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 Diseases. Of the Plague. Aug. 8 to Aug. 15 5,319 3,880 Aug. 15 to Aug. 22 5,668 4,237 Aug. 22 to Aug. 29 7,496 6,102 Aug. 29 to Sept. 5 8,252 6,988 Sept. 5 to Sept. 12 7,690 6,544 Sept. 12 to Sept. 19 8,297 7,165 Sept. 19 to Sept. 30 6,400 5,533 Sept. 27 to Oct. 3 5,728 4,929 Oct. 3 to Oct. 10 5,068 4,227 ——— ——— 59,918 49,605
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 395 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 one hundred and sixteen 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 such a nature as 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 have observed often that in the parishes of Aldgate, Cripplegate, Whitechapel, 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 two thousand a week in those parishes. And I saw it under the hand of one that made as strict an examination as he could, that there really died a hundred thousand people of the plague in it that one year; whereas, in the bills, the article of the plague 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 eyewitnesses, I do verily believe the same; viz., that there died at least a hundred thousand 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 would 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 form, as far as they could cast it, to cover them, taking notice how the wind blew, and so come 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 Whitechapel 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 nor coach was seen in the streets from morning to evening, except some country carts to bring roots and beans, or pease, 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 pesthouse 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 pesthouses; 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 who 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 fifteen or seventeen hundred 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 were beginning 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 one 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. Whitechapel Parish was in the same condition, and though much less than the parish I lived in, yet buried near six hundred 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 neighbors 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 clear such houses where all the inhabitants were dead, but that some of the bodies lay unburied till the neighboring families were offended by 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 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 those 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 judgment 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 out of pure zeal for the poor people, who went every evening through the streets of Whitechapel, 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 hast 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 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 of the clergy 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 they would 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 any difference at such a time as this was.
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 and carry a letter for my brother to the posthouse; then it was, indeed, that I observed a profound silence in the streets. When I came to the posthouse, 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 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 fetched 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 shillings, and some smooth groats and brass farthings.
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 that 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 awhile 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 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, "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 hath 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 is 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?"—"O 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 is 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 it 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 money as a waterman? Does anybody 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 has been 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 farmhouses 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 only now to call my wife, and hear how my little 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 had 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 judgment."
"O sir!" says he, "it is infinite mercy if any of us are spared; and who am I to repine!"
"Say'st 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 away 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 he 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 called 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 from 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 trusts 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 frightened 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 were 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 shores 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 as 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 Whitechapel, 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, he 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 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 in some places two or three such lines in the breadth of the river, and this not only up 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 of Long Reach, which is as far as the hills give us leave to see it.
I cannot guess at the number of ships, but I think there must have been several hundreds of sail; and I could not but applaud the contrivance, for ten thousand people and more who attended ship affairs were certainly sheltered here from the violence of the contagion, and lived very safe and very easy.
I returned to my own dwelling very well satisfied with my day's journey, and particularly with the poor man; also I rejoiced to see that such little sanctuaries were provided for so many families on board in a time of such desolation. I observed, also, that, as the violence of the plague had increased, so the ships which had families on board removed and went farther off, till, as I was told, some went quite away to sea, and put into such harbors and safe roads on the north coast as they could best come at.
But it was also true, that all the people who thus left the land, and lived on board the ships, were not entirely safe from the infection; for many died, and were thrown overboard into the river, some in coffins, and some, as I heard, without coffins, whose bodies were seen sometimes to drive up and down with the tide in the river.
But I believe I may venture to say, that, in those ships which were thus infected, it either happened where the people had recourse to them too late, and did not fly to the ship till they had staid too long on shore, and had the distemper upon them, though perhaps they might not perceive it (and so the distemper did not come to them on board the ships, but they really carried it with them), or it was in these ships where the poor waterman said they had not had time to furnish themselves with provisions, but were obliged to send often on shore to buy what they had occasion for, or suffered boats to come to them from the shore; and so the distemper was brought insensibly among them.
And here I cannot but take notice that the strange temper of the people of London at that time contributed extremely to their own destruction. The plague began, as I have observed, at the other end of the town (namely, in Longacre, Drury Lane, etc.), and came on towards the city very gradually and slowly. It was felt at first in December, then again in February, then again in April (and always but a very little at a time), then it stopped till May; and even the last week in May there were but seventeen in all that end of the town. And all this while, even so long as till there died about three thousand a week, yet had the people in Redriff and in Wapping and Ratcliff, on both sides the river, and almost all Southwark side, a mighty fancy that they should not be visited, or at least that it would not be so violent among them. Some people fancied the smell of the pitch and tar, and such other things, as oil and resin and brimstone (which is much used by all trades relating to shipping), would preserve them. Others argued it, because it was in its extremest violence in Westminster and the parish of St. Giles's and St. Andrew's, etc., and began to abate again before it came among them, which was true, indeed, in part. For example:—
Aug. 8 to Aug. 15, St. Giles-in-the-Fields 242 " " Cripplegate 886 " " Stepney 197 " " St. Mag. Bermondsey 24 " " Rotherhithe 3 Total this week 4,030
Aug. 15 to Aug. 22, St. Giles-in-the-Fields 175 " " Cripplegate 847 " " Stepney 273 " " St. Mag. Bermondsey 36 " " Rotherhithe 2 Total this week 5,319
N.B.—That it was observed that the numbers mentioned in Stepney Parish at that time were generally all on that side where Stepney Parish joined to Shoreditch, which we now call Spittlefields, where the parish of Stepney comes up to the very wall of Shoreditch churchyard. And the plague at this time was abated at St. Giles-in-the-Fields, and raged most violently in Cripplegate, Bishopsgate, and Shoreditch Parishes, but there were not ten people a week that died of it in all that part of Stepney Parish which takes in Limehouse, Ratcliff Highway, and which are now the parishes of Shadwell and Wapping, even to St. Katherine's-by-the-Tower, till after the whole month of August was expired; but they paid for it afterwards, as I shall observe by and by.
This, I say, made the people of Redriff and Wapping, Ratcliff and Limehouse, so secure, and flatter themselves so much with the plague's going off without reaching them, that they took no care either to fly into the country or shut themselves up: nay, so far were they from stirring, that they rather received their friends and relations from the city into their houses; and several from other places really took sanctuary in that part of the town as a place of safety, and as a place which they thought God would pass over, and not visit as the rest was visited.
And this was the reason, that, when it came upon them, they were more surprised, more unprovided, and more at a loss what to do, than they were in other places; for when it came among them really and with violence, as it did indeed in September and October, there was then no stirring out into the country. Nobody would suffer a stranger to come near them, no, nor near the towns where they dwelt; and, as I have been told, several that wandered into the country on the Surrey side were found starved to death in the woods and commons; that country being more open and more woody than any other part so near London, especially about Norwood and the parishes of Camberwell, Dulwich, and Lusum, where it seems nobody durst relieve the poor distressed people for fear of the infection.
