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In the modern era, most of us imagine living to a ripe, old age and dying peacefully in our sleep. But in the 18th century, most people weren’t that lucky. The leading causes of death have changed dramatically over the years. And while most of those changes have been positive due to an increase in safety standards, improvements in medicine, and higher education, not all of the changes have been positive. We’ve put together four ways you may have died back in the 1700s. 

Childbirth

Back in the 1700s (and throughout history), the chances of a baby reaching adulthood and old age were low. Infant mortality rates were extremely high, with about one-third of children dying before the age of nine. Death during childbirth was so common that midwives were allowed by the Church to perform emergency baptisms for newborns who would not survive after birth. 

 

Pregnant women were also at extreme risk during childbirth, usually from blood loss or a bacterial infection from unsanitary conditions and the use of unsterile instruments. The newborn survival rate began to increase as diseases became more understood, causing an increase in a cleaner, more sanitary birthing conditions. 

 

Workplace Accidents 

Safety in the workplace is a large concern for companies today—since the rise of workplace lawsuits and liability concerns forced employers to make safety a priority. However, employers in the 1700s didn’t have workplace safety laws in place, causing unsafe and dangerous conditions for workers and often leading to severe injuries or death. From hazardous chemical exposure to unsafe construction practices, workers were often physically injured, disabled, or carried with them respiratory issues that would follow them the rest of their lives. 

 

Since record-keeping was inadequate during this time, there’s no way to know how many people died from workplace accidents during the 1700s. However, worker deaths continued to rise dramatically with the rise of the Industrial Revolution. 

 

Real workplace safety standards started when factory inspectors were installed in 1833, but it wasn’t until the mid 20th century that workplace safety became commonplace and backed by law. Today, there are regulations in place for every industry. From vegetable safety regulations to child care safety expectations, there are now laws to keep employees physically safe and employers legally safe in the workplace. 

 

War

War was rampant throughout the 18th century and was a significant cause of death not just for young men drafted into service, but for those across the battling countries. The French Revolution, the Seven Years’ War, the French and Indian War, and the American Revolutionary War were among the many wars fought during this era, with hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians alike becoming war casualties in each crusade. 

 

The casualties of war didn’t end when the official war had ended. Soldiers wounded in battle often succumb to their wounds after infection set in. Those living around where the battles occurred were often left with leveled crop fields and empty food supplies, leaving them to starve come winter. And while not understood at the time, PTSD often led soldiers to take their lives in the years following the war. 

 

Diseases 

While the discovery of bacteria by Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek in 1676 greatly advanced science, diseases were still a mystery. What passed for clean and sanitary in the 1700s would be considered widely contaminated in modern days. And since doctors didn’t understand the underlying causes of illness—viruses, and bacteria—they could only treat the symptoms like coughing, fever, and soreness. 

 

Malaria, cholera, typhus, influenza, smallpox, whooping cough, tuberculosis (or consumption), dysentery, and scurvy were all extremely common and deadly during this era.  These were highly contagious, easily transmitted, and had a high death rate. Consumption was the leading cause of death in Western Europe until the creation of TB vaccination in the mid 20th century.  Doctor treatments for these diseases during the 1700s included bleeding, blistering, vomiting, purging, and sweating. These, of course, were ineffective and sometimes hurried along death for the infected.