I Think, Therefore He Died

“I think Isaac Rucker died in May 1799…”

That’s what Archeleus Reynolds said in August of 1834 in a deposition taken in Amherst, Virginia.

The statement needs to be understood and evaluated based on context. There were several Isaac Ruckers in Amherst County, Virginia. The one Reynolds is talking about is his father-in-law–that’s made clear in other records in this case.

Reynolds is making the statement 35 years after Isaac Rucker is claimed to have died. While this document should be transcribe exactly as written (along with a citation clearly stating where the deposition can be found and when it was made), the analysis should take into account the amount of time that has passed and how long it has been since Rucker died. A few things to consider:

  • Was Reynolds married to Rucker’s daughter at this point in time?
  • Was there another event at about the same time that might have helped Reynolds remember when Rucker died?
  • The deposition does say “think,” which hedges the time a little bit. Was the month and year crucial to the case?
  • How old would Reynolds have been when Rucker died?

One might be tempted to say that Reynolds looked at an old family Bible to get the date–there’s nothing in this testimony to suggest that and if he had the date would likely have been more precise, he probably would not have used the word “think,” and a reference to the family Bible would have been made.