A Journal of the Plague Year
Daniel Defoe

Part 2 out of 5

effectual secure step that could be taken for such whose
circumstances would not admit them to remove, or who had not
retreats abroad proper for the case; for in being thus shut up they were
as if they had been a hundred miles off. Nor do I remember that any
one of those families miscarried. Among these, several Dutch
merchants were particularly remarkable, who kept their houses like
little garrisons besieged suffering none to go in or out or come near
them, particularly one in a court in Throgmorton Street whose house
looked into Draper's Garden.

But I come back to the case of families infected and shut up by the
magistrates. The misery of those families is not to be expressed; and
it was generally in such houses that we heard the most dismal shrieks
and outcries of the poor people, terrified and even frighted to death by
the sight of the condition of their dearest relations, and by the terror of
being imprisoned as they were.

I remember, and while I am writing this story I think I hear the very
sound of it, a certain lady had an only daughter, a young maiden about
nineteen years old, and who was possessed of a very considerable
fortune. They were only lodgers in the house where they were. The
young woman, her mother, and the maid had been abroad on some
occasion, I do not remember what, for the house was not shut up; but
about two hours after they came home the young lady complained she
was not well; in a quarter of an hour more she vomited and had a
violent pain in her head. 'Pray God', says her mother, in a terrible
fright, 'my child has not the distemper!' The pain in her head
increasing, her mother ordered the bed to be warmed, and resolved to
put her to bed, and prepared to give her things to sweat, which was the
ordinary remedy to be taken when the first apprehensions of the
distemper began.

While the bed was airing the mother undressed the young woman,
and just as she was laid down in the bed, she, looking upon her body
with a candle, immediately discovered the fatal tokens on the inside
of her thighs. Her mother, not being able to contain herself, threw
down her candle and shrieked out in such a frightful manner that it
was enough to place horror upon the stoutest heart in the world; nor
was it one scream or one cry, but the fright having seized her spirits,
she -fainted first, then recovered, then ran all over the house, up the
stairs and down the stairs, like one distracted, and indeed really was
distracted, and continued screeching and crying out for several hours
void of all sense, or at least government of her senses, and, as I was
told, never came thoroughly to herself again. As to the young maiden,
she was a dead corpse from that moment, for the gangrene which
occasions the spots had spread [over] her whole body, and she died in
less than two hours. But still the mother continued crying out, not
knowing anything more of her child, several hours after she was dead.
It is so long ago that I am not certain, but I think the mother never
recovered, but died in two or three weeks after.

This was an extraordinary case, and I am therefore the more
particular in it, because I came so much to the knowledge of it; but
there were innumerable such-like cases, and it was seldom that the
weekly bill came in but there were two or three put in, 'frighted'; that
is, that may well be called frighted to death. But besides those who
were so frighted as to die upon the spot, there
were great numbers frighted to other extremes, some frighted out of
their senses, some out of their memory, and some out of their
understanding. But I return to the shutting up of houses.

As several people, I say, got out of their houses by stratagem after
they were shut UP, so others got out by bribing the watchmen, and
giving them money to let them go privately out in the night. I must
confess I thought it at that time the most innocent corruption or
bribery that any man could be guilty of, and therefore could not but
pity the poor men, and think it was hard when three of those
watchmen were publicly whipped through the streets for suffering
people to go out of houses shut up.

But notwithstanding that severity, money prevailed with the poor
men, and many families found means to make sallies out, and escape
that way after they had been shut up; but these were generally such as
had some places to retire to; and though there was no easy passing the
roads any whither after the 1st of August, yet there were many ways of
retreat, and particularly, as I hinted, some got tents and set them up in
the fields, carrying beds or straw to lie on, and provisions to eat, and
so lived in them as hermits in a cell, for nobody would venture to
come near them; and several stories were told of such, some comical,
some tragical, some who lived like wandering pilgrims in the deserts,
and escaped by making themselves exiles in such a manner as is
scarce to be credited, and who yet enjoyed more liberty than was to be
expected in such cases.

I have by me a story of two brothers and their kinsman, who being single men,
but that had stayed in the city too long to get away, and indeed not knowing
where to go to have any retreat, nor having wherewith to travel far,
took a course for their own preservation, which though in itself at
first desperate, yet was so natural that it may be wondered that no more
did so at that time. They were but of mean condition, and yet not so very
poor as that they could not furnish themselves with some little conveniences
such as might serve to keep life and soul together; and finding the distemper
increasing in a terrible manner, they resolved to shift as well as they could,
and to be gone.

One of them had been a soldier in the late wars, and before that in
the Low Countries, and having been bred to no particular employment
but his arms, and besides being wounded, and not able to work very hard,
had for some time been employed at a baker's of sea-biscuit in Wapping.

The brother of this man was a seaman too, but somehow or other
had been hurt of one leg, that he could not go to sea, but had worked
for his living at a sailmaker's in Wapping, or thereabouts; and being a
good husband, had laid up some money, and was the richest of the three.

The third man was a joiner or carpenter by trade, a handy fellow,
and he had no wealth but his box or basket of tools, with the help of
which he could at any time get his living, such a time as this excepted,
wherever he went - and he lived near Shadwell.

They all lived in Stepney parish, which, as I have said, being the last
that was infected, or at least violently, they stayed there till they
evidently saw the plague was abating at the west part of the town, and
coming towards the east, where they lived.

The story of those three men, if the reader will be content to have
me give it in their own persons, without taking upon me to either vouch
the particulars or answer for any mistakes, I shall give as distinctly
as I can, believing the history will be a very good pattern for any poor
man to follow, in case the like public desolation should happen here;
and if there may be no such occasion, which God of His infinite mercy
grant us, still the story may have its- uses so many ways as that
it will, I hope, never be said that the relating has been unprofitable.

I say all this previous to the history, having yet, for the present,
much more to say before I quit my own part.

I went all the first part of the time freely about the streets, though
not so freely as to run myself into apparent danger, except when they
dug the great pit in the churchyard of our parish of Aldgate. A terrible
pit it was, and I could not resist my curiosity to go and see it. As near
as I may judge, it was about forty feet in length, and about fifteen or
sixteen feet broad, and at the time I first looked at it, about nine feet
deep; but it was said they dug it near twenty feet deep afterwards in
one part of it, till they could go no deeper for the water; for they had,
it seems, dug several large pits before this. For though the plague was
long a-coming to our parish, yet, when it did come, there was no
parish in or about London where it raged with such violence as in the
two parishes of Aldgate and Whitechappel.

I say they had dug several pits in another ground, when the
distemper began to spread in our parish, and especially when the
dead-carts began to go about, which was not, in our parish, till the
beginning of August. Into these pits they had put perhaps fifty or sixty
bodies each; then they made larger holes wherein they buried all that
the cart brought in a week, which, by the middle to the end of August,
came to from 200 to 400 a week; and they could not well dig them
larger, because of the order of the magistrates confining them to leave
no bodies within six feet of the surface; and the water coming on at
about seventeen or eighteen feet, they could not well, I say, put more
in one pit. But now, at the beginning of September, the plague raging
in a dreadful manner, and the number of burials in our parish
increasing to more than was ever buried in any parish about London of
no larger extent, they ordered this dreadful gulf to be dug - for such
it was, rather than a pit.

They had supposed this pit would have supplied them for a month or
more when they dug it, and some blamed the churchwardens for
suffering such a frightful thing, telling them they were making
preparations to bury the whole parish, and the like; but time made it
appear the churchwardens knew the condition of the parish better than
they did: for, the pit being finished the 4th of September, I think, they
began to bury in it the 6th, and by the 20th, which was just two weeks,
they had thrown into it 1114 bodies when they were obliged to fill it
up, the bodies being then come to lie within six feet of the surface. I
doubt not but there may be some ancient persons alive in the parish
who can justify the fact of this, and are able to show even in what
place of the churchyard the pit lay better than I can. The mark of it
also was many years to be seen in the churchyard on the surface, lying
in length parallel with the passage which goes by the west wall of the
churchyard out of Houndsditch, and turns east again into Whitechappel,
coming out near the Three Nuns' Inn.

It was about the 10th of September that my curiosity led, or rather
drove, me to go and see this pit again, when there had been near 400
people buried in it; and I was not content to see it in the day-time,
as I had done before, for then there would have been nothing to have been
seen but the loose earth; for all the bodies that were thrown in were
immediately covered with earth by those they called the buriers,
which at other times were called bearers; but I resolved to go in the
night and see some of them thrown in.

There was a strict order to prevent people coming to those pits, and
that was only to prevent infection. But after some time that order was
more necessary, for people that were infected and near their end, and
delirious also, would run to those pits, wrapt in blankets or rugs, and
throw themselves in, and, as they said, bury themselves. I cannot say
that the officers suffered any willingly to lie there; but I have heard
that in a great pit in Finsbury, in the parish of Cripplegate, it lying
open then to the fields, for it was not then walled about, [many] came
and threw themselves in, and expired there, before they threw any
earth upon them; and that when they came to bury others and found
them there, they were quite dead, though not cold.

This may serve a little to describe the dreadful condition of that day,
though it is impossible to say anything that is able to give a true idea
of it to those who did not see it, other than this, that it was indeed
very, very, very dreadful, and such as no tongue can express.

I got admittance into the churchyard by being acquainted with the
sexton who attended; who, though he did not refuse me at all, yet
earnestly persuaded me not to go, telling me very seriously (for he was
a good, religious, and sensible man) that it was indeed their business
and duty to venture, and to run all hazards, and that in it they might
hope to be preserved; but that I had no apparent call to it but my own
curiosity, which, he said, he believed I would not pretend was
sufficient to justify my running that hazard. I told him I had been
pressed in my mind to go, and
that perhaps it might be an instructing sight, that might not be without
its uses. 'Nay,' says the good man, 'if you will venture upon that score,
name of God go in; for, depend upon it, 'twill be a sermon to you, it
may be, the best that ever you heard in your life. 'Tis a speaking
sight,' says he, 'and has a voice with it, and a loud one, to call us all to
repentance'; and with that he opened the door and said, 'Go, if you will.'

His discourse had shocked my resolution a little, and I stood
wavering for a good while, but just at that interval I saw two links
come over from the end of the Minories, and heard the bellman, and
then appeared a dead-cart, as they called it, coming over the streets; so
I could no longer resist my desire of seeing it, and went in. There was
nobody, as I could perceive at first, in the churchyard, or going into it,
but the buriers and the fellow that drove the cart, or rather led the
horse and cart; but when they came up to the pit they saw a man go to
and again, muffled up in a brown Cloak, and making motions with his
hands under his cloak, as if he was in great agony, and the buriers
immediately gathered about him, supposing he was one of those poor
delirious or desperate creatures that used to pretend, as I have said,
to bury themselves. He said nothing as he walked about, but two or
three times groaned very deeply and loud, and sighed as he would
break his heart.

When the buriers came up to him they soon found he was neither a
person infected and desperate, as I have observed above, or a person
distempered -in mind, but one oppressed with a dreadful weight of
grief indeed, having his wife and several of his children all in the cart
that was just come in with him, and he followed in an agony and
excess of sorrow. He mourned heartily, as it was easy to see, but with
a kind of masculine grief that could not give itself vent by tears; and
calmly defying the buriers to let him alone, said he would only see the
bodies thrown in and go away, so they left importuning him. But no
sooner was the cart turned round and the bodies shot into the pit
promiscuously, which was a surprise to him, for he at least expected
they would have been decently laid in, though indeed he was
afterwards convinced that was impracticable; I say, no sooner did he
see the sight but he cried out aloud, unable to contain himself. I could
not hear what he said, but he went backward two or three steps and
fell down in a swoon. The buriers ran to him and took him up, and in
a little while he came to himself, and they led him away to the Pie
Tavern over against the end of Houndsditch, where, it seems, the man
was known, and where they took care of him. He looked into the pit
again as he went away, but the buriers had covered the bodies so
immediately with throwing in earth, that though there was light
enough, for there were lanterns, and candles in them, placed all night
round the sides of the pit, upon heaps of earth, seven or eight, or
perhaps more, yet nothing could be seen.

