Over the past few weeks, I've been compiling a database based on Benjamin Drew's transcriptions of Plymouth epitaphs. Hopefully, when I'm done, I will be able to quantify some of the patterns that I have observed anecdotally.
I am nowhere near done with this work, but I took a little break today to run some early statistics. One of the patterns I noticed as I was entering the data was that more people seemed to die in the autumn than in the summer. A graph of the month of death for the first 1,400 individuals in my database showed that there was a noticeable pattern:
This is the sad evidence of the August-September epidemic cycle. I did a fairly exhaustive study of this in Menotomy, Massachusetts in the 18th and early 19th centuries. The death toll skyrockets in those months due to epidemics. When you do your study you'll find that it's almost all child deaths in those months. It's heartbreaking. In 1802 and 1805 there were dysentery epidemics in eastern Massachusetts. In Menotomy in 1802, one family lost three children in two weeks. In 1805 a different family lost three children in 9 days. You can't help but cry your eyes out over it. Then in October, death rates go back to normal. Colonial and early Republic Americans dreaded the return of epidemic season each year, with good reason.
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