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

Politics

The Irritating Confidante

John Dickerson on Ben Bradlee’s fascinating relationship with John F. Kennedy.

My Father Invented Social Networking at a Girls’ Reform School in the 1930s

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

The All The President’s Men Scene That Captured Ben Bradlee

Medical Examiner

Is It Better to Be a Hero Like Batman?

Or an altruist like Bruce Wayne?

Technology

Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

The World’s Human Rights Violators Are Signatories on the World’s Human Rights Treaties

How Punctual Are Germans?

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 21 2014 11:40 AM The U.S. Has Spent $7 Billion Fighting the War on Drugs in Afghanistan. It Hasn’t Worked. 
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 1:12 PM George Tiller’s Murderer Threatens Another Abortion Provider, Claims Right of Free Speech
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
  Arts
Behold
Oct. 21 2014 12:05 PM Same-Sex Couples at Home With Themselves in 1980s America
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 21 2014 4:14 PM Planet Money Uncovers One Surprising Reason the Internet Is Sexist
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.