This notion having, as I said, prevailed with the people in that part of the town, was in part the occasion, as I said before, that they had recourse to ships for their retreat; and where they did this early and with prudence, furnishing themselves so with provisions so that they had no need to go on shore for supplies, or suffer boats to come on board to bring them,—I say, where they did so, they had certainly the safest retreat of any people whatsoever. But the distress was such, that people ran on board in their fright without bread to eat, and some into ships that had no men on board to remove them farther off, or to take the boat and go down the river to buy provisions, where it may be done safely; and these often suffered, and were infected on board as much as on shore.
As the richer sort got into ships, so the lower rank got into hoys, smacks, lighters, and fishing boats; and many, especially watermen, lay in their boats: but those made sad work of it, especially the latter; for going about for provision, and perhaps to get their subsistence, the infection got in among them, and made a fearful havoc. Many of the watermen died alone in their wherries as they rid at their roads, as well above bridge as below, and were not found sometimes till they were not in condition for anybody to touch or come near them.
Indeed, the distress of the people at this seafaring end of the town was very deplorable, and deserved the greatest commiseration. But, alas! this was a time when every one's private safety lay so near them that they had no room to pity the distresses of others; for every one had death, as it were, at his door, and many even in their families, and knew not what to do, or whither to fly.
This, I say, took away all compassion. Self-preservation, indeed, appeared here to be the first law: for the children ran away from their parents as they languished in the utmost distress; and in some places, though not so frequent as the other, parents did the like to their children. Nay, some dreadful examples there were, and particularly two in one week, of distressed mothers, raving and distracted, killing their own children; one whereof was not far off from where I dwelt, the poor lunatic creature not living herself long enough to be sensible of the sin of what she had done, much less to be punished for it.
It is not, indeed, to be wondered at; for the danger of immediate death to ourselves took away all bowels of love, all concern for one another. I speak in general: for there were many instances of immovable affection, pity, and duty in many, and some that came to my knowledge, that is to say, by hearsay; for I shall not take upon me to vouch the truth of the particulars.
I could tell here dismal stories of living infants being found sucking the breasts of their mothers or nurses after they have been dead of the plague; of a mother in the parish where I lived, who, having a child that was not well, sent for an apothecary to view the child, and when he came, as the relation goes, was giving the child suck at her breast, and to all appearance was herself very well; but, when the apothecary came close to her, he saw the tokens upon that breast with which she was suckling the child. He was surprised enough, to be sure; but, not willing to fright the poor woman too much, he desired she would give the child into his hand: so he takes the child, and, going to a cradle in the room, lays it in, and, opening its clothes, found the tokens upon the child too; and both died before he could get home to send a preventive medicine to the father of the child, to whom he had told their condition. Whether the child infected the nurse mother, or the mother the child, was not certain, but the last most likely.
Likewise of a child brought home to the parents from a nurse that had died of the plague; yet the tender mother would not refuse to take in her child, and laid it in her bosom, by which she was infected and died, with the child in her arms dead also.
It would make the hardest heart move at the instances that were frequently found of tender mothers tending and watching with their dear children, and even dying before them, and sometimes taking the distemper from them, and dying, when the child for whom the affectionate heart had been sacrificed has got over it and escaped.
I have heard also of some who, on the death of their relations, have grown stupid with the insupportable sorrow; and of one in particular, who was so absolutely overcome with the pressure upon his spirits, that by degrees his head sunk into his body so between his shoulders, that the crown of his head was very little seen above the bone of his shoulders; and by degrees, losing both voice and sense, his face, looking forward, lay against his collar bone, and could not be kept up any otherwise, unless held up by the hands of other people. And the poor man never came to himself again, but languished near a year in that condition, and died. Nor was he ever once seen to lift up his eyes, or to look upon any particular object.
I cannot undertake to give any other than a summary of such passages as these, because it was not possible to come at the particulars where sometimes the whole families where such things happened were carried off by the distemper; but there were innumerable cases of this kind which presented to the eye and the ear, even in passing along the streets, as I have hinted above. Nor is it easy to give any story of this or that family, which there was not divers parallel stories to be met with of the same kind.
But as I am now talking of the time when the plague raged at the easternmost parts of the town; how for a long time the people of those parts had flattered themselves that they should escape, and how they were surprised when it came upon them as it did (for indeed it came upon them like an armed man when it did come),—I say this brings me back to the three poor men who wandered from Wapping, not knowing whither to go or what to do, and whom I mentioned before,—one a biscuit baker, one a sailmaker, and the other a joiner, all of Wapping or thereabouts.
The sleepiness and security of that part, as I have observed, was such, that they not only did not shift for themselves as others did, but they boasted of being safe, and of safety being with them. And many people fled out of the city, and out of the infected suburbs, to Wapping, Ratcliff, Limehouse, Poplar, and such places, as to places of security. And it is not at all unlikely that their doing this helped to bring the plague that way faster than it might otherwise have come: for though I am much for people's flying away, and emptying such a town as this upon the first appearance of a like visitation, and that all people who have any possible retreat should make use of it in time, and begone, yet I must say, when all that will fly are gone, those that are left, and must stand it, should stand stock-still where they are, and not shift from one end of the town or one part of the town to the other; for that is the bane and mischief of the whole, and they carry the plague from house to house in their very clothes.
Wherefore were we ordered to kill all the dogs and cats, but because, as they were domestic animals, and are apt to run from house to house and from street to street, so they are capable of carrying the effluvia or infectious steams of bodies infected, even in their furs and hair? And therefore it was, that, in the beginning of the infection, an order was published by the lord mayor and by the magistrates, according to the advice of the physicians, that all the dogs and cats should be immediately killed; and an officer was appointed for the execution.
It is incredible, if their account is to be depended upon, what a prodigious number of those creatures were destroyed. I think they talked of forty thousand dogs and five times as many cats; few houses being without a cat, some having several, sometimes five or six in a house. All possible endeavors were used also to destroy the mice and rats, especially the latter, by laying rats-bane and other poisons for them; and a prodigious multitude of them were also destroyed.
I often reflected upon the unprovided condition that the whole body of the people were in at the first coming of this calamity upon them; and how it was for want of timely entering into measures and managements, as well public as private, that all the confusions that followed were brought upon us, and that such a prodigious number of people sunk in that disaster which, if proper steps had been taken, might, Providence concurring, have been avoided, and which, if posterity think fit, they may take a caution and warning from. But I shall come to this part again.
I come back to my three men. Their story has a moral in every part of it; and their whole conduct, and that of some whom they joined with, is a pattern for all poor men to follow, or women either, if ever such a time comes again: and if there was no other end in recording it, I think this a very just one, whether my account be exactly according to fact or no.
