Category Archives: Death

Curiosities Death Family

She had a colour as fresh as a rose

These fragments come from a strange and troubling late 17th century account of a young girl who was dug up from her grave and put on public view by her father. Whether the exhumation took place to confirm the allegedly abusive behaviour of her employers, or whether her father had decided to exploit her death for financial gain, is a mystery.

There was a person who lived in Newgate-Street, a Servant, whose name was Grace Ashburne, a Hartfordshire woman, bound an apprentice to the wife of one Mr. Beachcroft, a Taylor, who now lives in Kings-head Alley in Newgate-Street. The wife of the person aforementioned was to instruct her in her art and trade of a Hood and Scarfe maker, which she did for a considerable time, although by relation of the neighbourhood, with many dry rubs and blows (which might possibly hasten her untimely End). This person, [Grace] was buryed on Christmas Eve last, and was heard by several neighbors most lamentably to groan and cry out in her grave, to the great astonishment of the neighbourhood; who upon complaint occasioned her to be taken out of her grave, after she had been buried four days.

Upon first taking out of the grave, several credible persons affirm that she was not only warm, but breathed, to the great astonishment of the beholders. Upon which her father (who is now a prisoner in the Fleet) caused her to be taken where some hundreds of spectators have been to view the dead corpse, amongst the multitude I myself was one.  She had a colour as fresh as a rose, nay more fresh than can possibly be conceived, yet on her arms she hath several bruises, and a scar on her head, which was reported to have been given her by her unkind master (through her mistresses perswasion) some months before her death.

Having been exposed to publick view for several hours, at a penny a piece, at a Smiths shop in the Long Walk near Christs Church Hospital, she was once more carried to her last home (the Grave).  A jury sat on her, who found the case so foul, that through some means they were contented to defer their evidence, or bring in their Verdict, until the Twenty Third of January.

In the time of this maids servitude she was much abused. Both master and mistriss were very harsh to her, as themselves cannot disown, unless they will contradict the whole neighbourhood. But to conclude, for certain the poor wench is dead, and her master is living, and her unkind dame too, who each of them live in one house in Newgate Street, in Kings head Alley, where any person may be informed of the truth of this relation.  For a truth, this I dare affirm, the poor girl was abused, and many times hath in the hearing of several, wished her self rather to be buryed alive, than to live under such hard and severe usage, and now her prayers have taken effect, let the world judge.

© 2009-2012 All Rights Reserved

Death London

Infection hath shut up four thousand doors

These fragments come from a text entitled London’s Lamentation, written by Thomas Dekker, and published in 1625. Dekker was a notorious pamphleteer and social commentator, and this text acts as an admonishment to the thousands of people who have fled the capital in an attempt to escape the plague. For as Dekker points out, with so many people leaving London to its fate, there are few left to care for the sick and dying.  These fragments paint a stark and terrifying picture of London in the grip of a terrible epidemic.

Thou maist here see (as through a Perspective-Glasse) the miserable estate of London, in this heavy time of contagion. It is a picture not drawne to the life, but to the death of above twelve thousand, in lesse then six weekes. If thou art in the Countrey, cast thine eye towards us here at home, and behold what we endure.

None thrive but Apothecaries, Butchers, Cookes, and Coffin-makers. Coach-men ride a cock-horse, and are so full of ladish trickes, that you cannot be jolted sixe miles from London, under thirty or forty shillings. Never was Hackney-flesh so deare.  Few woollen Drapers sell any Cloth, but every Church-yard is every day full of linnen Drapers: and the Earth is the great Warehouse, which is piled up with winding-sheetes.

There were never so many burials, yet never such little weeping. A teare is scarce to be taken off from the cheeke of a whole Family for they that should shed them, are so accustomed, and so hardned to dismall accidents, that weeping is almost growne out of fashion. Why, says a Mother, do I shower teares downe for my Husband or Childe, when I, before tomorrow morning, shall go to them, and never have occasion to weepe any more?

(Whilst I am setting these things downe, Thursday the 1st of July brought me that this weeke have departed 3000 soules and that the Plague is much increased).

