterl’g — every thing in like propor’n.Two items appear on both lists: sheep and butter. Cheever recorded the prices in different currencies, making the comparison a bit harder, but the standard ratio was one Spanish dollar to six British shillings. Thus, in August a sheep cost up to 48s., or £2.8s, while in November the “extremely…high” cost was £3.
Butter was apparently a quarter-dollar, or 18 pence, per pound in August. (Cheever didn’t record the unit, so I’m guessing.) It was two shillings, or 24 pence, per pound in November. Evidently between those months it became harder to obtain butter, but no harder—maybe even easier—to obtain sheep.
Cheever’s diary also offers some explanation why:
15 [August]. This afternoon arrived a number of Transports that went about a fortnight since after Provisions etc: which it is said have brought from Gardiner’s & Fisher’s Island 1900 Sheep, 101 head of Cattle, 70 Hogs, some Cheese, Butter, Eggs, and Wood. The Transports were man’d with Refugees, Sailors & about 100 Soldiers. . . .Cheever and his father didn’t buy any of that meat until the next month, however:
17. A quantity of Beef delivered out from the Market-house to the Inhabitants at 8d per lb.
Sept. 4. A Vessell or so now and then drops in with Cattle, etc: bought a quarter of one to day which will make the first fresh Provision in the family since my Mamma, etc., went out.Colonial Americans were used to seeing their food supply fluctuate over an annual cycle. Fresh vegetables were scarce in the winter, of course, but that season was the usual time to slaughter cows because the large carcasses lasted longer than in summer. The siege apparently disrupted the usual pattern inside Boston as the American army stopped food deliveries by land.
5th. Cattle, Sheep, Hogs, etc., which were brought from Quebeck and N. Scotia have been selling two days past: out of which my Father bought two Oxen.
The worst months for overall food supply, it appears, were in the middle of 1775. Word of the rebellion was just reaching London, so the government hadn’t had time to organize and send a resupply fleet. By autumn, cargo ships were arriving from Great Britain and other parts of the empire. In addition, as described in Cheever’s diary, the Royal Navy raided Long Island, New York, and elsewhere for livestock.
The British army was even able to seize some cattle from Cambridge, where the enemy had his headquarters:
Nov. 9. Several Companies were boated over to Phip’s Farm & brought off some Cattle at noon day under Cover of a Ship in the river, Cannon on Charlestown point, & their own Floats, etc; without any Loss.TOMORROW: Military justice.