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An Historical Account of the Plague

Plagues of the 1600s

1603 – A plague visited England; and from the 23d of December 1602, to the 22d of December 1603, there died in the city and suburbs of London, of this fatal disease, 30,578.

1604 – This plague, which, the preceding year, had carried off 30,578 persons in London, raged to such an alarming extent in the city of York, that the markets within the city were prohibited, to prevent the contagion from spreading into the country; and stone crosses were erected in various parts of the vicinity of York, where the country people met the citizens, and sold them their commodities. Several of these crosses are yet remaining. The lord president’s courts were ad-, journed to Ripon and Durham; many of the inhabitants left the city—the minster, and even the minster-yard, were both shut up, and the unfortunate subjects of infection were sent to Hob- Moor and Horse-Fair, where booths of boards were erected to receive them. No fewer than 3512 inhabitants of York fell victims to this pestilential disease; though by means of these precautions, it was not of long contiuuance.

1607 – A pestilential distemper broke out in London, and the season was so sickly and prevailed so generally that the sailors did not escape, who were at a great distance from land.

1609 – There was another plague at Basle, which was called the great pestilence. It began in that city about the end of October, having before made its progress along the Rhine, and had been in the neighbouring marquisate all the summer. It wjus brought iu by a baker’s servant, who infected his master’s family; from thence it spread to his relations and neighbours. In the beginning of 1610, it began to appear more sensibly, but as carbuncles were not observed, it was doubted whether it was a real plague or not, till July following, when the tokens were plain, and great numbers were carried off. The short time that it raged there, 6408 persons were infected, of which there died 3968, and 2250 recovered. 1625.

A plague broke out in London, which began in Whitechapel, and it is said, in the same house, and on the same day of the month, as in 1603; and it is likewise added, that the same number died thereof; but this will admit of a doubt, for the number of those that died of the plague, was 41,313, and of other diseases 8,848.

1623—1629 – There was a plague which over-run all France, and some who were affected with it, were seized with such a frenzy, that they ran naked into the fields, and if any one offered them clothes, they would immediately throw them away; some threw themselves into rivers, others were subject to hypocondriac melancholy, and imagined they had enemies always at their heels.

1630 – There was a great plague at Montpelier, as recorded by Riverius.

1636—1637 – Deimerbroeck describes a plague, which took place at Nimeguen, the symptoms of which were a fever, carbuncles, spots, head-ache, phrenzy, sleepiness, watchings, anxiety, great weakness, palpitation of the heart, dryness of the tongue, worms, purging, bleeding at the nose, &c.

1640 – There was a plague in London, at which time Dr. Sayer was a practitioner, and the only preservative he made use of before he visited his patients, was a glass of wine, which he repeated at his return home.

1643 – A malignant fever began in the army, at the siege of Reading, which made great devastation in the Earl of Essex’s army, nor did it spare the King’s troops, in and about Oxford, and it extended to the citizens themselves, and the villages ten miles round. It niged most after the summer, and those that were well, were scarcely sufficient to attend on the sick. It was most fatal to the old and unhealthy, though it destroyed persons of all ages..

First it appeared like a putrid synochus, and when it seemed to be gone off by a perspiration or purging, it soon gathered strength again, and sometimes affected the patient with madness, but often with stupidity, great weakness, and convulsive motions, insomuch that at last they with difficulty escaped. About the middle of summer, the signs of a pestilential distemper began to appear plainly; for though it was contagious and mortal before, yet now spots and pustules began to be observed. Some had a weak, unequal, irregular pulse, with sudden loss of strength, but without any great fever. Others had spots appeared upon their bodies, which in some were small and red, in othera broad and livid; some died suddenly, and others again seemed to be under frightful agonies. Those that escaped, (what are called) dog-days, were effected with dulness of the senses, tremblings, weakness of the limbs, and convulsive motions for a long time afterwards. While the dog-days lasted, this disease was treated as a milder plague.

1646 – There was a pestilential distemper in London, as recorded by Dr. Goad.

