Plague Searchers in Early Modern London


Frist 309

Plague searchers in early modern London were women, generally poor and old, who were employed by their parishes to search dead bodies for signs of the plague. This was because deaths and their causes were reported in weekly Bills of Mortality in order to track the spread of diseases in cities such as London. Any house struck by plague in 1665 would be placed under quarantine by the state to reduce contagion, trapping whole families inside their homes with the sick for weeks. Searchers' were often portrayed as unreliable drunks, but their jobs had a profound effect on early modern Londoners' lives. Were these plague searchers actually as unreliable as people seemed to think? Or were they honest women who were despised because they determined which houses suffered quarantine? And, if the searchers' popular reputation resulted from prejudice, was it based on gender or class? I am attempting to answer these questions in an ongoing project I began in the summer of 2016 as a ReMatch undergraduate fellow.