Friday, August 22, 2008

101 Ways, Part 5: Fell a Victim to an Untimely Disease

For a brief intro to the "101 Ways to Say 'Died'" series, click here

This is an awful picture. I apologizeit was taken on a day that was too rainy for me to go to the beach (I went gravestoning instead). This stone can be found in Wiscasset, ME in a little cemetery down by the Sheepscot River. The epitaph conveys Samuel Kelton's family's sense that his death was unfair in the extreme:
Here rest
The remains of Samuel Kelton
who in the midst of his
usefulness and activity
with the fairest hopes & most
sanguine prospects fell a victim
to an untimely disease on the
31 of July 1805
AEt. 40
Of course, otherwise healthy adults died of all sorts of diseases in the early 19th century: cholera, typhus, influenza, routine infections, etc. Still, I would be interested in examining expectations of mortality in the early 19th century. Plenty of babies and small children died and a major illness could still be catastrophic, but this epitaph seems to imply that people expected middle-aged men to live to be old men. I recently read Drew Gilpin Faust's This Republic of Suffering, which does a great job of explaining how 19th-century Americans were supposed to die, but does not explain who was supposed to die. I'm just brainstorming here, but this might be a good topic for a paper.

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