I am noticing a pattern as I write about the gravestones of exiled civilians who died during the siege of Boston. Many of these gravestones inflate the ages of the deceased.
For example, Solomon Kneeland, born in Boston on September 23, 1698, is listed as 80 years old in 1775, when he was 77. Lydia Dyar was 79 when she died in 1776, but her stone gives her credit for an extra six months.
Is this just a fluke-y thing? Or are people inflating the ages of the elderly exiles to make King George look like an ogre? Considering that some of these stones count down the age in years, months, and days, I think an imprecise age is interesting. On the other hand, these people were in exile — perhaps no one knew their precise ages because the church records were still in Boston and the survivors weren't sure, so they took a guess and landed on 80.
What say you? Trolling for sympathy, or legitimate mistake?
Doesn't the Kneeland stone describe the gent as "in the 80th Year"--i.e., 79 and some months?
A good point! Still, he was only 77.
I believe there's a section in Fischer's "Albion's Seed" about Puritan attitudes to age, and how there is statistical evidence that ages were commonly exaggerated because older was understood to be better.
Could it be be innumercy. Clark argues for rounding as evidence of innumercy in "A Farewell to Alms.' Some kind of statistical test of age records frrom societies with known lteracy rate, if I remeber correctly.
I don't think that innumeracy can explain this one. 18th-century New Englanders were fanatical about age — there are many gravestones where the person's age is reckoned to the day, rather than the year. They also kept very good records, which is how we know Kneeland's and Dyar's birthdates. Of course, they probably didn't have access to those records during the Siege of Boston.
The only New England gravestones that show consistent evidence of age rounding are gravestones for slaves. I don't think that's an innumeracy issue, though — I think it's just that they didn't know when African-born or Caribbean-born slaves were born. The enslaved people may not have known their precise ages either, especially if they were kidnapped as young children.
Another issue with regard to these exiles: There were 3 Charlestown residents (including the stonecutter John Lamson) who fled to Woburn and who all died there rather soon afterward. John had lost his house and shop. Is there any evidence that such destruction & loss led to an increase of suicide?
Hm. I hadn't considered suicide. That would be worth looking into.
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