In smaller communities, neighbors and friends would be notified of the death, while the closest among them would come to held clean and dress the corpse. Men usually prepared the bodies of dead men, and women, the bodies of dead women. In larger communities, and in cities, women did most of the preparation, sometimes as paid specialists; in Philadelphia in 1810, there were 15 women who specialized in "laying out the dead." Since corpses were not embalmed, shrouds and coffins had to be made quickly.
In towns and rural areas, almost everyone who heard about a funeral attended it, even if the deceased was not known to all the guests. This was because a death in the community signified an important change in the fabric of interdependence that characterized country living. The coffin would be left open before the funeral. Those closest to the deceased would sit near the coffin and receive condolences from the guests. Funeral services were rarely held in churches. After meeting at the home of the deceased, the mourners would hear a prayer, and perhaps a sermon, then walk to the place of burial with the coffin on the shoulders of the bearers. When wheeled coaches and other vehicles became available, the standard conveyance for a coffin became a hearse.
Specifics of funerals varied with the region and religious affiliation of the deceased's family. In New England, pictures and mirrors were covered with cloth in a mourning household. In the Western settlements, families often held their funerals alone, with little fuss and sometimes not even a prayer or scripture reading. In Southern slave communities, the custom was to bury the dead at night, to the accompaniment of hymns and illumination of torches. On the way back from the burial, the mourners might sing more cheerful music. This is a famous characteristic of funerals in Louisiana This ritual sometimes frightened their white neighbors.