1656 – The plague was brought from Sardinia to Naples, being introduced into the city by a transport with soldiers on board. It raged with excessive violence, carrying off in less than six months 400,000 of the inhabitants. The distemper was at first called by the physicians a malignant fever; but one of them affirming it to be pestilential, the viceroy, who was apprehensive lest such a report would occasion all communication with Naples to be broke off, wae offended with this declaration, and ordered him to be imprisoned. As a favour, however, he allowed him to return and die in his own house. By this proceeding of the viceroy, the distemper being neglected, made a most rapid and furious progress, and filled the whole city with consternation. The streets were crowded with confused processions, which served to spread the infection through all the quarters. The terror of the people increased their superstition; and it being reported that a certain nun had prophesied that the pestilence would cease upon building a hermitage for her sister nuns, upon the hill of St. Martin’s, the edifice was immediately begun with the most ardent zeal. Persons of the highest quality strove who should perform the meanest offices; some loading themselves with beams, and others carried baskets full of lime and nails, while persons of all ranks stripped themselves of their most valuable effects, which they threw into empty hogsheads placed in the streets to receive the charitable contributions. Their violent agitation, however, and the increasing heats, diffused the malady through the whole city, and the streets and the stairs of the churches were filled with the dead ; the number of whom, for some time of the month of July, amounted daily to 15,000.

1665 – The Great Plague In London.—This year London was ravaged by the most violent plague ever known in Britain. The whole summer had been remarkably still and warm, so that the weather was sometimes sufficating, even to people in perfect health; and by this unusual heat, and sultry atmosphere, people were undoubtedly prepared for receiving the infection, which appeared with violence in the months of July, August, and September. A violent plague had raged in Holland, in the year 1663; on which account the importation of merchandise from that country was prohibited by the British legislature in 1664. Notwithstanding this prohibition, however, it seems the plague had actually been imported; for in the close of the year 1664, two or three persons died suddenly in Westminster, with marks of the plague on their bodies. Some of their neighbours, terrified at the thoughts of their danger, removed into the city; but their removal proved too late for themselves, and fatal to those among whom they came to reside. They soon died of the plague; and communicated the infection to so many others, that it became impossible to extinguish the seeds of it, by separating those that were infected from such as were not It was confined, however, through a hard frosty winter, till the middle of February, when it appeared again in the parish of St» Giles’s, to which it had been originally brought; and after another long rest till April, showed its malignant force afresh, as soon as the warmth of the spring gave it opportunity. At first, it took off one here and there, without any certain proof of their having infected each other, and houses began to be shut up, with a design to prevent its spreading. But it was now too late; the infection gained ground every day, and the shutting up of houses only made the disease spread wider. People, afraid of being shut up, and sequestered from all communications with society, concealed their illness, or found means to escape from their places of confinement ; while numbers expired in the greatest torments, destitute of every assistance; and many died both of the plague and other diseases, who would in all probability have recovered, had they been allowed their liberty, with proper excercise and air.

All means of putting a stop to the infection, were evidently ineffectual. Multitudes fled into the country; many merchants, owners of ships, &c., shut themselves up, on board their vessels, being- supplied with provisions from Greenwich, Wool-, wich, and single farm-houses on the Kentish side. Here, however, they were safe; for the infection never reached below Deptford, though the people went frequently on shore to the country- towns, villages, and farm-houses, to buy fresh provisions. As the violence of the plague increased, the ships which had families on board removed further off; some went quite out to sea, and then put into such harbours, and roads as they could best get at.

In the mean time, the distemper made the most rapid advances within the city, as will be seen by the following statement.