Infection hath shut up, from the beginning of June, to the middle of July, almost foure thousand doors. Foure thousand crosses set on these doors. Foure thousand Red-Crosses have frighted the Inhabitants in a very little time. But greater is their number who have beene frighted, and fled out of the City at the setting up of those Crosses. In many Church-yards, Graves still gaping for more want of roome, they are compelled to dig Graves like little Cellers, piling up forty or fifty in a Pit.

A woman (with a Child in her armes) passing through Fleet-street, was strucke sicke upon a sudden; the Childe leaning to her cheeke, immediately departed. The Mother perceiving no such matter, but finding her owne heart wounded to the death, she sat downe neere to a shop where hot Waters were sold. The charitable woman of that shop, perceiving by the poore wretches countenance how ill she was, ran in all haste to fetch her some comfort; but before she could come, the Woman was quite dead: and so her childe and she went lovingly together to one Grave.

A Gentleman having spent his time in the Warres, and comming but lately over in health, and lusty state of body, going along the streets, fell suddenly downe and dyed, never uttering more words then these, Lord, have mercy upon me. Another dropped downe dead by All gate, at the Bell-Taverne door.

A Flax-man in Turnebull street, being about to send his Wife to market, on a sudden felt a pricking in his arme, neare the place where once he had a sore, and pon this, plucking up his sleeve, he called to his Wife to stay; there was no neede to fetch any thing for him from Market: for, see (quoth he) I am marked: and so shewing Gods Tokens, dyed in a few minutes after.

A man was in his Coffin, to be put into a Grave, in Cripple-gate Church-yard, and the Bearers offering to take him out, he opened his eyes, and breathed; but they running to fetch Aqua vita for him, before it came, he was full dead.

A lusty country fellow, that came to towne to get Harvest-worke, having sixteene or eighteene shillings in his Purse, fell sicke in some lodging he had, in Old-street; was in the night time thrust out of doors, and none else receiving him, he lay upon Straw, under Suttons Hospitall wall, neere the high way, and there miserably dyed.

A woman going along Barbican, in the moneth of July, on a Wednesday, the first of the Dog-daies, went not farre, but suddenly fell sicke, and sat downe. The gaping multitude perceiving it, stood round about her, afarre off; she making signes for a little drinke.  Money was given by a stander by to fetch her some, but the uncharitable Woman of the Ale-house denyed to lend whosoever a cup of cold water, and her Pot to any infected companion.  The poore soule dyed suddenly, and yet, albeit all fled from her when she lived, yet being dead, some (like Ravens) seized upon her body (having good clothes about her) stripped her, and buried her, none knowing what she was, or from whence she came.

How many every day drop downe staggering, strucke with infection in the open Streets?  What numbers breathe their last upon Stalles?  How many creepe into Eatries, and Stables, and there dye?  How many lye languishing in the common High-wayes, and in the open Fields, on Pads of Straw, end their miserable lives, unpittied, unrelieved, unknowne? The Gospell has a long time cryed out against our iniquities, but we are deafe, sleepy and sluggish; and now there is a Thunder from Heaven to wake us.

© 2009-2012 All Rights Reserved
Crime Death

Two children in the wood

These sad fragments are from a 17th century account of the murder of two children. Their parents having died, the children are given over to the custody of their uncle, Mr Truelove, who hires two thugs to dispatch the children so he can claim their fortune.  Only one of the thugs survives, and he is subsequently executed for his crime.

The Ruffians, having got the Babes in their Possession, and the Reward that Truelove promised them, rid some Miles towards London, the little prating Travellers (who now, poor Innocents! were travelling to their long Home) entertaining their Murtherers with such pritty innocent Discourses, as would even have mollified a Heart of Stone, and softened the Breasts of Tygres, but these were far more hard and savage.  At last they came to a great Wood, by which there was a narrow Lane turned out of the Road, into which they went, and there alighting, took the poor Children down, and went into the Wood together, the Children talking to them all the while; which made the milder Villain of the two persuade the other to save their Lives, since they had had already their Reward; and that ’twas best to carry them and leave them near some unfrequented Village were somebody might see them and take them in.  But this the other Relentless Rogue refused; alleging Truelove had paid them largely, and therefore upon Honour they were bound to perform their Word (See what mistaken Notions some Men have of Honour; when nothing can be Honourable, but what is honest, just, and virtuous.)

