Wednesday, January 27, 2016

1657 Boston courthouse where Mary Dyer was tried

Some of the images are of the Boston Town House where trials were held from 1657 on, and the undeveloped space as it would have appeared before 1630, when Boston was founded.

William Dyer, the first attorney general in America, was there several times on court business, as we know from his letter to the General Court on his wife's behalf. And Mary Dyer knew the courthouse from her arraignments and capital trials in 1657, 1659, and 1660. (The Old State House is not the same building or location as the State House where the Mary Dyer and Anne Hutchinson statues are located. See map below.)

I found the animation on the Facebook page of City of Boston Archaeology Program, who told me that the animated GIF is not copyrighted. This was their caption:
"In this one we feature the Old State House, first built in 1713, walking back its 1775 appearance during the Boston Massacre (with a cameo from the First "Old Brick" Church built in 1713), and the Town House first built in 1657 before ending with its approximate appearance before European arrival. Today, the building is operated by the The Bostonian Society."
GIF created by and courtesy of the City of Boston Archaeology Program, used by permission.
http://giphy.com/gifs/history-landscape-boston-3o7ZexZwpEP1Ili9bO



Learn more about the 1657 Boston Townhouse (Old State House) in the book

Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This, by Christy K Robinson.
Available at Amazon in paperback and Kindle.



Saturday, January 23, 2016

William Dyer’s annus horribilis

Where was William Dyer during the plagues of 1625?

© 2016 Christy K Robinson

The woman's plague bubo is being lanced. Probably
a European illustration, not English.
Extraordinary floods, failed crops, pandemics of bubonic plague, typhus (spotted fever), and dysentery (flux), the death of the old king and late coronation of the new king. Leaving home in the country and being apprenticed (on trial, anyway) at age 14 in the big city. William Dyer’s first year away from home was an annus horribilis.

Midsummer Day in 16th- and 17th-century England was a solstice celebration with pagan roots and a Christian blending, on the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. Antiquarian John Stowe wrote:

“…[On Midsummer's Day] every man’s door being shadowed with green birch, long fennel, St John’s Wort, Orpin, white lilies and such like, garnished upon with garlands of beautiful flowers.”

There were bonfires lit, and wealthy people supplied cakes and ale. Trade and craft guilds all over England participated in candlelit military processions, and London and its many liveries were no exception. 
Procession walks past Charing Cross in Westminster
Univ of Victoria Library
http://internetshakespeare.uvic.ca/Library/SLT/society/city%20life/citylondon3.html

On Midsummer Day, June 24, 1624, when William Dyer was not quite 15 years old, he was apprenticed to Westminster (London) haberdasher and milliner, Walter Blackborne. William had been born 120 miles north of there, between Sleaford and Boston in Lincolnshire, and was educated in maths, writing, history, Latin, literature, religion, and the arts, probably at the Carre Grammar School. June 24 was a popular day for apprentices to be contracted, so there were probably initiation ceremonies at the guildhalls, after which the masters and apprentices prepared for their evening parade. William, enjoying the festival, had no way of knowing what his life would be like in the next year and a half.

In February 1625, there was a super-tidal event, when the surge up the Thames flooded London. Westminster Hall had three feet of standing water. Across eastern England, in the lowland fens (marshes) that stretched up to Boston and William's home village of Kirkby LaThorpe, the sea and the freshwater rivers and fens surged over their banks and dikes.

The old King James died of a tertian fever on March 27, 1625, when his son and heir, Charles, was set to marry the princess Henrietta Maria of France. The princess was a Catholic, and neither the Church of England nor the Puritan dissenters held any liking for Catholics. Near the end of April,
“the London apprentices – a class always foremost in city frays – catching the spirit of their sires and elders, gave it violent expression, by assaulting the Spanish ambassador’s house in Bishopsgate Street, threatening to pull it about his Excellency's ears, and to take his life in revenge for permitting English Papists to frequent his chapel.”  www.archive.org/stream/.../ecclesiasticalhi01stou_djvu.txt Ecclesiastical History of England, by John Stoughton, 1807

We don’t know if William was among that apprentice mob, but as a 15-year-old boy, was probably kept under the strict and watchful eyes of his master, who lived in Westminster, two miles away.

“Apprentices were reliant on their masters for their food, drink, clothing and houses; they were not to gamble, marry, or stay out to ‘haunt play-houses, taverns or ale houses’ without permission; they were rarely paid; instead they often paid their master to take them on in the first place; and this was to last for seven years – at least. In return, their master would feed, house, clothe and instruct them.”
http://www.gresham.ac.uk/lectures-and-events/apprenticeship-in-early-modern-london-the-economic-origins-and-destinations-of  Apprenticeships in Early Modern London: Economic Origins and Destinations of Apprentices in the 16th and 17th Centuries, by Dr Patrick Wallis and Dr Christopher Minns, Gresham College, London, 2012

In May 1625, immediately after King James’ funeral, bubonic plague, which was a perennial threat but isolated, broke out in the poorest, most crowded streets of London, where the old, filthy, crowded tenements met the edge of the Thames, and had been flooded three months before. The wooden buildings were likely rotting and moldy from damp. Sometimes the infected fleas arrived in bales of cotton or other imported goods, and sometimes the sailors and dock hands spread the disease. The weekly mortality bills show that the confirmed plague deaths squared and cubed upon themselves. 