Two of them were said to be brothers, the one an old soldier, but now a biscuit baker; the other a lame sailor, but now a sailmaker; the third a joiner. Says John the biscuit baker, one day, to Thomas, his brother, the sailmaker, "Brother Tom, what will become of us? The plague grows hot in the city, and increases this way. What shall we do?"
"Truly," says Thomas, "I am at a great loss what to do; for I find if it comes down into Wapping I shall be turned out of my lodging." And thus they began to talk of it beforehand.
John. Turned out of your lodging, Tom? If you are, I don't know who will take you in; for people are so afraid of one another now, there is no getting a lodging anywhere.
Tho. Why, the people where I lodge are good civil people, and have kindness for me too; but they say I go abroad every day to my work, and it will be dangerous; and they talk of locking themselves up, and letting nobody come near them.
John. Why, they are in the right, to be sure, if they resolve to venture staying in town.
Tho. Nay, I might even resolve to stay within doors too; for, except a suit of sails that my master has in hand, and which I am just finishing, I am like to get no more work a great while. There's no trade stirs now, workmen and servants are turned off everywhere; so that I might be glad to be locked up too. But I do not see that they will be willing to consent to that any more than to the other.
John. Why, what will you do then, brother? And what shall I do? for I am almost as bad as you. The people where I lodge are all gone into the country but a maid, and she is to go next week, and to shut the house quite up; so that I shall be turned adrift to the wide world before you: and I am resolved to go away too, if I knew but where to go.
Tho. We were both distracted we did not go away at first, when we might ha' traveled anywhere: there is no stirring now. We shall be starved if we pretend to go out of town. They won't let us have victuals, no, not for our money, nor let us come into the towns, much less into their houses.
John. And, that which is almost as bad, I have but little money to help myself with, neither.
Tho. As to that, we might make shift. I have a little, though not much; but I tell you there is no stirring on the road. I know a couple of poor honest men in our street have attempted to travel; and at Barnet, or Whetstone, or thereabout, the people offered to fire at them if they pretended to go forward: so they are come back again quite discouraged.
John. I would have ventured their fire, if I had been there. If I had been denied food for my money, they should have seen me take it before their faces; and, if I had tendered money for it, they could not have taken any course with me by the law.
Tho. You talk your old soldier's language, as if you were in the Low Countries now; but this is a serious thing. The people have good reason to keep anybody off that they are not satisfied are sound at such a time as this, and we must not plunder them.
John. No, brother, you mistake the case, and mistake me too: I would plunder nobody. But for any town upon the road to deny me leave to pass through the town in the open highway, and deny me provisions for my money, is to say the town has a right to starve me to death; which cannot be true.
Tho. But they do not deny you liberty to go back again from whence you came, and therefore they do not starve you.
John. But the next town behind me will, by the same rule, deny me leave to go back; and so they do starve me between them. Besides, there is no law to prohibit my traveling wherever I will on the road.
Tho. But there will be so much difficulty in disputing with them at every town on the road, that it is not for poor men to do it, or undertake it, at such a time as this is especially.
John. Why, brother, our condition, at this rate, is worse than anybody's else; for we can neither go away nor stay here. I am of the same mind with the lepers of Samaria. If we stay here, we are sure to die. I mean especially as you and I are situated, without a dwelling house of our own, and without lodging in anybody's else. There is no lying in the street at such a time as this; we had as good go into the dead cart at once. Therefore, I say, if we stay here, we are sure to die; and if we go away, we can but die. I am resolved to be gone.
Tho. You will go away. Whither will you go, and what can you do? I would as willingly go away as you, if I knew whither; but we have no acquaintance, no friends. Here we were born, and here we must die.
John. Look you, Tom, the whole kingdom is my native country as well as this town. You may as well say I must not go out of my house if it is on fire, as that I must not go out of the town I was born in when it is infected with the plague. I was born in England, and have a right to live in it if I can.
Tho. But you know every vagrant person may, by the laws of England, be taken up, and passed back to their last legal settlement.
John. But how shall they make me vagrant? I desire only to travel on upon my lawful occasions.
Tho. What lawful occasions can we pretend to travel, or rather wander, upon? They will not be put off with words.
John. Is not flying to save our lives a lawful occasion? And do they not all know that the fact is true? We cannot be said to dissemble.
Tho. But, suppose they let us pass, whither shall we go?
John. Anywhere to save our lives: it is time enough to consider that when we are got out of this town. If I am once out of this dreadful place, I care not where I go.
Tho. We shall be driven to great extremities. I know not what to think of it.
John. Well, Tom, consider of it a little.
This was about the beginning of July; and though the plague was come forward in the west and north parts of the town, yet all Wapping, as I have observed before, and Redriff and Ratcliff, and Limehouse and Poplar, in short, Deptford and Greenwich, both sides of the river from the Hermitage, and from over against it, quite down to Blackwall, was entirely free. There had not one person died of the plague in all Stepney Parish, and not one on the south side of Whitechapel Road, no, not in any parish; and yet the weekly bill was that very week risen up to 1,006.
It was a fortnight after this before the two brothers met again, and then the case was a little altered, and the plague was exceedingly advanced, and the number greatly increased. The bill was up at 2,785, and prodigiously increasing; though still both sides of the river, as below, kept pretty well. But some began to die in Redriff, and about five or six in Ratcliff Highway, when the sailmaker came to his brother John, express, and in some fright; for he was absolutely warned out of his lodging, and had only a week to provide himself. His brother John was in as bad a case, for he was quite out, and had only begged leave of his master, the biscuit baker, to lodge in an outhouse belonging to his workhouse, where he only lay upon straw, with some biscuit sacks, or "bread sacks," as they called them, laid upon it, and some of the same sacks to cover him.
Here they resolved, seeing all employment being at an end, and no work or wages to be had, they would make the best of their way to get out of the reach of the dreadful infection, and, being as good husbands as they could, would endeavor to live upon what they had as long as it would last, and then work for more, if they could get work anywhere of any kind, let it be what it would.
While they were considering to put this resolution in practice in the best manner they could, the third man, who was acquainted very well with the sailmaker, came to know of the design, and got leave to be one of the number; and thus they prepared to set out.
It happened that they had not an equal share of money; but as the sailmaker, who had the best stock, was, besides his being lame, the most unfit to expect to get anything by working in the country, so he was content that what money they had should all go into one public stock, on condition that whatever any one of them could gain more than another, it should, without any grudging, be all added to the public stock.
They resolved to load themselves with as little baggage as possible, because they resolved at first to travel on foot, and to go a great way, that they might, if possible, be effectually safe. And a great many consultations they had with themselves before they could agree about what way they should travel; which they were so far from adjusting, that, even to the morning they set out, they were not resolved on it.