This was a mournful scene indeed, and affected me almost as much
as the rest; but the other was awful and full of terror. The cart had in
it sixteen or seventeen bodies; some were wrapt up in linen sheets,
some in rags, some little other than naked, or so loose that what
covering they had fell from them in the shooting out of the cart, and
they fell quite naked among the rest; but the matter was not much to
them, or the indecency much to any one else, seeing they were all
dead, and were to be huddled together into the common grave of
mankind, as we may call it, for here was no difference made, but poor
and rich went together; there was no other way of burials, neither was
it possible there should, for coffins were not to be had for the
prodigious numbers that fell in such a calamity as this.

It was reported by way of scandal upon the buriers, that if any
corpse was delivered to them decently wound up, as we called it then,
in a winding-sheet tied over the head and feet, which some did, and
which was generally of good linen; I say, it was reported that the
buriers were so wicked as to strip them in the cart and carry them
quite naked to the ground. But as I cannot easily credit anything so
vile among Christians, and at a time so filled with terrors as that was,
I can only relate it and leave it undetermined.

Innumerable stories also went about of the cruel behaviours and
practices of nurses who tended the sick, and of their hastening on the
fate of those they tended in their sickness. But I shall say more of this
in its place.

I was indeed shocked with this sight; it almost overwhelmed me,
and I went away with my heart most afflicted, and full of the afflicting
thoughts, such as I cannot describe. just at my going out of the church,
and turning up the street towards my own house, I saw another cart
with links, and a bellman going before, coming out of Harrow Alley in
the Butcher Row, on the other side of the way, and being, as I
perceived, very full of dead bodies, it went directly over the street also
toward the church. I stood a while, but I had no stomach to go back
again to see the same dismal scene over again, so I went directly home,
where I could not but consider with thankfulness the risk I had run,
believing I had gotten no injury, as indeed I had not.

Here the poor unhappy gentleman's grief came into my head again,
and indeed I could not but shed tears in the reflection upon it, perhaps
more than he did himself; but his case lay so heavy upon my mind that
I could not prevail with myself, but that I must go out again into the
street, and go to the Pie Tavern, resolving to inquire what became of him.

It was by this time one o'clock in the morning, and yet the poor
gentleman was there. The truth was, the people of the house, knowing
him, had entertained him, and kept him there all the night,
notwithstanding the danger of being infected by him, though it
appeared the man was perfectly sound himself.

It is with regret that I take notice of this tavern. The people were
civil, mannerly, and an obliging sort of folks enough, and had till this
time kept their house open and their trade going on, though not so
very publicly as formerly: but there was a dreadful set of fellows that
used their house, and who, in the middle of all this horror, met there
every night, behaved with all the revelling and roaring extravagances
as is usual for such people to do at other times, and, indeed, to such an
offensive degree that the very master and mistress of the house grew
first ashamed and then terrified at them.

They sat generally in a room next the street, and as they always kept
late hours, so when the dead-cart came across the street-end to go into
Houndsditch, which was in view of the tavern windows, they would
frequently open the windows as soon as they heard the bell and look
out at them; and as they might often hear sad lamentations of people
in the streets or at their windows as the carts went along, they would
make their impudent mocks and jeers at them, especially if they heard
the poor people call upon God to have mercy upon them, as many
would do at those times in their ordinary passing along the streets.

These gentlemen, being something disturbed with the clutter of
bringing the poor gentleman into the house, as above, were first angry
and very high with the master of the house for suffering such a fellow,
as they called him, to be brought out of the grave into their house; but
being answered that the man was a neighbour, and that he was sound,
but overwhelmed with the calamity of his family, and the like, they
turned their anger into ridiculing the man and his sorrow for his wife
and children, taunted him with want of courage to leap into the great
pit and go to heaven, as they jeeringly expressed it, along with them,
adding some very profane and even blasphemous expressions.

They were at this vile work when I came back to the house, and, as
far as I could see, though the man sat still, mute and disconsolate, and
their affronts could not divert his sorrow, yet he was both grieved and
offended at their discourse. Upon this I gently reproved them, being
well enough acquainted with their characters, and not unknown in
person to two of them.

They immediately fell upon me with ill language and oaths, asked
me what I did out of my grave at such a time when so many honester
men were carried into the churchyard, and why I was not at home
saying my prayers against the dead-cart came for me, and the like.

I was indeed astonished at the impudence of the men, though not at
all discomposed at their treatment of me. However, I kept my temper.
I told them that though I defied them or any man in the world to tax
me with any dishonesty, yet I acknowledged that in this terrible
judgement of God many better than I were swept away and carried to
their grave. But to answer their question directly, the case was, that I
was mercifully preserved by that great God whose name they had
blasphemed and taken in vain by cursing and swearing in a dreadful
manner, and that I believed I was preserved in particular, among other
ends of His goodness, that I might reprove them for their audacious
boldness in behaving in such a manner and in such an awful time as
this was, especially for their jeering and mocking at an honest
gentleman and a neighbour (for some of them knew him), who, they
saw, was overwhelmed with sorrow for the breaches which it had
pleased God to make upon his family.

I cannot call exactly to mind the hellish, abominable raillery which
was the return they made to that talk of mine: being provoked, it
seems, that I was not at all afraid to be free with them; nor, if I could
remember, would I fill my account with any of the words, the horrid
oaths, curses, and vile expressions, such as, at that time of the day,
even the worst and ordinariest people in the street would not use; for,
except such hardened creatures as these, the most wicked wretches
that could be found had at that time some terror upon their minds of
the hand of that Power which could thus in a moment destroy them.

But that which was the worst in all their devilish language was, that
they were not afraid to blaspheme God and talk atheistically, making
a jest of my calling the plague the hand of God; mocking, and even
laughing, at the word judgement, as if the providence of God had no
concern in the inflicting such a desolating stroke; and that the people
calling upon God as they saw the carts carrying away the dead bodies
was all enthusiastic, absurd, and impertinent.

I made them some reply, such as I thought proper, but which I found
was so far from putting a check to their horrid way of speaking that it
made them rail the more, so that I confess it filled me with horror and
a kind of rage, and I came away, as I told them, lest the hand of that
judgement which had visited the whole city should glorify His
vengeance upon them, and all that were near them.

They received all reproof with the utmost contempt, and made the
greatest mockery that was possible for them to do at me, giving me all
the opprobrious, insolent scoffs that they could think of for preaching
to them, as they called it, which indeed grieved me, rather than angered me;
and I went away, blessing God, however, in my mind that I had not spared them,
though they had insulted me so much.

They continued this wretched course three or four days after this,
continually mocking and jeering at all that showed themselves
religious or serious, or that were any way touched with the sense of
the terrible judgement of God upon us; and I was informed they
flouted in the same manner at the good people who, notwithstanding
the contagion, met at the church, fasted, and prayed to God to remove
His hand from them.

I say, they continued this dreadful course three or four days - I think
it was no more - when one of them, particularly he who asked the
poor gentleman what he did out of his grave, was struck from Heaven
with the plague, and died in a most deplorable manner; and, in a
word, they were every one of them carried into the great pit which I
have mentioned above, before it was quite filled up, which was not
above a fortnight or thereabout.

These men were guilty of many extravagances, such as one would
think human nature should have trembled at the thoughts of at such a
time of general terror as was then upon us, and particularly scoffing
and mocking at everything which they happened to see that was
religious among the people, especially at their thronging zealously to
the place of public worship to implore mercy from Heaven in such a
time of distress; and this tavern where they held their dub being
within view of the church-door, they had the more particular occasion
for their atheistical profane mirth.

But this began to abate a little with them before the accident which I
have related happened, for the infection increased so violently at this
part of the town now, that people began to be afraid to come to the
church; at least such numbers did not resort thither as was usual.
Many of the clergymen likewise were dead, and others gone into the
country; for it really required a steady courage and a strong faith for a
man not only to venture being in town at such a time as this, but
likewise to venture to come to church and perform the office of a
minister to a congregation, of whom he had reason to believe many of
them were actually infected with the plague, and to do this every day,
or twice a day, as in some places was done.

It is true the people showed an extraordinary zeal in these religious
exercises, and as the church-doors were always open, people would go
in single at all times, whether the minister was officiating or no, and
locking themselves into separate pews, would be praying to God with
great fervency and devotion.

Others assembled at meeting-houses, every one as their different
opinions in such things guided, but all were promiscuously the subject
of these men's drollery, especially at the beginning of the visitation.

It seems they had been checked for their open insulting religion in
this manner by several good people of every persuasion, and that, and
the violent raging of the infection, I suppose, was the occasion that
they had abated much of their rudeness for some time before, and
were only roused by the spirit of ribaldry and atheism at the clamour
which was made when the gentleman was first brought in there, and
perhaps were agitated by the same devil, when I took upon me to
reprove them; though I did it at first with all the calmness, temper,
and good manners that I could, which for a while they insulted me the
more for thinking it had been in fear of their resentment, though
afterwards they found the contrary.

I went home, indeed, grieved and afflicted in my mind at the
abominable wickedness of those men, not doubting, however, that
they would be made dreadful examples of God's justice; for I looked
upon this dismal time to be a particular season of Divine vengeance,
and that God would on this occasion single out the proper objects of
His displeasure in a more especial and remarkable manner than at
another time; and that though I did believe that many good people
would, and did, fall in the common calamity, and that it was no
certain rule to ' judge of the eternal state of any one by their being
distinguished in such a time of general destruction neither one way or
other; yet, I say, it could not but seem reasonable to believe that God
would not think fit to spare by His mercy such open declared enemies,
that should insult His name and Being, defy His vengeance, and mock
at His worship and worshippers at such a time; no, not though His
mercy had thought fit to bear with and spare them at other times; that
this was a day of visitation, a day of God's anger, and those words
came into my thought, Jer. v. 9: 'Shall I not visit for these things? saith
the Lord: and shall not My soul be avenged of such a nation as this?'

These things, I say, lay upon my mind, and I went home very much
grieved and oppressed with the horror of these men's wickedness, and
to think that anything could be so vile, so hardened, and notoriously
wicked as to insult God, and His servants, and His worship in such a
manner, and at such a time as this was, when He had, as it were, His
sword drawn in His hand on purpose to take vengeance not on them
only, but on the whole nation.

I had, indeed, been in some passion at first with them - though it
was really raised, not by any affront they had offered me personally,
but by the horror their blaspheming tongues filled me with. However,
I was doubtful in my thoughts whether the resentment I retained was
not all upon my own private account, for they had given me a great
deal of ill language too - I mean personally; but after some pause, and
having a weight of grief upon my mind, I retired myself as soon as I
came home, for I slept not that night; and giving God most humble
thanks for my preservation in the eminent danger I had been in, I set
my mind seriously and with the utmost earnestness to pray for those
desperate wretches, that God would pardon them, open their eyes, and
effectually humble them.

By this I not only did my duty, namely, to pray for those who
despitefully used me, but I fully tried my own heart, to my fun
satisfaction, that it was not filled with any spirit of resentment as they
had offended me in particular; and I humbly recommend the method
to all those that would know, or be certain, how to distinguish
between their zeal for the honour of God and the effects of their
private passions and resentment.