These nine panels illustrate the Great Plague of 1665, but they easily fit the 1625 plague, as well.
On June 12, 1625, Chamberlain writes:
"We have had for a month together the extremest cold weather ever I knew in this season." The whole month of June was a time of "ceaseless rain in London." In the country, the hay-harvest was spoilt, and the corn-harvest [all grains, but not American Indian corn] was only a half crop.

“The deaths from all causes in May and June were so many more than the reported plague-deaths could account for that those who watched the bills of mortality (Mead at Cambridge, Salvetti in London) suspected that plague was being concealed. "It is a strange reckoning," says Mead of the bill for the week ending June 30: "Are there some other diseases as bad and spreading as the plague, or is there untrue dealing in the account?" Probably there were both; at the end of the year the deaths from all causes were some 20,000 more than the plague accounted for; and at least half of that excess was extra to the ordinary mortality. The spotted fever [typhus] and the flux [bloody dysentery] doubtless continued side by side with the plague, having been its forerunners… The plague of 1625 was a great national event, although historians, as usual, do no more than mention it. Coinciding exactly with the accession of Charles I, it stopped all trade in the City for a season and left great confusion and impoverishment behind it; in many provincial towns and in whole counties the plague of that or the following years made the people unable, supposing that they had been willing, to take up the forced loan, and to furnish ships or the money for them.

On June 13, King Charles met his bride Henrietta Maria at Dover, and then sailed up the Thames to Greenwich by June 19, where he was urged to come no further toward London because of the plague. Parliament met in Westminster until early July, but thereafter at Richmond and Oxford, because there was plague in Westminster.

Was there a Midsummer celebration on June 24, with the candlelight parade of masters and apprentices, or was it suspended that year for fear of plague? In the third week of June, there were “only” 293 plague deaths, a terrible epidemic, but nothing like they were about to experience.

Magistrates, government officials, merchants, ministers, doctors, the royal court, and every rich person fled London and its suburbs for the countryside.  A Tuscan envoy wrote from Richmond:
“The magistrates in desperation have abandoned every care; everyone does what he pleases, and the houses of merchants who have left London are broken into and robbed." On September 1, Dr Meddus, rector of St Gabriel's, Fenchurch Street, wrote: "The want and misery is the greatest here that ever any man living knew; no trading at all; the rich all gone; housekeepers and apprentices of manual trades begging in the streets, and that in such a lamentable manner as will make the strongest heart to yearn." The city an hour after noon was the same as at three in the morning in the month of June, no more people stirring, no more shops open.  https://books.google.com/books?id=tXwaAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA512&lpg=PA507&focus=viewport&dq=plague+of+1625&output=text  A History of Epidemics in Britain, Vol. 1, by Charles Creighton, 1894

But outside of London, the villages and farms and manors were terrified to accept the city people, who brought the plague with them, either on fleas and ticks in their possessions, or by their coughing and sneezing of the pneumonic plague. A magistrate was having his boots fitted, when the shoemaker fell dead at his feet. A woman fled London for Cumbria, and died the day she arrived. Some victims awoke healthy and died by the evening, and some lingered in agony for days.
A 1630 woodcut from ‘A Looking-glasse for City and Countrey’ by H. Gosson
(via Wellcome Images)
Woodcut images of the time show the skeleton of death riding along with the coach and horses as they flee the city. The citizens left by boats, both east and west on the Thames, and on foot. They had no shelter in the country, not even a barn, for no one would allow them to stay on their land. Undoubtedly, in this cold and rainy summer of the Little Ice Age, many died of exposure, typhus, or dysentery, rather than plague. One man took his seven children with him out of the city, but when all seven children died, he moved back to his home.

“They [the Londoners] are driven back by men with bills and halberds, passing through village after village in disgrace until they end their journey; they sleep in stables, barns and outhouses, or even by the roadside in ditches and in the open fields. And that was the lot of comparatively wealthy men. Taylor says that when he was with the queen's barge at Hampton Court and up the river almost to Oxford, he had much grief and remorse to see and hear of the miserable and cold entertainment [hospitality] of many Londoners:
"The name of London now both far and near
Strikes all the towns and villages with fear.
And to be thought a Londoner is worse
Than one that breaks a house, or takes a purse....
Whilst hay-cock lodging with hard slender fare,
Welcome, like dogs into a church, they are.
For why the hob-nailed boors, inhuman blocks,
Uncharitable hounds, hearts hard as rocks,
Did suffer people in the field to sink
Rather than give or sell a draught of drink.”