But in this Contest the Quarrel grew so high, that they from Words fell to their Swords, and he that was for killing of the Children, was first killed himself; whilst the poor Babes stood crying by, frighted to see them quarrel.  The surviving Villain, after the other’s Death, came to the Children, and bid them leave their crying, and go along with him, and he would have them where they should have some Victuals.  And after he had led them about two Miles farther in the Wood, he bid them sit down upon the Grass, and he would bring them presently some Sugar-plumes, and Bread and Butter, with which, the Children being pleased sat down, expecting it accordingly.

And there he left these harmless Babes to perish; as surely (though not so kindly) killing them, as if he had cut their Throats. Tired with their Journey, and their Expectation of the Man’s Return, as it grew dark they fell a crying, which they continued so long till they fell asleep; and waking in the Morning, they got up, and sought to get out of the Wood. Which when they could not do, they searched for Food, and found some Black-berries, and some few wild Apples, which not sustaining Nature, they soon dyed with Hunger; and although they had none to bury them, the kinder Robin-red-breast buried them with Leaves.
© 2009-2012 All Rights Reserved
Death Weather

Circles fringed about the moon

Given it’s currently hurricane season I thought these fragments from the 1630s on hurricane activity in the Caribbean might prove interesting.

The Indians doe call it Hurri Cano, or Hurri Caenae, or Cani: some say that it comes to the same place once in five yeares, but that is uncertaine, for it hath no certaine or set times of either yeares or dayes for the comming of it. It is held by the Natives to be a Spirit, it comes with such an extraordinary violence, with Thunder, Lightning, and impetuous gusts of winde, (as it hath done many times) for it touches not all places there, but sometimes it comes but once, or never in a mans age to one place. The Indians are so skilfull, that they doe know two or three or foure dayes before hand of the comming of it, and then they doe make provision to prevent the harme which it may doe unto them. They doe observe that just so many daies as it will be before the Hurri Cano doth come, so many Circles will bee as it were fringed and gleaming about the Moone: as if it bee but one day before it come, then there will be but one Circle; if two Circles, then it wil be two daies; and so perhaps three or foure Circles, as it did lately at Saint Christophers, where it came in that fearefull and unresistable fury, on the fifth day of August last, 1638. Where, although that the Dutch and English had warning of the comming of it, by the knowledge that the Indians had by observation of the Moone and the Circles, and that all possible meanes was used for the safeguard of men ships, and goods, yet when it came, the force of it was so great, and continued so vehemently the space of foure dayes and nights without intermission, that maugre all the industry that could be, it sunke five Shipps, whereof two were English, and three were Dutch; and of Englishmen, Dutchmen, and Indians, it did drowne and kill to the number of Seventy and five persons, besides the harme it did to many Houses and goods.

Where the Here or Hurri Cano comes, the Winde doth blow so strong and forcible, that it will puffe men from the ground into the Aire five or sixe foote high, as if they were no more but ragges, clouts, or feathers; and so violent it is, that it leaves not a leaf upon any Bough or Tree: and likewise it overthroweth many Trees, rending them up by the roots, so that the Inhabitants (when they are warned of the comming of the Hurri Cano by the Circles about the Moone) they doe lop off the limbes and great heads off from the Trees, because the violent and outragious Tempest of the tempestuous Windes shall have the lesse force and power to overturne them; and especially those Trees which they doe intend to preserve and keepe for bearing of fruite, they doe commonly cut off, and graffe them againe by our English advice.

The people all of them forsake their Houses, as not daring to remaine in them for feare that they should be blown down about their eares; at which dangerous times they do creep for safety into holes Caves, pits, Dens and hollow places of the earth, which are either naturall of themselves, or digged and framed by Art or laborious industry of man, which places are good harbours and defences against the Hurry-Cano. They doe likewise tye or make fast Hamackoes or hanging Cabin unto two Trees that are lopy’d, and then the people do get into those Cabins, & so they do lye downe in them, being hang’d above the ground sixe or seaven foot, eyther with strong Ropes or iron chaines; and so they swing two and againe like a Bell when it is rung, when this tempest is; their Hamackoes are made either of course linnin cloath, or of strong stuffe made of twisted threads spun out of the rindes of trees; some who have not these Cabins, do for feare bind themselves with cords, singlely or severally to divers trees, and so they do remaine bound untill the fury of the Hurry-Cano is past.
© 2009-2012 All Rights Reserved
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