"To the Memory of Sweet Infants": Eighteenth-Century Commemorations of Child Death in Tidewater, Virginia

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Virginia Tech


Life in the eighteenth-century Tidewater was set against the grim specter of death. Children were especially vulnerable, perishing with disheartening frequency throughout the century. Yet despite the high rates of child mortality, Tidewater culture underwent a revolution in regard to the eighteenth-century family. Children became the emotional focus of the family, becoming cherished for their youthful capering and playful nature. However, child death was no less common. The way in which parents coped with the death of a child changed throughout the century, reflecting the emotionalized understanding of children and childhood. The rituals surrounding the death of a child—from preparations for burial, the funeral, and lasting commemorations—evolved over the course of the eighteenth century, reflecting the new place of the child within the eighteenth-century family and the emotional trauma felt by the family after the death of a child.



Virginia, society, Tidewater, infant mortality, Eighteenth century, child mortality, family, culture