But I must go back here to the particular incidents which occur to
my thoughts of the time of the visitation, and particularly to the time
of their shutting up houses in the first part of their sickness; for before
the sickness was come to its height people had more room to make
their observations than they had afterward; but when it was in the
extremity there was no such thing as communication with one
another, as before.

During the shutting up of houses, as I have said, some violence was
offered to the watchmen. As to soldiers, there were none to be
found.- the few guards which the king then had, which were nothing
like the number entertained since, were dispersed, either at Oxford
with the Court, or in quarters in the remoter parts of the country, small
detachments excepted, who did duty at the Tower and at Whitehall,
and these but very few. Neither am I positive that there was any other
guard at the Tower than the warders, as they called them, who stand at
the gate with gowns and caps, the same as the yeomen of the guard,
except the ordinary gunners, who were twenty-four, and the officers
appointed to look after the magazine, who were called armourers. As
to trained bands, there was no possibility of raising any; neither, if the
Lieutenancy, either of London or Middlesex, had ordered the drums to
beat for the militia, would any of the companies, I believe, have
drawn together, whatever risk they had run.

This made the watchmen be the less regarded, and perhaps
occasioned the greater violence to be used against them. I mention it
on this score to observe that the setting watchmen thus to keep the
people in was, first of all, not effectual, but that the people broke out,
whether by force or by stratagem, even almost as often as they
pleased; and, second, that those that did thus break out were generally
people infected who, in their desperation, running about from one
place to another, valued not whom they injured: and which perhaps, as
I have said, might give birth to report that it was natural to the
infected people to desire to infect others, which report was really false.

And I know it so well, and in so many several cases, that I could
give several relations of good, pious, and religious people who, when
they have had the distemper, have been so far from being forward to
infect others that they have forbid their own family to come near
them, in hopes of their being preserved, and have even died without
seeing their nearest relations lest they should be instrumental to give
them the distemper, and infect or endanger them. If, then, there were
cases wherein the infected people were careless of the injury they did
to others, this was certainly one of them, if not the chief, namely,
when people who had the distemper had broken out from houses which were
so shut up, and having been driven to extremities for provision
or for entertainment, had endeavoured to conceal their condition,
and have been thereby instrumental involuntarily to infect others
who have been ignorant and unwary.

This is one of the reasons why I believed then, and do believe still,
that the shutting up houses thus by force, and restraining, or rather
imprisoning, people in their own houses, as I said above, was of little
or no service in the whole. Nay, I am of opinion it was rather hurtful,
having forced those desperate people to wander abroad with the
plague upon them, who would otherwise have died quietly in their beds.

I remember one citizen who, having thus broken out of his house in
Aldersgate Street or thereabout, went along the road to Islington; he
attempted to have gone in at the Angel Inn, and after that the White
Horse, two inns known still by the same signs, but was refused; after
which he came to the Pied Bull, an inn also still continuing the same
sign. He asked them for lodging for one night only, pretending to be
going into Lincolnshire, and assuring them of his being very sound
and free from the infection, which also at that time had not reached
much that way.

They told him they had no lodging that they could spare but one bed
up in the garret, and that they could spare that bed for one night, some
drovers being expected the next day with cattle; so, if he would accept
of that lodging, he might have it, which he did. So a servant was sent
up with a candle with him to show him the room. He was very well
dressed, and looked like a person not used to lie in a garret; and when
he came to the room he fetched a deep sigh, and said to the servant, 'I
have seldom lain in such a lodging as this. 'However, the servant
assuring him again that they had no better, 'Well,' says he, 'I must
make shift; this is a dreadful time; but it is but for one night.' So he sat
down upon the bedside, and bade the maid, I think it was, fetch him
up a pint of warm ale. Accordingly the servant went for the ale, but
some hurry in the house, which perhaps employed her other ways, put
it out of her head, and she went up no more to him.

The next morning, seeing no appearance of the gentleman,
somebody in the house asked the servant that had showed him upstairs
what was become of him. She started. 'Alas l' says she, 'I never
thought more of him. He bade me carry him some warm ale, but I
forgot.' Upon which, not the maid, but some other person was sent up
to see after him, who, coming into the room, found him stark dead and
almost cold, stretched out across the bed. His clothes were pulled off,
his jaw fallen, his eyes open in a most frightful posture, the rug of the
bed being grasped hard in one of his hands, so that it was plain he
died soon after the maid left him; and 'tis probable, had she gone up
with the ale, she had found him dead in a few minutes after he sat
down upon the bed. The alarm was great in the house, as anyone may
suppose, they having been free from the distemper till that disaster,
which, bringing the infection to the house, spread it immediately to
other houses round about it. I do not remember how many died in the
house itself, but I think the maid-servant who went up first with him
fell presently ill by the fright, and several others; for, whereas there
died but two in Islington of the plague the week before, there died
seventeen the week after, whereof fourteen were of the plague. This
was in the week from the 11th of July to the 18th.

There was one shift that some families had, and that not a few,
when their houses happened to be infected, and that was this: the
families who, in the first breaking-out of the distemper, fled away into
the country and had retreats among their friends, generally found
some or other of their neighbours or relations to commit the charge of
those houses to for the safety of the goods and the like. Some houses
were, indeed, entirely locked up, the doors padlocked, the windows
and doors having deal boards nailed over them, and only the
inspection of them committed to the ordinary watchmen and parish
officers; bat these were but few.

It was thought that there were not less than 10,000 houses forsaken
of the inhabitants in the city and suburbs, including what was in the
out-parishes and in Surrey, or the side of the water they called
Southwark. This was besides the numbers of lodgers, and of
particular persons who were fled out of other families; so that in all it
was computed that about 200,000 people were fled and gone. But of
this I shall speak again. But I mention it here on this account, namely,
that it was a rule with those who had thus two houses in their keeping
or care, that if anybody was taken sick in a family, before the master
of the family let the examiners or any other officer know of it, he
immediately would send all the rest of his family, whether children or
servants, as it fell out to be, to such other house which he had so in
charge, and then giving notice of the sick person to the examiner,
have a nurse or nurses appointed, and have another person to be shut
up in the house with them (which many for money would do), so to
take charge of the house in case the person should die.

This was, in many cases, the saving a whole family, who, if they had
been shut up with the sick person, would inevitably have perished.
But, on the other hand, this was another of the inconveniences of
shutting up houses; for the apprehensions and terror of being shut up
made many run away with the rest of the family, who, though it was
not publicly known, and they were not quite sick, had yet the
distemper upon them; and who, by having an uninterrupted liberty to
go about, but being obliged still to conceal their circumstances, or
perhaps not knowing it themselves, gave the distemper to others, and
spread the infection in a dreadful manner, as I shall explain further

And here I may be able to make an observation or two of my own,
which may be of use hereafter to those into whose bands these may
come, if they should ever see the like dreadful visitation. (1) The
infection generally came into the houses of the citizens by the means
of their servants, whom they were obliged to send up and down the
streets for necessaries; that is to say, for food or physic, to
bakehouses, brew-houses, shops, &c.; and who going necessarily
through the streets into shops, markets, and the like, it was impossible
but that they should, one way or
other, meet with distempered people, who conveyed the fatal breath
into them, and they brought it home to the families to which they
belonged. (2) It was a great mistake that such a great city as this had
but one pest-house; for had there been, instead of one pest-house -
viz., beyond Bunhill Fields, where, at most, they could receive,
perhaps, two hundred or three hundred people - I say, had there,
instead of that one, been several pest-houses, every one able to
contain a thousand people, without lying two in a bed, or two beds in
a room; and had every master of a family, as soon as any servant
especially had been taken sick in his house, been obliged to send them
to the next pest-house, if they were willing, as many were, and had the
examiners done the like among the poor people when any had been
stricken with the infection; I say, had this been done where the people
were willing (not otherwise), and the houses not been shut, I am
persuaded, and was all the while of that opinion, that not so many, by
several thousands, had died; for it was observed, and I could give
several instances within the compass of my own knowledge, where a
servant had been taken sick, and the family had either time to send
him out or retire from the house and leave the sick person, as I have
said above, they had all been preserved; whereas when, upon one or
more sickening in a family, the house has been shut up, the whole
family have perished, and the bearers been obliged to go in to fetch
out the dead bodies, not being able to bring them to the door, and at
last none left to do it.

(3) This put it out of question to me, that the calamity was spread by
infection; that is to say, by some certain steams or fumes, which the
physicians call effluvia, by the breath, or by the sweat, or by the
stench of the sores of the sick persons, or some other way, perhaps,
beyond even the reach of the physicians themselves, which effluvia
affected the sound who came within certain distances of the sick,
immediately penetrating the vital parts of the said sound persons,
putting their blood into an immediate ferment, and agitating their
spirits to that degree which it was found they were agitated; and so
those newly infected persons communicated it in the same manner to
others. And this I shall give some instances of, that cannot but
convince those who seriously consider it; and I cannot but with some
wonder find some people, now the contagion is over, talk of its being
an immediate stroke from Heaven, without the agency of means,
having commission to strike this and that particular person, and none
other - which I look upon with contempt as the effect of manifest
ignorance and enthusiasm; likewise the opinion of others, who talk of
infection being carried on by the air only, by carrying with it vast
numbers of insects and invisible creatures, who enter into the body
with the breath, or even at the pores with the air, and there generate or
emit most acute poisons, or poisonous ovae or eggs, which mingle
themselves with the blood, and so infect the body: a discourse full of
learned simplicity, and manifested to be so by universal experience;
but I shall say more to this case in its order.

I must here take further notice that nothing was more fatal to the
inhabitants of this city than the supine negligence of the people
themselves, who, during the long notice or warning they had of the
visitation, made no provision for it by laying in store of provisions, or
of other necessaries, by which they might have lived retired and
within their own houses, as I have observed others did, and who were
in a great measure preserved by that caution; nor were they, after they
were a little hardened to it, so shy of conversing with one another,
when actually infected, as they were at first: no, though they knew it.

I acknowledge I was one of those thoughtless ones that had made so
little provision that my servants were obliged to go out of doors to buy
every trifle by penny and halfpenny, just as before it began, even till
my experience showing me the folly, I began to be wiser so late that I
had scarce time to store myself sufficient for our common subsistence
for a month.

I had in family only an ancient woman that managed the house, a
maid-servant, two apprentices, and myself; and the plague beginning
to increase about us, I had many sad thoughts about what course I
should take, and how I should act. The many dismal objects which
happened everywhere as I went about the streets, had filled my mind
with a great deal of horror for fear of the distemper, which was indeed
very horrible in itself, and in some more than in others. The
swellings, which were generally in the neck or groin, when they grew
hard and would not break, grew so painful that it was equal to the
most exquisite torture; and some, not able to bear the torment, threw
themselves out at windows or shot themselves, or otherwise made
themselves away, and I saw several dismal objects of that kind.
Others, unable to contain themselves, vented their pain by incessant
roarings, and such loud and lamentable cries were to be heard as we
walked along the streets that would pierce the very heart to think of,
especially when it was to be considered that the same dreadful
scourge might be expected every moment to seize upon ourselves.

I cannot say but that now I began to faint in my resolutions; my
heart failed me very much, and sorely I repented of my rashness.
When I had been out, and met with such terrible things as these I have
talked of, I say I repented my rashness in venturing to abide in town. I
wished often that I had not taken upon me to stay, but had gone away
with my brother and his family.

