While attempting to authenticate the gravestones depicted on a series of postcards marketed as "The Tragedies of Pepperell, Massachusetts," I came across a transcription of the Pepperell Vital Records from the 19th century.
The most common causes of death among Pepperell residents were consumption, dropsy, dysentery, stillbirth, canker, mortification, and unspecified fever. Many are listed as dying in the army, either as the result of wounds or of disease. I learned a few new words, including "quincy," an eighteenth-century term for tonsilitis (vocab lesson here). Quite a few Pepperell residents died of "old age," which is pretty remarkable when you consider how many were drowned in wells, run over by carts, and crushed by mill stones.
Below, I have reproduced some of the more horrifying entries. Though certain of my professors would scold me for doing so, I cannot help but imagine an elaborate story behind each of these laconic records. Did a terrified older sister desperately try to save poor little William Emerson only to have him expire before their parents returned? How could Abigail Blood have died of scurvy, not in the dead of winter, but in July, when fresh vegetables should have been easy to find? What did people whisper when Josiah and Mary Nutting walked past? And what on earth happened to Henry Shattuck?
BLOOD, Abigail, w. Nehemiah, scurvey, July 3, 1798, a. 42 y.
BLOOD, Abigail (Nabby) injury in a cida mill. Oct. 10, 1833, a. 42 y.
BLOOD, Jonathan, s. David & Abigail, killed by a cart wheel at Concord, July 19, 1763, a. 21 y.
BLOOD, Moses, strangling, Apr. 30, 1838, a. 88 y.
BLOOD, Volney, found dead in the road in Groton, a. 13, supposed to be in consequence of injury in falling from a cart, Nov. 26, 1833.
BOWERS, Aaron, s. John & Lydia, killed by the fall of a stack of boards, Sept. 12, 1791, a. 2 y. 10 m.
BOYNTON, Abel, S. Abijah & Sarah, lockjaw. Dec. 21, 1798, a. 22¾ y.
BOYNTON, Sarah, w. Capt. Joseph, strangled, Aug. 17, 1787, a. 47 y.
ELIOT, J.K., drowned while bathing in the Nashua, a. 17 y.
EMERSON, William, a ch. Rev. Joseph, d. at Reading, while parents were on a visit, Oct. 17, 1753, a. 4 m. 7 d.
FISK, Susan, found dead Dec. 2, 1820, a. 76 y., supposed to have died Nov. 15th.
FITCH, Jonas, fell in little brook, stunned, wounded & drowned. May 31, 1808, a. 67 y.
FITCH, Luther, s. Jonas, fever & worms, Nov. 11, 1819, a. 3 y.
GREEN, John Brooks, s. Jonathan, by scalding, Mar. 15, 1831, a. 8 y. 4 m.
HARRIS, Joseph, delirium tremors, Nov. 14, 1841, a. 37 y.
HOSLEY, Elizabeth, wid., bleeding from the stomach, Oct. 27, 1806, a. 86 y.
JEWETT, Sarah Green, wid. Nehemiah, Sept. 26, 1829, she fainted and fell into the fire, a. 90 y.
LAWRENCE, Lydia, a short time resident in town, killed by lightening in the house of Joseph Stevens, jr., July __, 1825, a. 36 y.
NUTTING, ———ch. Josiah & Mary stillborn monster, Jan. 18, 1762
PARKER, Abijah, a pecular sore on the thigh, Dec. 4, 1811, a. 66 y.
PETERS, Joseph, found dead in Jonas Wright's san pit, Nov. 10, 1774, a. 25 y.
RICHARDSON, Abiel, h. Sarah, killed by a fall, assisting at Dunstable raising of meeting house, July 19, 1753, a. abt. 30 y.
SHATTUCK, Hannah, wid., insanity, Apr. 20, 1830, a. 69 y.
SHATTUCK, Henry, s. Emerson & h. Azubah Bowers, suicide at Westminster, remains were found Nov. 3, 1827 & buried, he d. in Dec. 1826.
SHATTUCK, Jackson, cancerous disease of the face, Oct. 9, 1840, a. 40 y.
SHATTUCK, John, hanging, Dec. 15, 1785, a. 74 y. 6m. 12 d.
TENNEY, Catharine W., incubus, Jan. 22, 1837, a. 8 y.
VARNUM, William, s. John & Eunice, killed from stroke of his sythe, Aug. 9, 1820, a. 19 y. 4 m.
WHITE, Sarah, wid. Patrick, generally thot by hydrophobia, Apr. 3, 1810, a. 77 y.
WRIGHT, Edward, a foreigner at the poor house, suicide, Oct. 18, 1834, a. 55 y.