My 7 times-great aunt Elizabeth Pettipoole died of the plague 5 September 1636. Elizabeth had been born scarcely six months earlier to Samuell Pettipoole, a shoemaker, and his wife Alice Jackson of Knockfergus, in the hamlet of Wapping.1

Wapping was one of the burgeoning hamlets east of the City of London which lined the shore of the Thames.2 When Samuell and his family were resident, it was “an area characterised by villages clustered around the City walls or along the main roads, surrounded by farmland, with marshes and small communities by the River, serving the needs of shipping and the Royal Navy.”3

Conditions in the Hamlets were sometimes dire. Much of the building had been unplanned, with poorly built housing, often on land reclaimed from marshes. The Hamlets were crowded with people engaged in shipping or those that sought a living by supplying services to the shipping industry. John Stowe, in his survey of London published in 1598 and 1603 described the area where Samuell and family resided as being a “continual street, or a filthy strait passage, with alleys of small tenements or cottages, built, inhabited by sailors’ victuallers”.4 And one of the consequences of the combination of crowded unhealthy living condition and shipping docks was a regular outbreak of disease, including the plague.

Samuell’s family were part of the parish of Stepney: Elizabeth’s birth had been recorded there in February. The Parish Vestry minutes from Stepney survive, and the April 20, 1636 entry records the arrival of the plague that was to end Elizabeth’s short life:

“…whereas the plague is in some places of the p[ar]ish, for the releeuing and succouring of such as are or shalbe visited wth the said infection whether in all the several hambletts joyntly or in any one hamblet particularly…”5

The minutes go on to record the special payments to the churchwarden needed from each hamlet to cover the cost of dealing with the plague “…during the whole continuance of the said visitation…”. 6

Elizabeth’s older brother William (christened 20 October 1630) managed to survive the vicissitudes of life in the Hamlets. In the 1650’s he embarked for Virginia as an indentured servant, thus becoming the common ancestor of every Pettypool in America.

  1. These and other facts about Samuell, Alice, William and Elizabeth recorded throughout this document are taken from Hartsough, Carolyn, English Ancestry of the Pettypool Family of Colonial Virginia, 2015; In particular, see p. 93. 
  2. Derek Keene, Peter Earle, Craig Spence and Janet Barnes, ‘Middlesex, St Dunstan Stepney, The Hamlet of Wapping Stepney, Knock Fergus’, in Four Shillings in the Pound Aid 1693/4: the City of London, the City of Westminster, Middlesex (London, 1992), British History Online [accessed 6 February 2018]. 
  3. London Borough of Tower Hamlets; [accessed 6 February 2018]. 
  4. Thornbury, Walter. “The Thames Tunnel, Ratcliff Highway and Wapping.” Old and New London: Volume 2. London: Cassell, Petter & Galpin, 1878. 128-137. British History Online. Web. 22 February 2018. 
  5. Hill, George William and Frere, Walter Howard,editors, Memorials of Stepney Parish: That is to Say the Vestry Minutes from 1579 to 1662, Guilford: Printed for the Subscribers by Billing & Sons, 1890-91; reprint Kessinger Publishing, p.155. 
  6. Ibid.