In the city, most doctors were gone, but quacks posted handbills about their cures of lozenges or syrups. Of the sick, some raved in delirium, some cried with pain from the buboes. Church bells tolled relentlessly for funerals, so no one could hear the hours of the day. Coffin makers, collectors of the dead, sextons and gravediggers did a booming business, as did the men who slaughtered tens of thousands of dogs and cats in the city. Carts rumbled down the streets every day to pick up the dead, who were lowered from windows because the doors were sealed to isolate the sick from the well. 

Plague cure by Thomas Sherwood, Practitioner in physick.  
"If any that are ancient or weak shall be infected
with the Pestilence, it shall not be necessary
to give them any purge, vomit, or sweat, or to let them bloud;
because they cannot beare the losse of so many spirits
as are spent by such evacuations. Therefore you may
lay upon the pit of the stomack of the sicke a young live puppy,
and if the sick can but sleep the space of
three or foure houres, they shall recover presently,
and the dog shall die of the Plague.
This I have known approved; and I do believe
that it will be a cure for all leane, spare, and weake
bodies both yong and old: provided, that the
dog be yonger then the sick."


"Poor people, by reason of their great want, living sluttishly, feeding nastily on offals, or the worst and unwholesomest meats, and many times, too, lacking food altogether, have both their bodies much corrupted, and their spirits exceedingly weakened; whereby they become (of all others) most subject to this sickness. And therefore we see the plague sweeps up such people in greatest heaps." https://books.google.com/books?id=tXwaAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA512&lpg=PA507&focus=viewport&dq=plague+of+1625&output=text  A History of Epidemics in Britain, Vol. 1, by Charles Creighton, 1894

Churchyards’ ground level rose by several feet because the grounds were full. Fields and commons were designated as cemeteries. Many of us have seen illustrations and movies which show carts upended, and shrouded corpses sliding in a heap to the bottom of a pit. But modern archaeology has shown that to be untrue. The plague pits are arranged in orderly layers, limed for quick decomposition, with bodies laid out with feet toward the east, just as they’d be in a churchyard or crypt. They were buried in unmarked graves, but they were treated with respect. One has to wonder if the overwhelming business of death left the workers with lifelong emotional damage.

Deaths from plague fell precipitously when the winter frost set in. Who knows if it’s because the fleas died, or if the plague had taken all the weak it could and the survivors were immune. The government returned to London in November, and the coronation of Charles I and Henrietta Maria was held on Feb. 2, before Lenten season.
Weekly plague mortality bills for 1625


Plague deaths per mortality bills
(Christy K Robinson)





Where was the 15-year-old William Dyer during the 1625 annus horribilis? Did he and the Blackbornes flee the city, or did they stay in Westminster at their home on Greene’s Alley? (Greene's Alley was a street between the Strand and the river, so it may have flooded in February 1625.) William was officially enrolled in the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers in August 1625 (retroactive to June 1624), the very peak of the plague, which would suggest that they stayed in (or returned to) London. And how did William's home village, two miles from Sleaford, fare during a plague? Read it HERE.

And what of his future wife, Mary Barrett, who was about 13 or 14 at this time? We don’t know. But with the descriptions we see above, we can imagine the horror and the conditions she would have experienced. Were she and William and the Blackbornes, and all the 35,000 people who emigrated to New England in the 1630s, blessed with genetic mutations that made them immune to plague, or did they somehow escape and avoid the dread diseases that preyed upon them? Though they survived deadly pandemics, certainly they lost family members: parents, children, siblings.

The bubonic and pneumonic plague returned in 1630, propelled by the 30 Years War on the European continent, and ravaged London before spreading to the rest of the country. It killed 25 percent of the residents of Alford, Lincolnshire, including Elizabeth (age 3) and Susanna (age 16) Hutchinson, the daughters of Anne and William Hutchinson. (Their next daughter, born in Massachusetts Bay Colony, was named Susanna, and she was the lone survivor of the massacre of August 1643 when she was abducted by Indians and kept for three and a half years until her redemption. She lived with her brother Edward until she married at age 18.)

There were more epidemics of plague in 1635-36, and 1641, when 30,000 died of plague in London alone (not counting the rest of the country), and 1645, during the English Civil Wars. The final and most severe outbreak was in 1665, when about 100,000 people died. After the 1666 Great Fire, London was rebuilt with slightly better and less crowded conditions. The bacterium yersinia pestis, which causes plague, wasn't identified until the 19th century, nor were the rat or flea vectors known until then. 


Christy K Robinson is the author of five books: