Tuesday, August 19, 2008

101 Ways, Part 2: Departed This Life

For a brief intro to the "101 Ways to Say Died" Series, click here.

By far, the most popular synonym for "died" appearing on New England gravestones is "departed this life."

I think that this phrase probably spoke to people because it portrayed death as a journey from earthly life to the eternal life that followed resurrection. A departure implies an arrival, though, especially for people were pushing ever farther into the wilderness, it does not necessarily imply a return. In this telling, New Englanders departed their temporal lives in the same way they might leave Boston or their former homes in England.

Joanna Ingles, Copp's Hill, Boston, MA (1678) 

There are thousands of epitaphs in New England that include the phrase, "departed this life" (I estimate one third of all pre-1800 stones, and am in the process of putting together better statistics). With so many opportunities for error, it is not surprising that some carvers misspelled "departed" on occasion. On the other hand, they carved the word "departed" so often that it is somewhat surprising that they could not spell it correctly in their sleep. Why would Josiah Manning leave out the "r" when he had remembered it on hundreds of other occasions? I don't have a good answer for that yet.

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