How Would You Have Died in 1811? Play Our Grisly Game and Find Out.

Why we live so long.
Sept. 5 2013 7:08 AM

How Would You Have Died in 1811?

Play our Wretched Fate game and risk dropsy, quinsy, consumption, and worms.

Please read the rest of Laura Helmuth's series on longevity.

The main reason life was so different 100, 200, or 300 years ago than it is today is that death was so different. People died young—in infancy or childhood, mostly—and they died miserably of communicable diseases. We barely remember the names of some of these diseases today, but they were once the most dreaded words in the English language: consumption (tuberculosis), pleurisy (swelling), putrid fever (typhus), quinsy (tonsillitis), and iliac passion (a particularly violent gastrointestinal disorder). Life expectancy has doubled in just the past several generations, and that’s largely because public health efforts and modern medicine have vanquished the diseases of the past.

If you’ve ever fantasized about traveling back in time, this game is for you. Pick a year on the timeline and spin the wheel of fortune. If you had existed back then, what would have killed you? Our tool serves up causes of death in proportion to how many lives they claimed in the chosen year. The earliest data come from parish records or local “bills of mortality,” lists of how many people died of various causes in a given year. Medical historians have translated some of the old terms into modern disease categories—ague probably referred to malaria, for instance—but most of the terms are merely descriptions. We’ll never know what caused most of these fatalities from fever, flux (dysentery), or chrisomes (death in an infant younger than one month). Death was capricious and mysterious.

Spin the wheel as many times as you like—you get infinite reincarnations. Not that you would want to be reborn many times in, say, 1811 if you could help it, though. It was a lousy time to be a human but a great time to be a germ—sewage mixed with drinking water, houses were cold and crowded and ridden with vermin, and everybody coughed tuberculosis bacilli on one another. Go ahead, face your fate!

Select A Year:

1212

Spin

Year: 1958

Source:

You died of...

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.

Jurisprudence

Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 17 2014 8:15 AM Ted Cruz Will Not Join a Protest of "The Death of Klinghoffer" After All
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 9:03 AM My Father Was James Brown. I Watched Him Beat My Mother. And Then I Found Myself With Someone Like Dad.
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 8:27 AM Only Science Fiction Can Save Us! What sci-fi gets wrong about income inequality.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 17 2014 7:30 AM Ring Around the Rainbow
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.