Terrified by those frightful objects, I would retire home sometimes
and resolve to go out no more; and perhaps I would keep those
resolutions for three or four days, which time I spent in the most
serious thankfulness for my preservation and the preservation of my
family, and the constant confession of my sins, giving myself up to
God every day, and applying to Him with fasting, humiliation, and
meditation. Such intervals as I had I employed in reading books and
in writing down my memorandums of what occurred to me every day,
and out of which afterwards I took most of this work, as it relates to
my observations without doors. What I wrote of my private
meditations I reserve for private use, and desire it may not be made
public on any account whatever.

I also wrote other meditations upon divine subjects, such as
occurred to me at that time and were profitable to myself, but not fit
for any other view, and therefore I say no more of that.

I had a very good friend, a physician, whose name was Heath, whom
I frequently visited during this dismal time, and to whose advice I was
very much obliged for many things which he directed me to take, by
way of preventing the infection when I went out, as he found I
frequently did, and to hold in my mouth when I was in the streets. He
also came very often to see me, and as he was a good Christian as well
as a good physician, his agreeable conversation was a very great
support to me in the worst of this terrible time.

It was now the beginning of August, and the plague grew very
violent and terrible in the place where I lived, and Dr Heath coming to
visit me, and finding that I ventured so often out in the streets,
earnestly persuaded me to lock myself up and my family, and not to
suffer any of us to go out of doors; to keep all our windows fast,
shutters and curtains close, and never to open them; but first, to make
a very strong smoke in the room where the window or door was to be
opened, with rozen and pitch, brimstone or gunpowder and the like;
and we did this for some time; but as I had not laid in a store of
provision for such a retreat, it was impossible that we could keep
within doors entirely. However, I attempted, though it was so very
late, to do something towards it; and first, as I had convenience both
for brewing and baking, I went and bought two sacks of meal, and for
several weeks, having an oven, we baked all our own bread; also I
bought malt, and brewed as much beer as all the casks I had would
hold, and which seemed enough to serve my house for five or six
weeks; also I laid in a quantity of salt butter and Cheshire cheese; but
I had no flesh-meat, and the plague raged so violently among the
butchers and slaughter-houses on the other side of our street, where
they are known to dwell in great numbers, that it was not advisable so
much as to go over the street among them.

And here I must observe again, that this necessity of going out of
our houses to buy provisions was in a great measure the ruin of the
whole city, for the people catched the distemper on these occasions
one of another, and even the provisions themselves were often tainted;
at least I have great reason to believe so; and therefore I cannot say
with satisfaction what I know is repeated with great assurance, that
the market-people and such as brought provisions to town were never
infected. I am certain the butchers of Whitechappel, where the greatest
part of the flesh-meat was killed, were dreadfully visited, and that at
least to such a degree that few of their shops were kept open, and
those that remained of them killed their meat at Mile End and that
way, and brought it to market upon horses.

However, the poor people could not lay up provisions, and there was
a necessity that they must go to market to buy, and others to send
servants or their children; and as this was a necessity which renewed
itself daily, it brought abundance of unsound people to the markets,
and a great many that went thither sound brought death home with them.

It is true people used all possible precaution. When any one bought
a joint of meat in the market they would not take it off the butcher's
hand, but took it off the hooks themselves. On the other hand, the
butcher would not touch the money, but have it put into a pot full of
vinegar, which he kept for that purpose. The buyer carried always
small money to make up any odd sum, that they might take no change.
They carried bottles of scents and perfumes in their hands, and all the
means that could be used were used, but then the poor could not do
even these things, and they went at all hazards.

Innumerable dismal stories we heard every day on this very account.
Sometimes a man or woman dropped down dead in the very markets,
for many people that had the plague upon them knew nothing of it till
the inward gangrene had affected their vitals, and they died in a few
moments. This caused that many died frequently in that manner in
the streets suddenly, without any warning; others perhaps had time to
go to the next bulk or stall, or to any door-porch, and just sit down and
die, as I have said before.

These objects were so frequent in the streets that when the plague
came to be very raging on one side, there was scarce any passing by
the streets but that several dead bodies would be lying here and there
upon the ground. On the other hand, it is observable that though at
first the people would stop as they went along and call to the
neighbours to come out on such an occasion, yet afterward no notice
was taken of them; but that if at any time we found a corpse lying, go
across the way and not come near it; or, if in a narrow lane or passage,
go back again and seek some other way to go on the business we were
upon; and in those cases the corpse was always left till the officers
had notice to come and take them away, or till night, when the bearers
attending the dead-cart would take them up and carry them away. Nor
did those undaunted creatures who performed these offices fail to
search their pockets, and sometimes strip off their clothes if they were
well dressed, as sometimes they were, and carry off what they could get.

But to return to the markets. The butchers took that care that if any
person died in the market they had the officers always at band to take
them up upon hand-barrows and carry them to the next churchyard;
and this was so frequent that such were not entered in the weekly bill,
'Found dead in the streets or fields', as is the case now, but they went
into the general articles of the great distemper.

But now the fury of the distemper increased to such a degree that
even the markets were but very thinly furnished with provisions or
frequented with buyers compared to what they were before; and the
Lord Mayor caused the country people who brought provisions to be
stopped in the streets leading into the town, and to sit down there with
their goods, where they sold what they brought, and went immediately
away; and this encouraged the country people greatly-to do so, for
they sold their provisions at the very entrances into the town, and even
in the fields, as particularly in the fields beyond Whitechappel, in
Spittlefields; also in St George's Fields in Southwark, in Bunhill
Fields, and in a great field called Wood's Close, near Islington.
Thither the Lord Mayor, aldermen, and magistrates sent their officers
and servants to buy for their families, themselves keeping within
doors as much as possible, and the like did many other people; and
after this method was taken the country people came with great
cheerfulness, and brought provisions of all sorts, and very seldom got
any harm, which, I suppose, added also to that report of their being
miraculously preserved.

As for my little family, having thus, as I have said, laid in a store of
bread, butter, cheese, and beer, I took my friend and physician's
advice, and locked myself up, and my family, and resolved to suffer
the hardship of living a few months without flesh-meat, rather than to
purchase it at the hazard of our lives.

But though I confined my family, I could not prevail upon my
unsatisfied curiosity to stay within entirely myself; and though I
generally came frighted and terrified home, vet I could not restrain;
only that indeed I did not do it so frequently as at first.

I had some little obligations, indeed, upon me to go to my brother's
house, which was in Coleman Street parish and which he had left to
my care, and I went at first every day, but afterwards only once or
twice a week.

In these walks I had many dismal scenes before my eyes, as
particularly of persons falling dead in the streets, terrible shrieks and
screechings of women, who, in their agonies, would throw open their
chamber windows and cry out in a dismal, surprising manner. It is
impossible to describe the variety of postures in which the passions of
the poor people would express themselves.

Passing through Tokenhouse Yard, in Lothbury, of a sudden a
casement violently opened just over my head, and a woman gave three
frightful screeches, and then cried, 'Oh! death, death, death!' in a
most inimitable tone, and which struck me with horror and a chillness
in my very blood. There was nobody to be seen in the whole street,
neither did any other window open. for people had no curiosity now in
any case, nor could anybody help one another, so I went on to pass
into Bell Alley.

Just in Bell Alley, on the right hand of the passage, there was a more
terrible cry than that, though it was not so directed out at the window;
but the whole family was in a terrible fright, and I could hear women
and children run screaming about the rooms like distracted, when a
garret-window opened and somebody from a window on the other
side the alley called and asked, 'What is the matter?' upon which, from
the first window, it was answered, 'Oh Lord, my old master has
hanged himself!' The other asked again, 'Is he quite dead?' and the
first answered, 'Ay, ay, quite dead; quite dead and cold!' This person
was a merchant and a deputy alderman, and very rich. I care not to
mention the name, though I knew his name too, but that would be an
hardship to the family, which is now flourishing again.

But this is but one; it is scarce credible what dreadful cases
happened in particular families every day. People in the rage of the
distemper, or in the torment of their swellings, which was indeed
intolerable, running out of their own government, raving and
distracted, and oftentimes laying violent hands upon themselves,
throwing themselves out at their windows, shooting themselves.,;,
&c.; mothers murdering their own children in their lunacy, some
dying of mere grief as a passion, some of mere fright and surprise
without any infection at all, others frighted into idiotism and foolish
distractions, some into despair and lunacy, others into melancholy madness.

The pain of the swelling was in particular very violent, and to some
intolerable; the physicians and surgeons may be said to have tortured
many poor creatures even to death. The swellings in some grew hard,
and they applied violent drawing-plaisters or poultices to break them,
and if these did not do they cut and scarified them in a terrible
manner. In some those swellings were made hard partly by the force
of the distemper and partly by their being too violently drawn, and
were so hard that no instrument could cut them, and then they burnt
them with caustics, so that many died raving mad with the torment,
and some in the very operation. In these distresses, some, for want of
help to hold them down in their beds, or to look to them, laid hands
upon themselves as above. Some broke out into the streets, perhaps
naked, and would run directly down to the river if they were not
stopped by the watchman or other officers, and plunge themselves
into the water wherever they found it.

It often pierced my very soul to hear the groans and cries of those
who were thus tormented, but of the two this was counted the most
promising particular in the whole infection, for if these swellings
could be brought to a head, and to break and run, or, as the surgeons
call it, to digest, the patient generally recovered; whereas those who,
like the gentlewoman's daughter, were struck with death at the
beginning, and had the tokens come out upon them, often went about
indifferent easy till a little before they died, and some till the moment
they dropped down, as in apoplexies and epilepsies is often the case.
Such would be taken suddenly very sick, and would run to a bench or
bulk, or any convenient place that offered itself, or to their own
houses if possible, as I mentioned before, and there sit down, grow
faint, and die. This kind of dying was much the same as it was with
those who die of common mortifications, who die swooning, and, as it
were, go away in a dream. Such as died thus had very little notice of
their being infected at all till the gangrene was spread through their
whole body; nor could physicians themselves know certainly how it
was with them till they opened their breasts or other parts of their
body and saw the tokens.

We had at this time a great many frightful stories told us of nurses
and watchmen who looked after the dying people; that is to say, hired
nurses who attended infected people, using them barbarously, starving
them, smothering them, or by other wicked means hastening their end,
that is to say, murdering of them; and watchmen, being set to guard
houses that were shut up when there has been but one person left, and
perhaps that one lying sick, that they have broke in and murdered that
body, and immediately thrown them out into the dead-cart! And so
they have gone scarce cold to the grave.

I cannot say but that some such murders were committed, and I
think two were sent to prison for it, but died before they could be
tried; and I have heard that three others, at several times, were
excused for murders of that kind; but I must say I believe nothing of
its being so common a crime as some have since been pleased to say,
nor did it seem to be so rational where the people were brought so low
as not to be able to help themselves, for such seldom recovered, and
there was no temptation to commit a murder, at least none equal to
the fact, where they were sure persons would die in so short a time,
and could not live.

That there were a great many robberies and wicked practices
committed even in this dreadful time I do not deny. The power of
avarice was so strong in some that they would run any hazard to steal
and to plunder; and particularly in houses where all the families or
inhabitants have been dead and carried out, they would break in at all
hazards, and without regard to the danger of infection, take even the
clothes off the dead bodies and the bed-clothes from others where
they lay dead.

This, I suppose, must be the case of a family in Houndsditch, where
a man and his daughter, the rest of the family being, as I suppose,
carried away before by the dead-cart, were found stark naked, one in
one chamber and one in another, lying dead on the floor, and the
clothes of the beds, from whence 'tis supposed they were rolled off by
thieves, stolen and carried quite away.