At last the seaman put in a hint that determined it. "First," says he, "the weather is very hot; and therefore I am for traveling north, that we may not have the sun upon our faces, and beating upon our breasts, which will heat and suffocate us; and I have been told," says he, "that it is not good to overheat our blood at a time when, for aught we know, the infection may be in the very air. In the next place," says he, "I am for going the way that may be contrary to the wind as it may blow when we set out, that we may not have the wind blow the air of the city on our backs as we go." These two cautions were approved of, if it could be brought so to hit that the wind might not be in the south when they set out to go north.
John the baker, who had been a soldier, then put in his opinion. "First," says he, "we none of us expect to get any lodging on the road, and it will be a little too hard to lie just in the open air. Though it may be warm weather, yet it may be wet and damp, and we have a double reason to take care of our healths at such a time as this; and therefore," says he, "you, brother Tom, that are a sailmaker, might easily make us a little tent; and I will undertake to set it up every night and take it down, and a fig for all the inns in England. If we have a good tent over our heads, we shall do well enough."
The joiner opposed this, and told them, let them leave that to him: he would undertake to build them a house every night with his hatchet and mallet, though he had no other tools, which should be fully to their satisfaction, and as good as a tent.
The soldier and the joiner disputed that point some time; but at last the soldier carried it for a tent: the only objection against it was, that it must be carried with them, and that would increase their baggage too much, the weather being hot. But the sailmaker had a piece of good hap fall in, which made that easy; for his master who he worked for, having a ropewalk, as well as sailmaking trade, had a little poor horse that he made no use of then, and, being willing to assist the three honest men, he gave them the horse for the carrying their baggage; also, for a small matter of three days' work that his man did for him before he went, he let him have an old topgallant sail that was worn out, but was sufficient, and more than enough, to make a very good tent. The soldier showed how to shape it, and they soon, by his direction, made their tent, and fitted it with poles or staves for the purpose: and thus they were furnished for their journey; viz., three men, one tent, one horse, one gun for the soldier (who would not go without arms, for now he said he was no more a biscuit baker, but a trooper). The joiner had a small bag of tools, such as might be useful if he should get any work abroad, as well for their subsistence as his own. What money they had they brought all into one public stock, and thus they began their journey. It seems that in the morning when they set out, the wind blew, as the sailor said, by his pocket compass, at N.W. by W., so they directed, or rather resolved to direct, their course N.W.
But then a difficulty came in their way, that as they set out from the hither end of Wapping, near the Hermitage, and that the plague was now very violent, especially on the north side of the city, as in Shoreditch and Cripplegate Parish, they did not think it safe for them to go near those parts: so they went away east, through Ratcliff Highway, as far as Ratcliff Cross, and leaving Stepney church still on their left hand, being afraid to come up from Ratcliff Cross to Mile End, because they must come just by the churchyard, and because the wind, that seemed to blow more from the west, blowed directly from the side of the city where the plague was hottest. So, I say, leaving Stepney, they fetched a long compass, and, going to Poplar and Bromley, came into the great road just at Bow.
Here the watch placed upon Bow Bridge would have questioned them; but they, crossing the road into a narrow way that turns out of the higher end of the town of Bow to Oldford, avoided any inquiry there, and traveled on to Oldford. The constables everywhere were upon their guard, not so much, it seems, to stop people passing by, as to stop them from taking up their abode in their towns; and, withal, because of a report that was newly raised at that time, and that indeed was not very improbable, viz., that the poor people in London, being distressed and starved for want of work, and by that means for want of bread, were up in arms, and had raised a tumult, and that they would come out to all the towns round to plunder for bread. This, I say, was only a rumor, and it was very well it was no more; but it was not so far off from being a reality as it has been thought, for in a few weeks more the poor people became so desperate by the calamity they suffered, that they were with great difficulty kept from running out into the fields and towns, and tearing all in pieces wherever they came. And, as I have observed before, nothing hindered them but that the plague raged so violently, and fell in upon them so furiously, that they rather went to the grave by thousands than into the fields in mobs by thousands; for in the parts about the parishes of St. Sepulchre's, Clerkenwell, Cripplegate, Bishopsgate, and Shoreditch, which were the places where the mob began to threaten, the distemper came on so furiously, that there died in those few parishes, even then, before the plague was come to its height, no less than 5,361 people in the first three weeks in August, when at the same time the parts about Wapping, Ratcliff, and Rotherhithe were, as before described, hardly touched, or but very lightly; so that in a word, though, as I said before, the good management of the lord mayor and justices did much to prevent the rage and desperation of the people from breaking out in rabbles and tumults, and, in short, from the poor plundering the rich,—I say, though they did much, the dead cart did more: for as I have said, that, in five parishes only, there died above five thousand in twenty days, so there might be probably three times that number sick all that time; for some recovered, and great numbers fell sick every day, and died afterwards. Besides, I must still be allowed to say, that, if the bills of mortality said five thousand, I always believed it was twice as many in reality, there being no room to believe that the account they gave was right, or that indeed they were, among such confusions as I saw them in, in any condition to keep an exact account.
But to return to my travelers. Here they were only examined, and, as they seemed rather coming from the country than from the city, they found the people easier with them; that they talked to them, let them come into a public house where the constable and his warders were, and gave them drink and some victuals, which greatly refreshed and encouraged them. And here it came into their heads to say, when they should be inquired of afterwards, not that they came from London, but that they came out of Essex.
To forward this little fraud, they obtained so much favor of the constable at Oldford as to give them a certificate of their passing from Essex through that village, and that they had not been at London; which, though false in the common acceptation of London in the country, yet was literally true, Wapping or Ratcliff being no part either of the city or liberty.
This certificate, directed to the next constable, that was at Homerton, one of the hamlets of the parish of Hackney, was so serviceable to them, that it procured them, not a free passage there only, but a full certificate of health from a justice of the peace, who, upon the constable's application, granted it without much difficulty. And thus they passed through the long divided town of Hackney (for it lay then in several separated hamlets), and traveled on till they came into the great north road, on the top of Stamford Hill.
By this time they began to weary; and so, in the back road from Hackney, a little before it opened into the said great road, they resolved to set up their tent, and encamp for the first night; which they did accordingly, with this addition: that, finding a barn, or a building like a barn, and first searching as well as they could to be sure there was nobody in it, they set up their tent with the head of it against the barn. This they did also because the wind blew that night very high, and they were but young at such a way of lodging, as well as at the managing their tent.
Here they went to sleep; but the joiner, a grave and sober man, and not pleased with their lying at this loose rate the first night, could not sleep, and resolved, after trying it to no purpose, that he would get out, and, taking the gun in his hand, stand sentinel, and guard his companions. So, with the gun in his hand, he walked to and again before the barn; for that stood in the field near the road, but within the hedge. He had not been long upon the scout, but he heard a noise of people coming on as if it had been a great number; and they came on, as he thought, directly towards the barn. He did not presently awake his companions, but in a few minutes more, their noise growing louder and louder, the biscuit baker called to him and asked him what was the matter, and quickly started out too. The other being the lame sailmaker, and most weary, lay still in the tent.
