The Covid-19 pandemic seems an appropriate time to talk about plague pits, an informal term used to refer to mass graves in which victims of the Black Death were buried. The disease was called the Black Death because several hours after death, the corpses turned black.
The Black Death traveled from Asia to Europe, leaving devastation in its wake during the years 1346-1353. Some estimates suggest that it wiped out over half of Europe’s population. It was caused by a strain of the bacterium Yersinia Pestis that was spread by fleas on infected rodents. The bodies of victims were buried in mass graves.
Yersinia Pestis also referred to as the Bubonic Plague, wiped out a great deal of 17th-century Britain and was one of the deadliest and most infamous outbreaks that the city of London had ever seen. By the time the plague ended about 100,000 people had died, and mass graves known as ‘plague pits’ were created to dispose the bodies which were hastily buried without coffins, care or ceremony.
Although the rural location of Bunhill Fields, only a short distance north of London, became the final resting place for 120,000 plague victims there is no memorial to recognize them. The last burial in Bunhill Fields took place in January 1854 and it was later designated as a public park and underwent some remodelling in the late 1860s. One of London’s many overcrowded cemeteries, Bunhill Fields was re-landscaped as a public space in the 1860s.
Between June and September 1645 seventy villagers in East Coker, including Archdeacon Helyar and the Vicar, died of plague. They were buried in a communal grave just outside the churchyard in East Coker. In 2003 a gravestone was erected in their memory.
Edinburgh was devastated by the disease when half of the population died during the outbreak which hit Scotland between 1645 and 1649. The percentage of deaths in the port of Leith was even higher perhaps due to the steady influx of ships from all over Europe.
The Devilla Forest in Culross, Fife is the burial place for three children Robert, Agnes and Jeanne Bald, who succumbed to the plague on the same day – 14th September 1645. Flowers can sometimes be seen on the children’s grave.
Yellow Fever, carried and transmitted by mosquitoes, experienced a population boom in Philadelphia during the particularly hot and humid summer weather of 1793. It wasn’t until winter arrived and the mosquitoes died out that the epidemic finally stopped. By then, more than 5,000 people had died.
A monument erected in 1858 to honor the doctors, nurses and druggists who went to Virginia in 1855 to combat a raging yellow fever epidemic died of the disease themselves.
Erected by the Philadelphia Contributors, in memory of the Doctors, Druggists and Nurses of this City, who volunteered to aid the suffers by Yellow Fever, at Norfolk and Portsmouth, Virginia, and died in the discharge of their duties—Martyrs in the cause of humanity.
It raged through Warren, Grafton County, New Hampshire in 1815, and well over 50 people (10% of the population) perished in just a few weeks time. In total 180 victims of the deadly plague were buried in unmarked graves in the Warren Village Cemetery. Donations made by the Town and the Historical Society facilitated the erection of a memorial stone in remembrance.