It is indeed to be observed that the women were in all this calamity
the most rash, fearless, and desperate creatures, and as there were vast
numbers that went about as nurses to tend those that were sick, they
committed a great many petty thieveries in the houses where they
were employed; and some of them were publicly whipped for it, when
perhaps they ought rather to have been hanged for examples, for
numbers of houses were robbed on these occasions, till at length the
parish officers were sent to recommend nurses to the sick, and always
took an account whom it was they sent, so as that they might call them
to account if the house had been abused where they were placed.

But these robberies extended chiefly to wearing-clothes, linen, and
what rings or money they could come at when the person died who
was under their care, but not to a general plunder of the houses; and I
could give you an account of one of these nurses, who, several years
after, being on her deathbed, confessed with the utmost horror the
robberies she had committed at the time of her being a nurse, and by
which she had enriched herself to a great degree. But as for murders,
I do not find that there was ever any proof of the facts in the manner
as it has been reported, except as above.

They did tell me, indeed, of a nurse in one place that laid a wet cloth
upon the face of a dying patient whom she tended, and so put an end
to his life, who was just expiring before; and another that smothered a
young woman she was looking to when she was in a fainting fit, and
would have come to herself; some that killed them by giving them one
thing, some another, and some starved them by giving them nothing at
all. But these stories had two marks of suspicion that always attended
them, which caused me always to slight them and to look on them as
mere stories that people continually frighted one another with. First,
that wherever it was that we heard it, they always placed the scene at
the farther end of the town, opposite or most remote from where you
were to hear it. If you heard it in Whitechappel, it had happened at St
Giles's, or at Westminster, or Holborn, or that end of the town. If you
heard of it at that end of the town, then it was done in Whitechappel, or
the Minories, or about Cripplegate parish. If you heard of it in the
city, why, then it happened in Southwark; and if you heard of it in
Southwark, then it was done in the city, and the like.

In the next place, of what part soever you heard the story, the
particulars were always the same, especially that of laying a wet
double clout on a dying man's face, and that of smothering a young
gentlewoman; so that it was apparent, at least to my judgement, that
there was more of tale than of truth in those things.

However, I cannot say but it had some effect upon the people, and
particularly that, as I said before, they grew more cautious whom they
took into their houses, and whom they trusted their lives with, and had
them always recommended if they could; and where they could not
find such, for they were not very plenty, they applied to the parish

But here again the misery of that time lay upon the poor who, being
infected, had neither food or physic, neither physician or apothecary
to assist them, or nurse to attend them. Many of those died calling for
help, and even for sustenance, out at their windows in a most
miserable and deplorable manner; but it must be added that whenever
the cases of such persons or families were represented to my Lord
Mayor they always were relieved.

It is true, in some houses where the people were not very poor, yet
where they had sent perhaps their wives and children away, and if
they had any servants they had been dismissed; - I say it is true that to
save the expenses, many such as these shut themselves in, and not
having help, died alone.

A neighbour and acquaintance of mine, having some money owing
to him from a shopkeeper in Whitecross Street or thereabouts, sent his
apprentice, a youth about eighteen years of age, to endeavour to get
the money. He came to the door, and finding it shut, knocked pretty
hard; and, as he thought, heard somebody answer within, but was not
sure, so he waited, and after some stay knocked again, and then a third
time, when he heard somebody coming downstairs.

At length the man of the house came to the door; he had on his
breeches or drawers, and a yellow flannel waistcoat, no stockings, a
pair of slipped-shoes, a white cap on his head, and, as the young man
said, 'death in his face'.

When he opened the door, says he, 'What do you disturb me thus for?'
The boy, though a little surprised, replied, 'I come from such a
one, and my master sent me for the money which he says you know
of.' 'Very well, child,' returns the living ghost; 'call as you go by at
Cripplegate Church, and bid them ring the bell'; and with these words
shut the door again, and went up again, and died the same day; nay,
perhaps the same hour. This the young man told me himself, and I
have reason to believe it. This was while the plague was not come to
a height. I think it was in June, towards the latter end of the month; it
must be before the dead-carts came about, and while they used the
ceremony of ringing the bell for the dead, which was over for certain,
in that parish at least, before the month of July, for by the 25th of July
there died 550 and upwards in a week, and then they could no more
bury in form, rich or poor.

I have mentioned above that notwithstanding this dreadful calamity,
yet the numbers of thieves were abroad upon all occasions, where they
had found any prey, and that these were generally women. It was one
morning about eleven O'clock, I had walked out to my brother's house
in Coleman Street parish, as I often did, to see that all was safe.

My brother's house had a little court before it, and a brick wall and a
gate in it, and within that several warehouses where his goods of
several sorts lay. It happened that in one of these warehouses were
several packs of women's high-crowned hats, which came out of the
country and were, as I suppose, for exportation: whither, I know not.

I was surprised that when I came near my brother's door, which was
in a place they called Swan Alley, I met three or four women with
high-crowned hats on their heads; and, as I remembered afterwards,
one, if not more, had some hats likewise in their hands; but as I did
not see them come out at my brother's door, and not knowing that my
brother had any such goods in his warehouse, I did not offer to say
anything to them, but went across the way to shun meeting them, as
was usual to do at that time, for fear of the plague. But when I came
nearer to the gate I met another woman with more hats come out of
the gate. 'What business, mistress,' said I, 'have you had there?'
'There are more people there,' said she; 'I have had no more business there
than they.' I was hasty to get to the gate then, and said no more to her,
by which means she got away. But just as I came to the gate, I saw
two more coming across the yard to come out with hats also on their
heads and under their arms, at which I threw the gate to behind me,
which having a spring lock fastened itself; and turning to the women,
'Forsooth,' said I, 'what are you doing here?' and seized upon the hats,
and took them from them. One of them, who, I confess, did not look
like a thief - 'Indeed,' says she, 'we are wrong, but we were told they
were goods that had no owner. Be pleased to take them again; and
look yonder, there are more such customers as we.' She cried and
looked pitifully, so I took the hats from her and opened the gate, and
bade them be gone, for I pitied the women indeed; but when I looked
towards the warehouse, as she directed, there were six or seven more,
all women, fitting themselves with hats as unconcerned and quiet as if
they had been at a hatter's shop buying for their money.

I was surprised, not at the sight of so many thieves only, but at the
circumstances I was in; being now to thrust myself in among so many
people, who for some weeks had been so shy of myself that if I met
anybody in the street I would cross the way from them.

They were equally surprised, though on another account. They all
told me they were neighbours, that they had heard anyone might take
them, that they were nobody's goods, and the like. I talked big to
them at first, went back to the gate and took out the key, so that they
were all my prisoners, threatened to lock them all into the warehouse,
and go and fetch my Lord Mayor's officers for them.

They begged heartily, protested they found the gate open, and the
warehouse door open; and that it had no doubt been broken open by
some who expected to find goods of greater value: which indeed was
reasonable to believe, because the lock was broke, and a padlock that
hung to the door on the outside also loose, and not abundance of the
hats carried away.

At length I considered that this was not a time to be cruel and
rigorous; and besides that, it would necessarily oblige me to go much
about, to have several people come to me, and I go to several whose
circumstances of health I knew nothing of; and that even at this time
the plague was so high as that there died 4000 a week; so that in
showing my resentment, or even in seeking justice for my brother's
goods, I might lose my own life; so I contented myself with taking the
names and places where some of them lived, who were really inhabitants
in the neighbourhood, and threatening that my brother should call them
to an account for it when he returned to his habitation.

Then I talked a little upon another foot with them, and asked them
how they could do such things as these in a time of such general
calamity, and, as it were, in the face of God's most dreadful
judgements, when the plague was at their very doors, and, it may be,
in their very houses, and they did not know but that the dead-cart
might stop at their doors in a few hours to carry them to their graves.

I could not perceive that my discourse made much impression upon
them all that while, till it happened that there came two men of the
neighbourhood, hearing of the disturbance, and knowing my brother,
for they had been both dependents upon his family, and they came to
my assistance. These being, as I said, neighbours, presently knew
three of the women and told me who they were and where they lived;
and it seems they had given me a true account of themselves before.

This brings these two men to a further remembrance. The name of
one was John Hayward, who was at that time undersexton of the
parish of St Stephen, Coleman Street. By undersexton was
understood at that time gravedigger and bearer of the dead. This man
carried, or assisted to carry, all the dead to their graves which were
buried in that large parish, and who were carried in form; and after
that form of burying was stopped, went with the dead-cart and the bell
to fetch the dead bodies from the houses where they lay, and fetched
many of them out of the chambers and houses; for the parish was, and
is still, remarkable particularly, above all the parishes in London,
for a great number of alleys and thoroughfares, very long, into which
no carts could come, and where they were obliged to go and fetch the
bodies a very long way; which alleys now remain to witness it, such
as White's Alley, Cross Key Court, Swan Alley, Bell Alley, White
Horse Alley, and many more. Here they went with a kind of hand-
barrow and laid the dead bodies on it, and carried them out to the
carts; which work he performed and never had the distemper at all,
but lived about twenty years after it, and was sexton of the parish to
the time of his death. His wife at the same time was a nurse to
infected people, and tended many that died in the parish, being for her
honesty recommended by the parish officers; yet she never was
infected neither.

He never used any preservative against the infection, other than
holding garlic and rue in his mouth, and smoking tobacco. This I also
had from his own mouth. And his wife's remedy was washing her head
in vinegar and sprinkling her head-clothes so with vinegar as to
keep them always moist, and if the smell of any of those she waited
on was more than ordinary offensive, she snuffed vinegar up her nose
and sprinkled vinegar upon her head-clothes, and held a handkerchief
wetted with vinegar to her mouth.

It must be confessed that though the plague was chiefly among the
poor, yet were the poor the most venturous and fearless of it, and went
about their employment with a sort of brutal courage; I must call it so,
for it was founded neither on religion nor prudence; scarce did they
use any caution, but ran into any business which they could get
employment in, though it was the most hazardous. Such was that of
tending the sick, watching houses shut up, carrying infected persons to
the pest-house, and, which was still worse, carrying the dead away to
their graves.

It was under this John Hayward's care, and within his bounds, that
the story of the piper, with which people have made themselves so
merry, happened, and he assured me that it was true. It is said that it
was a blind piper; but, as John told me, the fellow was not blind, but
an ignorant, weak, poor man, and usually walked his rounds about ten
o'clock at night and went piping along from door to door, and the
people usually took him in at public-houses where they knew him, and
would give him drink and victuals, and sometimes farthings; and he in
return would pipe and sing and talk simply, which diverted the
people; and thus he lived. It was but a very bad time for this diversion
while things were as I have told, yet the poor fellow went about as
usual, but was almost starved; and when anybody asked how he did he
would answer, the dead cart had not taken him yet, but that they had
promised to call for him next week.

It happened one night that this poor fellow, whether somebody had
given him too much drink or no - John Hayward said he had not drink
in his house, but that they had given him a little more victuals than
ordinary at a public-house in Coleman Street - and the poor fellow,
having not usually had a bellyful for perhaps not a good while, was
laid all along upon the top of a bulk or stall, and fast asleep, at a door
in the street near London Wall, towards Cripplegate-, and that upon
the same bulk or stall the people of some house, in the alley of which
the house was a corner, hearing a bell which they always rang before
the cart came, had laid a body really dead of the plague just by him,
thinking, too, that this poor fellow had been a dead body, as the other
was, and laid there by some of the neighbours.