As they expected, so the people whom they had heard came on directly to the barn, when one of our travelers challenged, like soldiers upon the guard, with, "Who comes there?" The people did not answer immediately; but one of them speaking to another that was behind them, "Alas, alas! we are all disappointed," says he; "here are some people before us; the barn is taken up."
They all stopped upon that, as under some surprise; and it seems there were about thirteen of them in all, and some women among them. They consulted together what they should do; and by their discourse, our travelers soon found they were poor distressed people too, like themselves, seeking shelter and safety; and besides, our travelers had no need to be afraid of their coming up to disturb them, for as soon as they heard the words, "Who comes there?" they could hear the women say, as if frighted, "Do not go near them; how do you know but they may have the plague?" And when one of the men said, "Let us but speak to them," the women said, "No, don't, by any means; we have escaped thus far by the goodness of God; do not let us run into danger now, we beseech you."
Our travelers found by this that they were a good sober sort of people, and flying for their lives as they were; and as they were encouraged by it, so John said to the joiner, his comrade, "Let us encourage them too, as much as we can." So he called to them. "Hark ye, good people," says the joiner; "we find by your talk that you are flying from the same dreadful enemy as we are. Do not be afraid of us; we are only three poor men of us. If you are free from the distemper, you shall not be hurt by us. We are not in the barn, but in a little tent here on the outside, and we will remove for you; we can set up our tent again immediately anywhere else." And upon this a parley began between the joiner, whose name was Richard, and one of their men, whose said name was Ford.
Ford. And do you assure us that you are all sound men?
Rich. Nay, we are concerned to tell you of it, that you may not be uneasy, or think yourselves in danger; but you see we do not desire you should put yourselves into any danger, and therefore I tell you that we have not made use of the barn; so we will remove from it, that you may be safe and we also.
Ford. That is very kind and charitable; but if we have reason to be satisfied that you are sound, and free from the visitation, why should we make you remove, now you are settled in your lodging, and, it may be, are laid down to rest? We will go into the barn, if you please, to rest ourselves awhile, and we need not disturb you.
Rich. Well, but you are more than we are. I hope you will assure us that you are all of you sound too, for the danger is as great from you to us as from us to you.
Ford. Blessed be God that some do escape, though it be but few! What may be our portion still, we know not, but hitherto we are preserved.
Rich. What part of the town do you come from? Was the plague come to the places where you lived?
Ford. Ay, ay, in a most frightful and terrible manner, or else we had not fled away as we do; but we believe there will be very few left alive behind us.
Rich. What part do you come from?
Ford. We are most of us from Cripplegate Parish; only two or three of Clerkenwell Parish, but on the hither side.
Rich. How, then, was it that you came away no sooner?
Ford. We have been away some time, and kept together as well as we could at the hither end of Islington, where we got leave to lie in an old uninhabited house, and had some bedding and conveniences of our own, that we brought with us; but the plague is come up into Islington too, and a house next door to our poor dwelling was infected and shut up, and we are come away in a fright.
Rich. And what way are you going?
Ford. As our lot shall cast us, we know not whither; but God will guide those that look up to him.
They parleyed no further at that time, but came all up to the barn, and with some difficulty got into it. There was nothing but hay in the barn, but it was almost full of that, and they accommodated themselves as well as they could, and went to rest; but our travelers observed that before they went to sleep, an ancient man, who, it seems, was the father of one of the women, went to prayer with all the company, recommending themselves to the blessing and protection of Providence before they went to sleep.
It was soon day at that time of the year; and as Richard the joiner had kept guard the first part of the night, so John the soldier relieved him, and he had the post in the morning. And they began to be acquainted with one another. It seems, when they left Islington, they intended to have gone north away to Highgate, but were stopped at Holloway, and there they would not let them pass; so they crossed over the fields and hills to the eastward, and came out at the Boarded River, and so, avoiding the towns, they left Hornsey on the left hand, and Newington on the right hand, and came into the great road about Stamford Hill on that side, as the three travelers had done on the other side. And now they had thoughts of going over the river in the marshes, and make forwards to Epping Forest, where they hoped they should get leave to rest. It seems they were not poor, at least not so poor as to be in want: at least, they had enough to subsist them moderately for two or three months, when, as they said, they were in hopes the cold weather would check the infection, or at least the violence of it would have spent itself, and would abate, if it were only for want of people left alive to be infected.
This was much the fate of our three travelers, only that they seemed to be the better furnished for traveling, and had it in their view to go farther off; for, as to the first, they did not propose to go farther than one day's journey, that so they might have intelligence every two or three days how things were at London.
But here our travelers found themselves under an unexpected inconvenience, namely, that of their horse; for, by means of the horse to carry their baggage, they were obliged to keep in the road, whereas the people of this other band went over the fields or roads, path or no path, way or no way, as they pleased. Neither had they any occasion to pass through any town, or come near any town, other than to buy such things as they wanted for their necessary subsistence; and in that, indeed, they were put to much difficulty, of which in its place.
But our three travelers were obliged to keep the road, or else they must commit spoil, and do the country a great deal of damage in breaking down fences and gates to go over inclosed fields, which they were loath to do if they could help it.
Our three travelers, however, had a great mind to join themselves to this company, and take their lot with them; and, after some discourse, they laid aside their first design, which looked northward, and resolved to follow the other into Essex. So in the morning they took up their tent and loaded their horse, and away they traveled all together.
They had some difficulty in passing the ferry at the riverside, the ferryman being afraid of them; but, after some parley at a distance, the ferryman was content to bring his boat to a place distant from the usual ferry, and leave it there for them to take it. So, putting themselves over, he directed them to leave the boat, and he, having another boat, said he would fetch it again; which it seems, however, he did not do for above eight days.
Here, giving the ferryman money beforehand, they had a supply of victuals and drink, which he brought and left in the boat for them, but not without, as I said, having received the money beforehand. But now our travelers were at a great loss and difficulty how to get the horse over, the boat being small, and not fit for it, and at last could not do it without unloading the baggage and making him swim over.
From the river they traveled towards the forest; but when they came to Walthamstow, the people of that town denied to admit them, as was the case everywhere; the constables and their watchmen kept them off at a distance, and parleyed with them. They gave the same account of themselves as before; but these gave no credit to what they said, giving it for a reason, that two or three companies had already come that way and made the like pretenses, but that they had given several people the distemper in the towns where they had passed, and had been afterwards so hardly used by the country, though with justice too, as they had deserved, that about Brentwood or that way, several of them perished in the fields, whether of the plague, or of mere want and distress, they could not tell.
