Bubonic Plague in Coylton, Devon 1540-1599 and 1646

While poking around in Coylton, Devon records for the recent post on the three Follett brothers who emigrated to New England around 1640, an interesting set of statistics was discovered.

Annual burials registered in Coylton for 1540 to 1599, particularly in August, September, and October in 1557, 1558, and 1592, were in excess of the annual average.

J.F.D. Shrewsbury writes in “A History of Bubonic Plague in the British Isles”:

Plague returned to London in 1543 as the parish register of St Pancras testifies, for 18 of 19 burials registered during the year are entered as plague burials. …

The monthly analysis of the burials [for Coylton] affords a strong presumption that these excessive mortalities are due to outbreaks of bubonic plague. The reason why Colyton was more frequently visited by plague than Ludlow [in Shropshire] was because it was only about 3 miles inland from the fishing port of Beer and midway between the coastal ports of Lyme Regis and Sigmouth, whereas Ludlow was a central inland town and too far up the river Severn to be a river-port.

Ludlow had also shown an excessive mortality but lacked the same geographical factors.

It was believed that sea-oriented communities such as Coylton received “repeated infusions of fresh, virulent strains of the microbe by maritime importations through the port of London, and then erupting in unrecognized epizootics and subsequent epidemics of varying extent and malignancy from time to time when these fresh strains arrived.”

In the next century, between 1640 and 1646, the registered number of burials peaked again in Coylton. By December 2, 1646, the registered number of burials reached 459 “in a population that cannot have exceeded 1,000 souls and in which the average of the annual burials for the decennium immediately preceding 1645 was 65.5.”

FH Map Coylton, Devonshire

“A small market town in Devon, Colyton dates back to Saxon times. The town, lying in a rich farming area, prospered through the middle ages on the wool trade. Colyton is a town of narrow streets and fine Georgian buildings. The fifteenth century church houses some interesting monuments. The map below shows the features of the city, its streets and houses as they were in the mid twentieth century.” OldeMaps.co.uk

It was during the 1540 to 1599 time period that the Follett brothers’ parents and grandparents were born. It would require close examination of parish records to determine whether there had been an impact on the family.

The report on the plague also provided background on the sea-faring tendencies of the brothers — they had grown up within a whiff of the salty sea air.

. . .

See: J.F.D. Shrewsbury, A History of Bubonic Plague in the British Isles (Cambridge University Press, 2005), pp 177, 178, 411. It is available via Amazon and as a Google eBook.

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