Among its basic research objectives, the Colonial Albany Social History Project seeks to establish an age at and cause of death for each of the 16,000 people who lived in the city of Albany before the Industrial Revolution. However, for an age of imperfect vital statistics, both tasks are proving to be quite daunting!

We know that Americans today live much longer than they did two or three hundred years ago. Generally, we believe that is due to better diet, personal hygiene, and the eradication or control of sicknesses, infections, and diseases that often proved fatal in times past. Pre and postnatal care of newborns also influences longevity. Overall statistics are skewed to longevity today because so few babies born in our time (especially in the so-called enlightened parts of the world) died before the end of infancy in contrast with as much as a 50% infant mortality rate in colonial Albany.

Death information provides important insights into peoples' lives. Sickness and suffering were sometimes noted in sources including official records or public and private organizations, in correspondence, observations, and wills.

Two great epidemics claimed significant portions of the Albany population in 1731-31 (when perhaps 10% of the city's people died) and a century later with cholera in 1832 which claimed 136 residents in July alone.

We now begin a chronological list of specific causes of death of early Albany people. "Begin" is the key word here! This exposition will develop itself as new biographical studies are added. We have not yet worked at this feature but hope you grasp our intent here!

April 1707 - Dr. Hendrick Van Dyck drowned.

Over the winter of 1731-32 (November thru January), seventy-five people (mostly children) were buried from the Albany Dutch church.

June 9, 1797 - 23-year-old Elizabeth Tillman James died a few days after giving birth to twins.

On October 1, 1805, the Albany Centennial reported "Died on Saturday last, Silas Howel and Abraham D. Lansing, merchants, of malignant fever." Traditional sources gave the cause of death as "yellow fever."

1832 Cholera epidemic: Albany residents who died = Harmanus Hinderer (7/13),

January 10, 1835 - Sarah Greene Jenkins died "liver complaint."

May 18, 1848 - Elisha Jenkins died in NYC of paralysis.

[ This list hopefully will have hundreds if not thousands of entries! ]



Online Sources for openers: Margaret Coffin, Death in Early America; Wikipedia; Google images Church burial records, cemetery inscriptions, family bibles, and newspaper obituaries are among the most often encountered sources of death information.

See and incorporate information from this list online.

Home | Site Index | Navigation | Email | New York State Museum

privately posted: 3/10/04; last updated 11/15/14