This was a good reason, indeed, why the people of Walthamstow should be very cautious, and why they should resolve not to entertain anybody that they were not well satisfied of; but as Richard the joiner, and one of the other men who parleyed with them, told them, it was no reason why they should block up the roads and refuse to let the people pass through the town, and who asked nothing of them but to go through the street; that, if their people were afraid of them, they might go into their houses and shut their doors: they would neither show them civility nor incivility, but go on about their business.
The constables and attendants, not to be persuaded by reason, continued obstinate, and would hearken to nothing: so the two men that talked with them went back to their fellows to consult what was to be done. It was very discouraging in the whole, and they knew not what to do for a good while; but at last John, the soldier and biscuit baker, considering awhile, "Come," says he, "leave the rest of the parley to me." He had not appeared yet: so he sets the joiner, Richard, to work to cut some poles out of the trees, and shape them as like guns as he could; and in a little time he had five or six fair muskets, which at a distance would not be known; and about the part where the lock of a gun is, he caused them to wrap cloth and rags, such as they had, as soldiers do in wet weather to preserve the locks of their pieces from rust; the rest was discolored with clay or mud, such as they could get; and all this while the rest of them sat under the trees by his direction, in two or three bodies, where they made fires at a good distance from one another.
While this was doing, he advanced himself, and two or three with him, and set up their tent in the lane, within sight of the barrier which the townsmen had made, and set a sentinel just by it with the real gun, the only one they had, and who walked to and fro with the gun on his shoulder, so as that the people of the town might see them; also he tied the horse to a gate in the hedge just by, and got some dry sticks together and kindled a fire on the other side of the tent, so that the people of the town could see the fire and the smoke, but could not see what they were doing at it.
After the country people had looked upon them very earnestly a great while, and by all that they could see could not but suppose that they were a great many in company, they began to be uneasy, not for their going away, but for staying where they were; and above all, perceiving they had horses and arms (for they had seen one horse and one gun at the tent, and they had seen others of them walk about the field on the inside of the hedge by the side of the lane with their muskets, as they took them to be, shouldered),—I say, upon such a sight as this, you may be assured they were alarmed and terribly frightened; and it seems they went to a justice of the peace to know what they should do. What the justice advised them to, I know not; but towards the evening they called from the barrier, as above, to the sentinel at the tent.
"What do you want?" says John.
"Why, what do you intend to do?" says the constable.
"To do?" says John; "what would you have us to do?"
Const. Why don't you begone? What do you stay there for?
John. Why do you stop us on the King's highway, and pretend to refuse us leave to go on our way?
Const. We are not bound to tell you the reason, though we did let you know it was because of the plague.
John. We told you we were all sound, and free from the plague, which we were not bound to have satisfied you of, and yet you pretend to stop us on the highway.
Const. We have a right to stop it up, and our own safety obliges us to it; besides, this is not the King's highway, it is a way upon sufferance. You see here is a gate, and if we do let people pass here, we make them pay toll.
John. We have a right to seek our own safety as well as you; and you may see we are flying for our lives, and it is very unchristian and unjust in you to stop us.
Const. You may go back from whence you came, we do not hinder you from that.
John. No, it is a stronger enemy than you that keeps us from doing that, or else we should not have come hither.
Const. Well, you may go any other way, then.
John. No, no. I suppose you see we are able to send you going, and all the people of your parish, and come through your town when we will; but, since you have stopped us here, we are content. You see we have encamped here, and here we will live. We hope you will furnish us with victuals.
Const. We furnish you! What mean you by that?
John. Why, you would not have us starve, would you? If you stop us here, you must keep us.
Const. You will be ill kept at our maintenance.
John. If you stint us, we shall make ourselves the better allowance.
Const. Why, you will not pretend to quarter upon us by force, will you?
John. We have offered no violence to you yet, why do you seem to oblige us to it? I am an old soldier, and cannot starve; and, if you think that we shall be obliged to go back for want of provisions, you are mistaken.
Const. Since you threaten us, we shall take care to be strong enough for you. I have orders to raise the county upon you.
John. It is you that threaten, not we; and, since you are for mischief, you cannot blame us if we do not give you time for it. We shall begin our march in a few minutes.
Const. What is it you demand of us?
John. At first we desired nothing of you but leave to go through the town. We should have offered no injury to any of you, neither would you have had any injury or loss by us. We are not thieves, but poor people in distress, and flying from the dreadful plague in London, which devours thousands every week. We wonder how you can be so unmerciful.
Const. Self-preservation obliges us.
John. What! To shut up your compassion, in a case of such distress as this?
Const. Well, if you will pass over the fields on your left hand, and behind that part of the town, I will endeavor to have gates opened for you.
John. Our horsemen cannot pass with our baggage that way. It does not lead into the road that we want to go, and why should you force us out of the road? Besides, you have kept us here all day without any provisions but such as we brought with us. I think you ought to send us some provisions for our relief.
Const. If you will go another way, we will send you some provisions.
John. That is the way to have all the towns in the county stop up the ways against us.
Const. If they all furnish you with food, what will you be the worse? I see you have tents: you want no lodging.
John. Well, what quantity of provisions will you send us?
Const. How many are you?
John. Nay, we do not ask enough for all our company. We are in three companies. If you will send us bread for twenty men and about six or seven women for three days, and show us the way over the field you speak of, we desire not to put your people into any fear for us. We will go out of our way to oblige you, though we are as free from infection as you are.
Const. And will you assure us that your other people shall offer us no new disturbance?
John. No, no; you may depend on it.
Const. You must oblige yourself, too, that none of your people shall come a step nearer than where the provisions we send you shall be set down.
John. I answer for it, we will not.
Here he called to one of his men, and bade him order Captain Richard and his people to march the lower way on the side of the marshes, and meet them in the forest; which was all a sham, for they had no Captain Richard or any such company.
Accordingly, they sent to the place twenty loaves of bread and three or four large pieces of good beef, and opened some gates, through which they passed; but none of them had courage so much as to look out to see them go, and as it was evening, if they had looked, they could not have seen them so as to know how few they were.
This was John the soldier's management; but this gave such an alarm to the county, that, had they really been two or three hundred, the whole county would have been raised upon them, and they would have been sent to prison, or perhaps knocked on the head.
They were soon made sensible of this, for two days afterwards they found several parties of horsemen and footmen also about, in pursuit of three companies of men armed, as they said, with muskets, who were broke out from London and had the plague upon them, and that were not only spreading the distemper among the people, but plundering the country.
As they saw now the consequence of their case, they soon saw the danger they were in: so they resolved, by the advice also of the old soldier, to divide themselves again. John and his two comrades, with the horse, went away as if towards Waltham,—the other in two companies, but all a little asunder,—and went towards Epping.