Accordingly, when John Hayward with his bell and the cart came
along, finding two dead bodies lie upon the stall, they took them up
with the instrument they used and threw them into the cart, and, all
this while the piper slept soundly.

From hence they passed along and took in other dead bodies, till, as
honest John Hayward told me, they almost buried him alive in the
cart; yet all this while he slept soundly. At length the cart came to the
place where the bodies were to be thrown into the ground, which, as I
do remember, was at Mount Mill; and as the cart usually stopped
some time before they were ready to shoot out the melancholy load
they had in it, as soon as the cart stopped the fellow awaked and
struggled a little to get his head out from among the dead bodies,
when, raising himself up in the cart, he called out, 'Hey! where am I?'
This frighted the fellow that attended about the work; but after some
pause John Hayward, recovering himself, said, 'Lord, bless us!
There's somebody in the cart not quite dead!' So another called to him
and said, 'Who are you?' The fellow answered, 'I am the poor piper.
Where am I?' 'Where are you?' says Hayward. 'Why, you are in the
dead-cart, and we are going to bury you.' 'But I an't dead though, am
I?' says the piper, which made them laugh a little though, as John said,
they were heartily frighted at first; so they helped the poor fellow
down, and he went about his business.

I know the story goes he set up his pipes in the cart and frighted the
bearers and others so that they ran away; but John Hayward did not
tell the story so, nor say anything of his piping at all; but that he was a
poor piper, and that he was carried away as above I am fully satisfied
of the truth of.

It is to be noted here that the dead-carts in the city were not
confined to particular parishes, but one cart went through several
parishes, according as the number of dead presented; nor were they
tied to carry the dead to their respective parishes, but many of the
dead taken up in the city were carried to the burying-ground in the
out-parts for want of room.

I have already mentioned the surprise that this judgement was at
first among the people. I must be allowed to give some of my
observations on the more serious and religious part. Surely never city,
at least of this bulk and magnitude, was taken in a condition so
perfectly unprepared for such a dreadful visitation, whether I am to
speak of the civil preparations or religious. They were, indeed, as if
they had had no warning, no expectation, no apprehensions, and
consequently the least provision imaginable was made for it in a
public way. For example, the Lord Mayor and sheriffs had made no
provision as magistrates for the regulations which were to be
observed. They had gone into no measures for relief of the poor. The
citizens had no public magazines or storehouses for corn or meal for
the subsistence of the poor, which if they had provided themselves, as
in such cases is done abroad, many miserable families who were now
reduced to the utmost distress would have been relieved, and that in a
better manner than now could be done.

The stock of the city's money I can say but little to. The Chamber of
London was said to be exceedingly rich, and it may be concluded that
they were so, by the vast of money issued from thence in the
rebuilding the public edifices after the fire of London, and in building
new works, such as, for the first part, the Guildhall, Blackwell Hall,
part of Leadenhall, half the Exchange, the Session House, the
Compter, the prisons of Ludgate, Newgate, &c., several of the wharfs
and stairs and landing-places on the river; all which were either
burned down or damaged by the great fire of London, the next year
after the plague; and of the second sort, the Monument, Fleet Ditch
with its bridges, and the Hospital of Bethlem or Bedlam, &c. But
possibly the managers of the city's credit at that time made more
conscience of breaking in upon the orphan's money to show charity to
the distressed citizens than the managers in the following years did to
beautify the city and re-edify the buildings; though, in the first case,
the losers would have thought their fortunes better bestowed, and the
public faith of the city have been less subjected to scandal and reproach.

It must be acknowledged that the absent citizens, who, though they
were fled for safety into the country, were yet greatly interested in the
welfare of those whom they left behind, forgot not to contribute
liberally to the relief of the poor, and large sums were also collected
among trading towns in the remotest parts of England; and, as I have
heard also, the nobility and the gentry in all parts of England took the
deplorable condition of the city into their consideration, and sent up
large sums of money in charity to the Lord Mayor and magistrates for
the relief of the poor. The king also, as I was told, ordered a thousand
pounds a week to be distributed in four parts: one quarter to the city
and liberty of Westminster; one quarter or part among the inhabitants
of the Southwark side of the water; one quarter to the liberty and parts
within of the city, exclusive of the city within the walls; and one-
fourth part to the suburbs in the county of Middlesex, and the east and
north parts of the city. But this latter I only speak of as a report.

Certain it is, the greatest part of the poor or families who formerly
lived by their labour, or by retail trade, lived now on charity; and had
there not been prodigious sums of money given by charitable, well-
minded Christians for the support of such, the city could never have
subsisted. There were, no question, accounts kept of their charity, and
of the just distribution of it by the magistrates. But as such multitudes
of those very officers died through whose hands it was distributed,
and also that, as I have been told, most of the accounts of those things
were lost in the great fire which happened in the very next year, and
which burnt even the chamberlain's office and many of their papers,
so I could never come at the particular account, which I used great
endeavours to have seen.

It may, however, be a direction in case of the approach of a like
visitation, which God keep the city from; - I say, it may be of use to
observe that by the care of the Lord Mayor and aldermen at that time
in distributing weekly great sums of money for relief of the poor, a
multitude of people who would otherwise have perished, were
relieved, and their lives preserved. And here let me enter into a brief
state of the case of the poor at that time, and what way apprehended
from them, from whence may be judged hereafter what may be
expected if the like distress should come upon the city.

At the beginning of the plague, when there was now no more hope
but that the whole city would be visited; when, as I have said, all that
had friends or estates in the country retired with their families;
and when, indeed, one would have thought the very city itself was
running out of the gates, and that there would be nobody left behind;
you may be sure from that hour all trade, except such as related to
immediate subsistence, was, as it were, at a full stop.

This is so lively a case, and contains in it so much of the real
condition of the people, that I think I cannot be too particular in it,
and therefore I descend to the several arrangements or classes of
people who fell into immediate distress upon this occasion. For example:

1. All master-workmen in manufactures, especially such as belonged
to ornament and the less necessary parts of the people's dress, clothes,
and furniture for houses, such as riband-weavers and other weavers,
gold and silver lace makers, and gold and silver wire drawers,
sempstresses, milliners, shoemakers, hatmakers, and glovemakers;
also upholsterers, joiners, cabinet-makers, looking-glass makers, and
innumerable trades which depend upon such as these; - I say, the
master-workmen in such stopped their work, dismissed their
journeymen and workmen, and all their dependents.

2. As merchandising was at a full stop, for very few ships ventured to
come up the river and none at all went out, so all the extraordinary
officers of the customs, likewise the watermen, carmen, porters, and
all the poor whose labour depended upon the merchants, were at once
dismissed and put out of business.

3. All the tradesmen usually employed in building or repairing of
houses were at a full stop, for the people were far from wanting to
build houses when so many thousand houses were at once stripped of
their inhabitants; so that this one article turned all the ordinary
workmen of that kind out of business, such as bricklayers, masons,
carpenters, joiners, plasterers, painters, glaziers, smiths, plumbers, and
all the labourers depending on such.

4. As navigation was at a stop, our ships neither coming in or going
out as before, so the seamen were all out of employment, and many of
them in the last and lowest degree of distress; and with the seamen
were all the several tradesmen and workmen belonging to and
depending upon the building and fitting out of ships, such as ship-
carpenters, caulkers, ropemakers, dry coopers, sailmakers,
anchorsmiths, and other smiths; blockmakers, carvers, gunsmiths,
ship-chandlers, ship-carvers, and the like. The masters of those
perhaps might live upon their substance, but the traders were
universally at a stop, and consequently all their workmen discharged.
Add to these that the river was in a manner without boats, and all or
most part of the watermen, lightermen, boat-builders, and lighter-
builders in like manner idle and laid by.

5. All families retrenched their living as much as possible, as well
those that fled as those that stayed; so that an innumerable multitude
of footmen, serving-men, shopkeepers, journeymen, merchants'
bookkeepers, and such sort of people, and especially poor maid-
servants, were turned off, and left friendless and helpless, without
employment and without habitation, and this was really a dismal article.

I might be more particular as to this part, but it may suffice to
mention in general, all trades being stopped, employment ceased: the
labour, and by that the bread, of the poor were cut off; and at first
indeed the cries of the poor were most lamentable to hear, though by
the distribution of charity their misery that way was greatly abated.
Many indeed fled into the counties, but thousands of them having
stayed in London till nothing but desperation sent them away, death
overtook them on the road, and they served for no better than the
messengers of death; indeed, others carrying the infection along with
them, spread it very unhappily into the remotest parts of the kingdom.

Many of these were the miserable objects of despair which I have
mentioned before, and were removed by the destruction which
followed. These might be said to perish not by the infection itself but
by the consequence of it; indeed, namely, by hunger and distress and
the want of all things: being without lodging, without money, without
friends, without means to get their bread, or without anyone to give it
them; for many of them were without what we call legal settlements,
and so could not claim of the parishes, and all the support they had
was by application to the magistrates for relief, which relief was (to
give the magistrates their due) carefully and cheerfully administered
as they found it necessary, and those that stayed behind never felt the
want and distress of that kind which they felt who went away in the
manner above noted.

Let any one who is acquainted with what multitudes of people get
their daily bread in this city by their labour, whether artificers or mere
workmen - I say, let any man consider what must be the miserable
condition of this town if, on a sudden, they should be all turned out of
employment, that labour should cease, and wages for work be no more.

This was the case with us at that time; and had not the sums of
money contributed in charity by well-disposed people of every kind,
as well abroad as at home, been prodigiously great, it had not been in
the power of the Lord Mayor and sheriffs to have kept the public
peace. Nor were they without apprehensions, as it was, that
desperation should push the people upon tumults, and cause them to
rifle the houses of rich men and plunder the markets of provisions; in
which case the country people, who brought provisions very freely
and boldly to town, would have been terrified from coming any more,
and the town would have sunk under an unavoidable famine.

But the prudence of my Lord Mayor and the Court of Aldermen
within the city, and of the justices of peace in the out-parts, was such,
and they were supported with money from all parts so well, that the
poor people were kept quiet, and their wants everywhere relieved, as
far as was possible to be done.

Two things besides this contributed to prevent the mob doing any
mischief. One was, that really the rich themselves had not laid up
stores of provisions in their houses as indeed they ought to have done,
and which if they had been wise enough to have done, and locked
themselves entirely up, as some few did, they had perhaps escaped the
disease better. But as it appeared they had not, so the mob had no
notion of finding stores of provisions there if they had broken in. as it
is plain they were sometimes very near doing, and which: if they bad,
they had finished the ruin of the whole city, for there were no regular
troops to have withstood them, nor could the trained bands have been
brought together to defend the city, no men being to be found to bear arms.

But the vigilance of the Lord Mayor and such magistrates as could
be had (for some, even of the aldermen, were dead, and some absent)
prevented this; and they did it by the most kind and gentle methods
they could think of, as particularly by relieving the most desperate
with money, and putting others into business, and particularly that
employment of watching houses that were infected and shut up. And
as the number of these were very great (for it was said there was at
one time ten thousand houses shut up, and every house had two
watchmen to guard it, viz., one by night and the other by day), this
gave opportunity to employ a very great number of poor men at a

The women and servants that were turned off from their places were
likewise employed as nurses to tend the sick in all places, and this
took off a very great number of them.

And, which though a melancholy article in itself, yet was a
deliverance in its kind: namely, the plague, which raged in a dreadful
manner from the middle of August to the middle of October, carried
off in that time thirty or forty thousand of these very people which,
had they been left, would certainly have been an insufferable burden
by their poverty; that is to say, the whole city could not have
supported the expense of them, or have provided food for them; and
they would in time have been even driven to the necessity of
plundering either the city itself or the country adjacent, to have
subsisted themselves, which would first or last have put the whole
nation, as well as the city, into the utmost terror and confusion.