From December 20, 1664, to December 27, 1

February 7, to February 14 1

April 18, to April 25 2

May 2, to May 9 9

May 9, to May 16 3

May 16, to May 23 14

May 23, to May 30 17

May 30, to June 6 43

June 6, to June 13 112

June 13, to June 20 164

June 20, to June 27 267

June 27, to July 4 47O

July 4, to July 11 725

July 11, to July 18 1089

July 18, to July 25 1843

July 25, to August 1 2010

August 1, to August 8 2817

August 8, to August 15 3880

August 15, to August 22 4237

August 22, to August 29 6102

August 29, to September 5 6988

September 5, to September 12 …. 6544

September 12, to September 19 7165

September 19, to September 26 …. 5533

September 26, to October 3 4929

October 3, to October 10 4327

October 10, to October 17 2665

October 17, to October 24 1421

October 24, to October 31 1031

October 31, to November 7 1414

November 7, to November 14 …. 1O50

November 14, to November 21 …. 655

November 21, to November 28 …. 333

November 28, to December 5 210

December 5, to December 12 243

December 12, to December 19 …. 281

All this while, the poor people had been reduced to the greatest distresses, by reason of the stagnation of trade, and the sicknesses to which they were peculiarly liable on account of their manner of living. The rich, however, contributed to their subsistence in a most liberal manner. The sums collected on this occasion are indeed almost incredible ; being said to amount to £ 100,000 per week. The King is reported to have contributed £1000 weekly; and in the parish of Cripplegate alone :£ 17>000 was distributed weekly among the poor inhabitants. By the vigilance also of the magistrates, provisions continued remarkably cheap, throughout the whole time of this dreadful calamity, so that all riots and tumults on that account were prevented; and at last, on the cessation of the disease in the winter of 1665, the inhabitants who had fled returned to their habitations, and London to appearance became as populous as ever, though it was computed that 100,000 persons had been carried off by the plague.

1673 – There was an epidemical spotted fever, in and about Cologne: some were taken of a sudden with anxiety of pracordia, a sense of weight about the region of the stomach, loss of appetite, a spontaneous weariness, and vertiginous pain of the head, especially about the origin of the optic nerves: to all which a fever supervened with a sudden loss of strength; after a short shivering an intense heat succeded, all over the body, attended with the following symptoms: the pulse was quick, and generally small and weak, the thirst was unquenchable, and as the disease increased it was attended with dryness of the tongue; there was generally an acute pain in the hypochondria, especially the left, which ascended up the loins, along the spine of the back, as far as the shoulders, which, at times, was accompanied with a pleurisy, or quinsey: in the augmentation, many were afflicted with purging, and a noise in the ears, hardness of hearing, and some times suffusion of the eyes, and even some lost their senses; at the last they were tormented with perpetual watchings, and became delirious, and then appeared red, livid, or blackish spots. On the seventh day there (was a change, either evident or obscure, unless hindered by an extra supply of medicines. At first this disease invaded only a few, but its malignity was soon discovered by the frequency of the funerals, and continued raging until the third year, and in some places carried off one -third of the inhabitants.

If the patient was delirious about the seventh day, and it increased, attended with purging, low voice, and difficulty of swallowing, as also with convulsive tremblings of the lips and fingers, they were certain signs of approaching death. If the patient had any other disease his case was the more dangerous; it was fatal to plethoric persons; a small quick pulse in the beginning of the disease was a bad omen; small spots, either black or livid, were a bad sign; if they were florid and appeared on the fourth day, it was a sign that the patient might escape with proper care; but if they came out later, or near the critical day, creeping obscurely under the cuticle, it was a sure sign and a fatal prognostic; if the sick person supposed himself to be well, and seemed to be hungry; if the tongue and fauces were very dry, and yet he drank little; if tears seemed constantly to fall from the eyes; these and such like symptoms portended, if not certain death, at least extreme danger: but there was no hope, of recovery if the delirium increased about the seventh day. If the thirst was vehement, with so great a dryness of the tongue and fauces, that the patient could not speak articulately, nor swallow with difficulty, if convulsions supervened, if small duskish spots appeared under the cuticle, attended with purging, it was a sign of approaching death.

Ou the contrary, if the pulse was not very weak, nor swift, but moderately full; if the raving seemed rather the effect of a dream than a delirium ; if the tongue was not very dry, and the thirst tolerable ; if the spots were red, of the larger sort, round, dear, and distinct; .if they broke out on the third day, and a certain recovery might be predicted to follow on the seventh day ; when by the breaking out of a sweat, the most grievous symptoms were mitigated, and the patient able to take rest.

1679 – This year a plague appeared at Vienna, which destroyed a great number of people, and there were many persons, who felt violent pains in the groin, and under the armpits, but without any tumour, and these intermixed with palpitations of the heart; all which went off in time without any farther consequence.


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