The first night they encamped all in the forest, and not far off from one another, but not setting up the tent for fear that should discover them. On the other hand, Richard went to work with his ax and his hatchet, and, cutting down branches of trees, he built three tents or hovels, in which they all encamped with as much convenience as they could expect.
The provisions they had at Walthamstow served them very plentifully this night; and as for the next, they left it to Providence. They had fared so well with the old soldier's conduct, that they now willingly made him their leader, and the first of his conduct appeared to be very good. He told them that they were now at a proper distance enough from London; that, as they need not be immediately beholden to the country for relief, they ought to be as careful the country did not infect them as that they did not infect the country; that what little money they had they must be as frugal of as they could; that as he would not have them think of offering the country any violence, so they must endeavor to make the sense of their condition go as far with the country as it could. They all referred themselves to his direction: so they left their three houses standing, and the next day went away towards Epping; the captain also (for so they now called him), and his two fellow travelers, laid aside their design of going to Waltham, and all went together.
When they came near Epping, they halted, choosing out a proper place in the open forest, not very near the highway, but not far out of it, on the north side, under a little cluster of low pollard trees. Here they pitched their little camp, which consisted of three large tents or huts made of poles, which their carpenter, and such as were his assistants, cut down, and fixed in the ground in a circle, binding all the small ends together at the top, and thickening the sides with boughs of trees and bushes, so that they were completely close and warm. They had besides this a little tent where the women lay by themselves, and a hut to put the horse in.
It happened that the next day, or the next but one, was market day at Epping, when Captain John and one of the other men went to market and bought some provisions, that is to say, bread, and some mutton and beef; and two of the women went separately, as if they had not belonged to the rest, and bought more. John took the horse to bring it home, and the sack which the carpenter carried his tools in, to put it in. The carpenter went to work and made them benches and stools to sit on, such as the wood he could get would afford, and a kind of a table to dine on.
They were taken no notice of for two or three days; but after that, abundance of people ran out of the town to look at them, and all the country was alarmed about them. The people at first seemed afraid to come near them; and, on the other hand, they desired the people to keep off, for there was a rumor that the plague was at Waltham, and that it had been in Epping two or three days. So John called out to them not to come to them. "For," says he, "we are all whole and sound people here, and we would not have you bring the plague among us, nor pretend we brought it among you."
After this, the parish officers came up to them, and parleyed with them at a distance, and desired to know who they were, and by what authority they pretended to fix their stand at that place. John answered very frankly, they were poor distressed people from London, who, foreseeing the misery they should be reduced to if the plague spread into the city, had fled out in time for their lives, and, having no acquaintance or relations to fly to, had first taken up at Islington, but, the plague being come into that town, were fled farther; and, as they supposed that the people of Epping might have refused them coming into their town, they had pitched their tents thus in the open field and in the forest, being willing to bear all the hardships of such a disconsolate lodging rather than have any one think, or be afraid, that they should receive injury by them.
At first the Epping people talked roughly to them, and told them they must remove; that this was no place for them; and that they pretended to be sound and well, but that they might be infected with the plague, for aught they knew, and might infect the whole country, and they could not suffer them there.
John argued very calmly with them a great while, and told them that London was the place by which they, that is, the townsmen of Epping, and all the country round them, subsisted; to whom they sold the produce of their lands, and out of whom they made the rents of their farms; and to be so cruel to the inhabitants of London, or to any of those by whom they gained so much, was very hard; and they would be loath to have it remembered hereafter, and have it told, how barbarous, how inhospitable, and how unkind they were to the people of London when they fled from the face of the most terrible enemy in the world; that it would be enough to make the name of an Epping man hateful throughout all the city, and to have the rabble stone them in the very streets whenever they came so much as to market; that they were not yet secure from being visited themselves, and that, as he heard, Waltham was already; that they would think it very hard, that, when any of them fled for fear before they were touched, they should be denied the liberty of lying so much as in the open fields.
The Epping men told them again that they, indeed, said they were sound, and free from the infection, but that they had no assurance of it; and that it was reported that there had been a great rabble of people at Walthamstow, who made such pretenses of being sound as they did, but that they threatened to plunder the town, and force their way, whether the parish officers would or no; that there were near two hundred of them, and had arms and tents like Low Country soldiers; that they extorted provisions from the town by threatening them with living upon them at free quarter, showing their arms, and talking in the language of soldiers; and that several of them having gone away towards Rumford and Brentwood, the country had been infected by them, and the plague spread into both those large towns, so that the people durst not go to market there, as usual; that it was very likely they were some of that party, and, if so, they deserved to be sent to the county jail, and be secured till they had made satisfaction for the damage they had done, and for the terror and fright they had put the country into.
John answered, that what other people had done was nothing to them; that they assured them they were all of one company; that they had never been more in number than they saw them at that time (which, by the way, was very true); that they came out in two separate companies, but joined by the way, their cases being the same; that they were ready to give what account of themselves anybody desired of them, and to give in their names and places of abode, that so they might be called to an account for any disorder that they might be guilty of; that the townsmen might see they were content to live hardly, and only desired a little room to breathe in on the forest, where it was wholesome (for where it was not, they could not stay, and would decamp if they found it otherwise there).
"But," said the townsmen, "we have a great charge of poor upon our hands already, and we must take care not to increase it. We suppose you can give us no security against your being chargeable to our parish and to the inhabitants, any more than you can of being dangerous to us as to the infection."
"Why, look you," says John, "as to being chargeable to you, we hope we shall not. If you will relieve us with provisions for our present necessity, we will be very thankful. As we all lived without charity when we were at home, so we will oblige ourselves fully to repay you, if God please to bring us back to our own families and houses in safety, and to restore health to the people of London.
"As to our dying here, we assure you, if any of us die, we that survive will bury them, and put you to no expense, except it should be that we should all die, and then, indeed, the last man, not being able to bury himself, would put you to that single expense; which I am persuaded," says John, "he would leave enough behind him to pay you for the expense of.
"On the other hand," says John, "if you will shut up all bowels of compassion, and not relieve us at all, we shall not extort anything by violence, or steal from any one; but when that little we have is spent, if we perish for want, God's will be done!"
John wrought so upon the townsmen by talking thus rationally and smoothly to them, that they went away; and though they did not give any consent to their staying there, yet they did not molest them, and the poor people continued there three or four days longer without any disturbance. In this time they had got some remote acquaintance with a victualing house on the outskirts of the town, to whom they called at a distance to bring some little things that they wanted, and which they caused to be set down at some distance, and always paid for very honestly.
During this time the younger people of the town came frequently pretty near them, and would stand and look at them, and would sometimes talk with them at some space between; and particularly it was observed that the first sabbath day the poor people kept retired, worshiped God together, and were heard to sing psalms.