It was observable, then, that this calamity of the people made them
very humble; for now for about nine weeks together there died near a
thousand a day, one day with another, even by the account of the
weekly bills, which yet, I have reason to be assured, never gave a full
account, by many thousands; the confusion being such, and the carts
working in the dark when they carried the dead, that in some places
no account at all was kept, but they worked on, the clerks and sextons
not attending for weeks together, and not knowing what number they
carried. This account is verified by the following bills of mortality: -

Of all of the
Diseases. Plague
From August 8 to August 15 5319 3880
" " 15 " 22 5568 4237
" " 22 " 29 7496 6102
" " 29 to September 5 8252 6988
" September 5 " 12 7690 6544
" " 12 " 19 8297 7165
" " 19 " 26 6460 5533
" " 26 to October 3 5720 4979
" October 3 " 10 5068 4327
----- -----
59,870 49,705

So that the gross of the people were carried off in these two months;
for, as the whole number which was brought in to die of the plague
was but 68,590, here is 50,000 of them, within a trifle, in two months;
I say 50,000, because, as there wants 295 in the number above, so
there wants two days of two months in the account of time.

Now when I say that the parish officers did not give in a full
account, or were not to be depended upon for their account, let any
one but consider how men could be exact in such a time of dreadful
distress, and when many of them were taken sick themselves and
perhaps died in the very time when their accounts were to be given in;
I mean the parish clerks, besides inferior officers; for though these
poor men ventured at all hazards, yet they were far from being exempt
from the common calamity, especially if it be true that the parish of
Stepney had, within the year, 116 sextons, gravediggers, and their
assistants; that is to say, bearers, bellmen, and drivers of carts for
carrying off the dead bodies.

Indeed the work was not of a nature to allow them leisure to take an
exact tale of the dead bodies, which were all huddled together in the
dark into a pit; which pit or trench no man could come nigh but at the
utmost peril. I observed often that in the parishes of Aldgate and
Cripplegate, Whitechappel and Stepney, there were five, six, seven, and
eight hundred in a week in the bills; whereas if we may believe the
opinion of those that lived in the city all the time as well as I, there
died sometimes 2000 a week in those parishes; and I saw it under the
hand of one that made as strict an examination into that part as he
could, that there really died an hundred thousand people of the plague
in that one year whereas in the bills, the articles of the plague, it was
but 68,590.

If I may be allowed to give my opinion, by what I saw with my eyes
and heard from other people that were eye-witnesses, I do verily
believe the same, viz., that there died at least 100,000 of the plague
only, besides other distempers and besides those which died in the
fields and highways and secret Places out of the compass of the
communication, as it was called, and who were not put down in the
bills though they really belonged to the body of the inhabitants. It was
known to us all that abundance of poor despairing creatures who had
the distemper upon them, and were grown stupid or melancholy by
their misery, as many were, wandered away into the fields and Woods,
and into secret uncouth places almost anywhere, to creep into a bush
or hedge and die.

The inhabitants of the villages adjacent would, in pity, carry them
food and set it at a distance, that they might fetch it, if they were able;
and sometimes they were not able, and the next time they went they
should find the poor wretches lie dead and the food untouched. The
number of these miserable objects were many, and I know so many
that perished thus, and so exactly where, that I believe I could go to
the very place and dig their bones up still; for the country people
would go and dig a hole at a distance from them, and then with long
poles, and hooks at the end of them, drag the bodies into these pits,
and then throw the earth in from as far as they could cast it, to cover
them, taking notice how the wind blew, and so coming on that side
which the seamen call to windward, that the scent of the bodies might
blow from them; and thus great numbers went out of the world who
were never known, or any account of them taken, as well within the
bills of mortality as without.

This, indeed, I had in the main only from the relation of others, for I
seldom walked into the fields, except towards Bethnal Green and
Hackney, or as hereafter. But when I did walk, I always saw a great
many poor wanderers at a distance; but I could know little of their
cases, for whether it were in the street or in the fields, if we had seen
anybody coming, it was a general method to walk away; yet I believe
the account is exactly true.

As this puts me upon mentioning my walking the streets and fields, I
cannot omit taking notice what a desolate place the city was at that
time. The great street I lived in (which is known to be one of the
broadest of all the streets of London, I mean of the suburbs as well as
the liberties) all the side where the butchers lived, especially without
the bars, was more like a green field than a paved street, and the
people generally went in the middle with the horses and carts. It is
true that the farthest end towards Whitechappel Church was not all
paved, but even the part that was paved was full of grass also; but this
need not seem strange, since the great streets within the city, such as
Leadenhall Street, Bishopsgate Street, Cornhill, and even the
Exchange itself, had grass growing in them in several places; neither
cart or coach were seen in the streets from morning to evening, except
some country carts to bring roots and beans, or peas, hay, and straw,
to the market, and those but very few compared to what was usual.
As for coaches, they were scarce used but to carry sick people to the
pest-house, and to other hospitals, and some few to carry physicians to
such places as they thought fit to venture to visit; for really coaches
were dangerous things, and people did not care to venture into them,
because they did not know who might have been carried in them last,
and sick, infected people were, as I have said, ordinarily carried in
them to the pest-houses, and sometimes people expired in them as
they went along.

It is true, when the infection came to such a height as I have now
mentioned, there were very few physicians which cared to stir abroad
to sick houses, and very many of the most eminent of the faculty were
dead, as well as the surgeons also; for now it was indeed a dismal
time, and for about a month together, not taking any notice of the bills
of mortality, I believe there did not die less than 1500 or 1700 a day,
one day with another.

One of the worst days we had in the whole time, as I thought, was in
the beginning of September, when, indeed, good people began to
think that God was resolved to make a full end of the people in this
miserable city. This was at that time when the plague was fully come
into the eastern parishes. The parish of Aldgate, if I may give my
opinion, buried above a thousand a week for two weeks, though the
bills did not say so many; - but it surrounded me at so dismal a rate
that there was not a house in twenty uninfected in the Minories, in
Houndsditch, and in those parts of Aldgate parish about the Butcher
Row and the alleys over against me. I say, in those places death
reigned in every corner. Whitechappel parish was in the same
condition, and though much less than the parish I lived in, yet buried
near 600 a week by the bills, and in my opinion near twice as many.
Whole families, and indeed whole streets of families, were swept
away together; insomuch that it was frequent for neighbours to call to
the bellman to go to such-and-such houses and fetch out the people,
for that they were all dead.

And, indeed, the work of removing the dead bodies by carts was
now grown so very odious and dangerous that it was complained of
that the bearers did not take care to dear such houses where all the
inhabitants were dead, but that sometimes the bodies lay several days
unburied, till the neighbouring families were offended with the
stench, and consequently infected; and this neglect of the officers was
such that the churchwardens and constables were summoned to look
after it, and even the justices of the Hamlets were obliged to venture
their lives among them to quicken and encourage them, for
innumerable of the bearers died of the distemper, infected by the
bodies they were obliged to come so near. And had it not been that
the number of poor people who wanted employment and wanted
bread (as I have said before) was so great that necessity drove them to
undertake anything and venture anything, they would never have
found people to be employed. And then the bodies of the dead would
have lain above ground, and have perished and rotted in a dreadful manner.

But the magistrates cannot be enough commended in this, that they
kept such good order for the burying of the dead, that as fast as any of
these they employed to carry off and bury the dead fell sick or died, as
was many times the case, they immediately supplied the places with
others, which, by reason of the great number of poor that was left out
of business, as above, was not hard to do. This occasioned, that
notwithstanding the infinite number of people which died and were
sick, almost all together, yet they were always cleared away and
carried off every night, so that it was never to be said of London that
the living were not able to bury the dead.

As the desolation was greater during those terrible times, so the
amazement of the people increased, and a thousand unaccountable
things they would do in the violence of their fright, as others did the
same in the agonies of their distemper, and this part was very
affecting. Some went roaring and crying and wringing their hands
along the street; some would go praying and lifting up their hands to
heaven, calling upon God for mercy. I cannot say, indeed, whether
this was not in their distraction, but, be it so, it was still an indication
of a more serious mind, when they had the use of their senses, and
was much better, even as it was, than the frightful yellings and cryings
that every day, and especially in the evenings, were heard in some
streets. I suppose the world has heard of the famous Solomon Eagle,
an enthusiast. He, though not infected at all but in his head, went
about denouncing of judgement upon the city in a frightful manner,
sometimes quite naked, and with a pan of burning charcoal on his
head. What he said, or pretended, indeed I could not learn.

I will not say whether that clergyman was distracted or not, or
whether he did it in pure zeal for the poor people, who went every
evening through the streets of Whitechappel, and, with his hands lifted
up, repeated that part of the Liturgy of the Church continually, 'Spare
us, good Lord; spare Thy people, whom Thou has redeemed with Thy
most precious blood.' I say, I cannot speak positively of these things,
because these were only the dismal objects which represented
themselves to me as I looked through my chamber windows (for I
seldom opened the casements), while I confined myself within doors
during that most violent raging of the pestilence; when, indeed, as I
have said, many began to think, and even to say, that there would
none escape; and indeed I began to think so too, and therefore kept
within doors for about a fortnight and never stirred out. But I could
not hold it. Besides, there were some people who, notwithstanding
the danger, did not omit publicly to attend the worship of God, even in
the most dangerous times; and though it is true that a great many
clergymen did shut up their churches, and fled, as other people did,
for the safety of their lives, yet all did not do so. Some ventured to
officiate and to keep up the assemblies of the people by constant
prayers, and sometimes sermons or brief exhortations to repentance
and reformation, and this as long as any would come to hear them.
And Dissenters did the like also, and even in the very churches where
the parish ministers were either dead or fled; nor was there any room
for making difference at such a time as this was.

It was indeed a lamentable thing to hear the miserable lamentations
of poor dying creatures calling out for ministers to comfort them and
pray with them, to counsel them and to direct them, calling out to God
for pardon and mercy, and confessing aloud their past sins. It would
make the stoutest heart bleed to hear how many warnings were then
given by dying penitents to others not to put off and delay their
repentance to the day of distress; that such a time of calamity as this
was no time for repentance, was no time to call upon God. I wish I
could repeat the very sound of those groans and of those exclamations
that I heard from some poor dying creatures when in the height of
their agonies and distress, and that I could make him that reads this
hear, as I imagine I now hear them, for the sound seems still to ring in
my ears.

If I could but tell this part in such moving accents as should alarm
the very soul of the reader, I should rejoice that I recorded those
things, however short and imperfect.

It pleased God that I was still spared, and very hearty and sound in
health, but very impatient of being pent up within doors without air,
as I had been for fourteen days or thereabouts; and I could not restrain
myself, but I would go to carry a letter for my brother to the post-
house. Then it was indeed that I observed a profound silence in the
streets. When I came to the post-house, as I went to put in my letter I
saw a man stand in one corner of the yard and talking to another at a
window, and a third had opened a door belonging to the office. In the
middle of the yard lay a small leather purse with two keys hanging at
it, with money in it, but nobody would meddle with it. I asked how
long it had lain there; the man at the window said it had lain almost an
hour, but that they had not meddled with it, because they did not know
but the person who dropped it might come back to look for it. I had
no such need of money, nor was the sum so big that I had any
inclination to meddle with it, or to get the money at the hazard it
might be attended with; so I seemed to go away, when the man who
had opened the door said he would take it up, but so that if the right
owner came for it he should be sure to have it. So he went in and
fetched a pail of water and set it down hard by the purse, then went
again and fetch some gunpowder, and cast a good deal of powder
upon the purse, and then made a train from that which he had thrown
loose upon the purse. The train reached about two yards. After this
he goes in a third time and fetches out a pair of tongs red hot, and
which he had prepared, I suppose, on purpose; and first setting fire to
the train of powder, that singed the purse and also smoked the air
sufficiently. But he was not content with that, but he then takes up the
purse with the tongs, holding it so long till the tongs burnt through the
purse, and then he shook the money out into the pail of water, so he
carried it in. The money, as I remember, was about thirteen shilling
and some smooth groats and brass farthings.

