Early Puritans rejected churchyard burials as they rebelled against other "papist" practices, as heretical and idolatrous. Instead, many 17th century New England towns set aside land as common community burial grounds. Headstone images from this period also reflect the rejection of formal Christian iconography in favor of more secular figures, such as skulls representing fate common to all men.As a result, a hiker often stumbles across tombstones on a typical trek in southern New England. These tiny graveyards provide a tangible record of the region's demographic history.
Source: National Park Service
One of the most striking details, aside from the sizable share of persons who passed away before their fortieth birthday, was that so many tombstones were marked in years and months. In some cases, life was marked in years, months, and days.
|Aged 23 years 10 months & 25 days|
There is, too, the startling reminder of high infant mortality in the 1900s New England. One in ten children did not survive to reach their first birthday.
|Infant: age 3 months & 3 days|
But despite these dark statistics, the gravestones mark the longevity of many people who buck the trend.
Demographically speaking, life expectancy is just an average. Some people live far longer, and some much shorter. But the real life outliers are always a pleasant surprise.
|Age 74 years 4 months & 20 days|
Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Health Data Interactive query system, author's calculations
*Note: Data for 2010 reflect published 2009 statistics