These things, and a quiet, inoffensive behavior, began to get them the good opinion of the country, and the people began to pity them and speak very well of them; the consequence of which was, that upon the occasion of a very wet, rainy night, a certain gentleman who lived in the neighborhood sent them a little cart with twelve trusses or bundles of straw, as well for them to lodge upon as to cover and thatch their huts, and to keep them dry. The minister of a parish not far off, not knowing of the other, sent them also about two bushels of wheat and half a bushel of white pease.
They were very thankful, to be sure, for this relief, and particularly the straw was a very great comfort to them; for though the ingenious carpenter had made them frames to lie in, like troughs, and filled them with leaves of trees and such things as they could get, and had cut all their tent cloth out to make coverlids, yet they lay damp and hard and unwholesome till this straw came, which was to them like feather beds, and, as John said, more welcome than feather beds would have been at another time.
This gentleman and the minister having thus begun, and given an example of charity to these wanderers, others quickly followed; and they received every day some benevolence or other from the people, but chiefly from the gentlemen who dwelt in the country round about. Some sent them chairs, stools, tables, and such household things as they gave notice they wanted. Some sent them blankets, rugs, and coverlids; some, earthenware; and some, kitchen ware for ordering their food.
Encouraged by this good usage, their carpenter, in a few days, built them a large shed or house with rafters, and a roof in form, and an upper floor, in which they lodged warm, for the weather began to be damp and cold in the beginning of September; but this house being very well thatched, and the sides and roof very thick, kept out the cold well enough. He made also an earthen wall at one end, with a chimney in it; and another of the company, with a vast deal of trouble and pains, made a funnel to the chimney to carry out the smoke.
Here they lived comfortably, though coarsely, till the beginning of September, when they had the bad news to hear, whether true or not, that the plague, which was very hot at Waltham Abbey on the one side, and Rumford and Brentwood on the other side, was also come to Epping, to Woodford, and to most of the towns upon the forest; and which, as they said, was brought down among them chiefly by the higglers, and such people as went to and from London with provisions.
If this was true, it was an evident contradiction to the report which was afterwards spread all over England, but which, as I have said, I cannot confirm of my own knowledge, namely, that the market people carrying provisions to the city never got the infection or carried it back into the country; both which, I have been assured, has been false.
It might be that they were preserved even beyond expectation, though not to a miracle; that abundance went and came and were not touched; and that was much encouragement for the poor people of London, who had been completely miserable if the people that brought provisions to the markets had not been many times wonderfully preserved, or at least more preserved than could be reasonably expected.
But these new inmates began to be disturbed more effectually, for the towns about them were really infected. And they began to be afraid to trust one another so much as to go abroad for such things as they wanted; and this pinched them very hard, for now they had little or nothing but what the charitable gentlemen of the country supplied them with. But, for their encouragement, it happened that other gentlemen of the country, who had not sent them anything before, began to hear of them and supply them. And one sent them a large pig, that is to say, a porker; another, two sheep; and another sent them a calf: in short, they had meat enough, and sometimes had cheese and milk, and such things. They were chiefly put to it for bread; for when the gentlemen sent them corn, they had nowhere to bake it or to grind it. This made them eat the first two bushels of wheat that was sent them, in parched corn, as the Israelites of old did, without grinding or making bread of it.
At last they found means to carry their corn to a windmill near Woodford, where they had it ground; and afterwards the biscuit baker made a hearth so hollow and dry, that he could bake biscuit cakes tolerably well, and thus they came into a condition to live without any assistance or supplies from the towns. And it was well they did; for the country was soon after fully infected, and about a hundred and twenty were said to have died of the distemper in the villages near them, which was a terrible thing to them.
On this they called a new council, and now the towns had no need to be afraid they should settle near them; but, on the contrary, several families of the poorer sort of the inhabitants quitted their houses, and built huts in the forest, after the same manner as they had done. But it was observed that several of these poor people that had so removed had the sickness even in their huts or booths, the reason of which was plain: namely, not because they removed into the air, but because they did not remove time enough, that is to say, not till, by openly conversing with other people, their neighbors, they had the distemper upon them (or, as may be said, among them), and so carried it about with them whither they went; or (2) because they were not careful enough, after they were safely removed out of the towns, not to come in again and mingle with the diseased people.
But be it which of these it will, when our travelers began to perceive that the plague was not only in the towns, but even in the tents and huts on the forest near them, they began then not only to be afraid, but to think of decamping and removing; for, had they staid, they would have been in manifest danger of their lives.
It is not to be wondered that they were greatly afflicted at being obliged to quit the place where they had been so kindly received, and where they had been treated with so much humanity and charity; but necessity, and the hazard of life which they came out so far to preserve, prevailed with them, and they saw no remedy. John, however, thought of a remedy for their present misfortune; namely, that he would first acquaint that gentleman who was their principal benefactor with the distress they were in, and to crave his assistance and advice.
This good charitable gentleman encouraged them to quit the place, for fear they should be cut off from any retreat at all by the violence of the distemper; but whither they should go, that he found very hard to direct them to. At last John asked of him, whether he, being a justice of the peace, would give them certificates of health to other justices who they might come before, that so, whatever might be their lot, they might not be repulsed, now they had been also so long from London. This his worship immediately granted, and gave them proper letters of health; and from thence they were at liberty to travel whither they pleased.
Accordingly they had a full certificate of health, intimating that they had resided in a village in the county of Essex so long; that, being examined and scrutinized sufficiently, and having been retired from all conversation for above forty days, without any appearance of sickness, they were therefore certainly concluded to be sound men, and might be safely entertained anywhere, having at last removed rather for fear of the plague, which was come into such a town, rather than for having any signal of infection upon them, or upon any belonging to them.
With this certificate they removed, though with great reluctance; and, John inclining not to go far from home, they removed towards the marshes on the side of Waltham. But here they found a man who, it seems, kept a weir or stop upon the river, made to raise water for the barges which go up and down the river; and he terrified them with dismal stories of the sickness having been spread into all the towns on the river and near the river, on the side of Middlesex and Hertfordshire (that is to say, into Waltham, Waltham Cross, Enfield, and Ware, and all the towns on the road), that they were afraid to go that way; though it seems the man imposed upon them, for that the thing was not really true.
However, it terrified them, and they resolved to move across the forest towards Rumford and Brentwood; but they heard that there were numbers of people fled out of London that way, who lay up and down in the forest, reaching near Rumford, and who, having no subsistence or habitation, not only lived oddly, and suffered great extremities in the woods and fields for want of relief, but were said to be made so desperate by those extremities, as that they offered many violences to the country, robbed and plundered, and killed cattle, and the like; and others, building huts and hovels by the roadside, begged, and that with an importunity next door to demanding relief: so that the country was very uneasy, and had been obliged to take some of them up.