TEMPUS EDAX RERUM
THE CHILDREN OF ANDREW AND MELICENT NEAL
AGED 5 (OR 3) DAYES
AS ALSO YE BODY OF
HANNAH NEAL IS
AGED 2 WEEKS
DEC. D JUNE YE 12
AGED 18 MONTHS
The Latin phrase, “tempus edax rerum” translates to “time: that devours all things”. Just under the phrase, is an incised carving of an hour glass referring to time. Combined with the flying death’s head with its grinning smile, hollow eyes, and downward sweeping wings, the symbolism, epitaph, and the gravestone itself are reminders that death is never far away. The corollary to that is that life is fleeting.
The deaths of the four children are also evidence of the high infant mortality rate during the 17th Century. Disease, plagues, fevers, maladies, and pestilence were always around and could strike young children at any time. In fact, the average lifespan during this time period was about 35 years old. It wasn’t that people didn’t live into old age, it was difficult to live past five.
The phrase “tempus edax rerum” is carved into the gravestone for the Andrew and Melicent children’s gravestone. According to a plaque in the Granary Burying Ground at Boston, Andrew Neal was the innkeeper of the Starr Inn. This gravestone has the distinction of having the earliest date of any gravestone found today in the Granary Burying Ground in Boston. Notice that two of the Neal daughters are both named Elizabeth. It was common for families to name a child after another child in the family who had died.