There might perhaps have been several poor people, as I have
observed above, that would have been hardy enough to have ventured
for the sake of the money; but you may easily see by what I have
observed that the few people who were spared were very careful of
themselves at that time when the distress was so exceeding great.

Much about the same time I walked out into the fields towards Bow;
for I had a great mind to see how things were managed in the river
and among the ships; and as I had some concern in shipping, I had a
notion that it had been one of the best ways of securing one's self from
the infection to have retired into a ship; and musing how to satisfy my
curiosity in that point, I turned away over the fields from Bow to
Bromley, and down to Blackwall to the stairs which are there for
landing or taking water.

Here I saw a poor man walking on the bank, or sea-wall, as they call
it, by himself. I walked a while also about, seeing the houses all shut
up. At last I fell into some talk, at a distance, with this poor man; first
I asked him how people did thereabouts. 'Alas, sir!' says he, 'almost
desolate; all dead or sick. Here are very few families in this part, or in
that village' (pointing at Poplar), 'where half of them are not dead
already, and the rest sick.' Then he pointing to one house, 'There they
are all dead', said he, 'and the house stands open; nobody dares go into
it. A poor thief', says he, 'ventured in to steal something, but he paid
dear for his theft, for he was carried to the churchyard too last night.'
Then he pointed to several other houses. 'There', says he. 'they are all
dead, the man and his wife, and five children. There', says he, 'they
are shut up; you see a watchman at the door'; and so of other houses.
'Why,' says I, 'what do you here all alone? ' 'Why,' says he, 'I am a
poor, desolate man; it has pleased God I am not yet visited, though my
family is, and one of my children dead.' 'How do you mean, then,' said
I, 'that you are not visited?' 'Why,' says he, 'that's my house' (pointing
to a very little, low-boarded house), 'and there my poor wife and two
children live,' said he, 'if they may be said to live, for my wife and one
of the children are visited, but I do not come at them.' And with that
word I saw the tears run very plentifully down his face; and so they
did down mine too, I assure you.

'But,' said I, 'why do you not come at them? How can you abandon
your own flesh and blood?' 'Oh, sir,' says he, 'the Lord forbid! I do not
abandon them; I work for them as much as I am able; and, blessed be
the Lord, I keep them from want'; and with that I observed he lifted up
his eyes to heaven, with a countenance that presently told me I had
happened on a man that was no hypocrite, but a serious, religious,
good man, and his ejaculation was an expression of thankfulness that,
in such a condition as he was in, he should be able to say his family
did not want. 'Well,' says I, 'honest man, that is a great mercy as
things go now with the poor. But how do you live, then, and how are
you kept from the dreadful calamity that is now upon us all?' 'Why,
sir,' says he, 'I am a waterman, and there's my boat,' says he, 'and the
boat serves me for a house. I work in it in the day, and I sleep in it in
the night; and what I get I lay down upon that stone,' says he, showing
me a broad stone on the other side of the street, a good way from his
house; 'and then,' says he, 'I halloo, and call to them till I make them
hear; and they come and fetch it.'

'Well, friend,' says I, 'but how can you get any money as a
waterman? Does an body go by water these times?' 'Yes, sir,' says he,
'in the way I am employed there does. Do you see there,' says he, 'five
ships lie at anchor' (pointing down the river a good way below the
town), 'and do you see', says he, 'eight or ten ships lie at the chain
there, and at anchor yonder?' pointing above the town). 'All those
ships have families on board, of their merchants and owners, and
such-like, who have locked themselves up and live on board, close
shut in, for fear of the infection; and I tend on them to fetch things for
them, carry letters, and do what is absolutely necessary, that they may
not be obliged to come on shore; and every night I fasten my boat on
board one of the ship's boats, and there I sleep by myself, and, blessed
be God, I am preserved hitherto.'

'Well,' said I, 'friend, but will they let you come on board after you
have been on shore here, when this is such a terrible place, and so
infected as it is?'

'Why, as to that,' said he, 'I very seldom go up the ship-side, but
deliver what I bring to their boat, or lie by the side, and they hoist it
on board. If I did, I think they are in no danger from me, for I never
go into any house on shore, or touch anybody, no, not of my own
family; but I fetch provisions for them.'

'Nay,' says I, 'but that may be worse, for you must have those
provisions of somebody or other; and since all this part of the town is
so infected, it is dangerous so much as to speak with anybody, for the
village', said I, 'is, as it were, the beginning of London, though it be at
some distance from it.'

'That is true,' added he; 'but you do not understand me right; I do not
buy provisions for them here. I row up to Greenwich and buy fresh
meat there, and sometimes I row down the river to Woolwich and buy
there; then I go to single farm-houses on the Kentish side, where I am
known, and buy fowls and eggs and butter, and bring to the ships, as
they direct me, sometimes one, sometimes the other. I seldom come
on shore here, and I came now only to call on my wife and hear how
my family do, and give them a little money, which I received last night.'

'Poor man!' said I; 'and how much hast thou gotten for them?'

'I have gotten four shillings,' said he, 'which is a great sum, as things
go now with poor men; but they have given me a bag of bread too, and
a salt fish and some flesh; so all helps out.' 'Well,' said I, 'and have you
given it them yet?'

'No,' said he; 'but I have called, and my wife has answered that she
cannot come out yet, but in half-an-hour she hopes to come, and I am
waiting for her. Poor woman!' says he, 'she is brought sadly down.
She has a swelling, and it is broke, and I hope she will recover; but I
fear the child will die, but it is the Lord - '

Here he stopped, and wept very much.

'Well, honest friend,' said I, 'thou hast a sure Comforter, if thou hast
brought thyself to be resigned to the will of God; He is dealing with us
all in judgement.'

'Oh, sir!' says he, 'it is infinite mercy if any of us are spared, and
who am I to repine!'

'Sayest thou so?' said I, 'and how much less is my faith than thine?'
And here my heart smote me, suggesting how much better this poor
man's foundation was on which he stayed in the danger than mine;
that he had nowhere to fly; that he had a family to bind him to
attendance, which I had not; and mine was mere presumption, his a
true dependence and a courage resting on God; and yet that he used all
possible caution for his safety.

I turned a little way from the man while these thoughts engaged me,
for, indeed, I could no more refrain from tears than he.

At length, after some further talk, the poor woman opened the door
and called, 'Robert, Robert'. He answered, and bid her stay a few
moments and he would come; so he ran down the common stairs to
his boat and fetched up a sack, in which was the provisions he had
brought from the ships; and when he returned he hallooed again.
Then he went to the great stone which he showed me and emptied the
sack, and laid all out, everything by themselves, and then retired; and
his wife came with a little boy to fetch them away, and called and said
such a captain had sent such a thing, and such a captain such a thing,
and at the end adds, 'God has sent it all; give thanks to Him.' When the
poor woman had taken up all, she was so weak she could not carry it
at once in, though the weight was not much neither; so she left the
biscuit, which was in a little bag, and left a little boy to watch it till
she came again.

'Well, but', says I to him, 'did you leave her the four shillings too,
which you said was your week's pay?'

'Yes, yes,' says he; 'you shall hear her own it.' So he calls again,
'Rachel, Rachel,' which it seems was her name, 'did you take up the
money?' 'Yes,' said she. 'How much was it?' said he. 'Four shillings
and a groat,' said she. 'Well, well,' says he, 'the Lord keep you all'; and
so he turned to go away.

As I could not refrain contributing tears to this man's story, so
neither could I refrain my charity for his assistance. So I called him,
'Hark thee, friend,' said I, 'come hither, for I believe thou art in health,
that I may venture thee'; so I pulled out my hand, which was in my
pocket before, 'Here,' says I, 'go and call thy Rachel once more, and
give her a little more comfort from me. God will never forsake a
family that trust in Him as thou dost.' So I gave him four other
shillings, and bid him go lay them on the stone and call his wife.

I have not words to express the poor man's thankfulness, neither
could he express it himself but by tears running down his face.
He called his wife, and told her God had moved the heart of a stranger,
upon hearing their condition, to give them all that money, and a great
deal more such as that he said to her. The woman, too, made signs of the
like thankfulness, as well to Heaven as to me, and joyfully picked it up;
and I parted with no money all that year that I thought better bestowed.

I then asked the poor man if the distemper had not reached to
Greenwich. He said it had not till about a fortnight before; but that
then he feared it had, but that it was only at that end of the town
which lay south towards Deptford Bridge; that he went only to a
butcher's shop and a grocer's, where he generally bought such things
as they sent him for, but was very careful.

I asked him then how it came to pass that those people who had so
shut themselves up in the ships had not laid in sufficient stores of all
things necessary. He said some of them had - but, on the other hand,
some did not come on board till they were frighted into it and till it
was too dangerous for them to go to the proper people to lay in
quantities of things, and that he waited on two ships, which he showed
me, that had laid in little or nothing but biscuit bread and ship beer,
and that he had bought everything else almost for them. I asked him
if there was any more ships that had separated themselves as those
had done. He told me yes, all the way up from the point, right against
Greenwich, to within the shore of Limehouse and Redriff, all the ships
that could have room rid two and two in the middle of the stream, and
that some of them had several families on board. I asked him if the
distemper had not reached them. He said he believed it had not,
except two or three ships whose people had not been so watchful to
keep the seamen from going on shore as others had been, and he said
it was a very fine sight to see how the ships lay up the Pool.

When he said he was going over to Greenwich as soon as the tide
began to come in, I asked if he would let me go with him and bring
me back, for that I had a great mind to see how the ships were ranged,
as he had told me. He told me, if I would assure him on the word of a
Christian and of an honest man that I had not the distemper, he would.
I assured him that I had not; that it had pleased God to preserve me;
that I lived in Whitechappel, but was too impatient of being so long
within doors, and that I had ventured out so far for the refreshment
of a little air, but that none in my house had so much as been touched
with it.

Well, sir,' says he, 'as your charity has been moved to pity me and
my poor family, sure you cannot have so little pity left as to put
yourself into my boat if you were not sound in health which would be
nothing less than killing me and ruining my whole family.' The poor
man troubled me so much when he spoke of his family with such a
sensible concern and in such an affectionate manner, that I could not
satisfy myself at first to go at all. I told him I would lay aside my
curiosity rather than make him uneasy, though I was sure, and very
thankful for it, that I had no more distemper upon me than the freshest
man in the world. Well, he would not have me put it off neither, but
to let me see how confident he was that I was just to him, now
importuned me to go; so when the tide came up to his boat I went in,
and he carried me to Greenwich. While he bought the things which
he had in his charge to buy, I walked up to the top of the hill under
which the town stands, and on the east side of the town, to get a
prospect of the river. But it was a surprising sight to see the number
of ships which lay in rows, two and two, and some places two or three
such lines in the breadth of the river, and this not only up quite to the
town, between the houses which we call Ratcliff and Redriff, which
they name the Pool, but even down the whole river as far as the head


Back to Full Books