Painting entitled Premature Burial by Antoine Wiertz | Image: Boston College
It was common for members of the public to suffer from taphophobia (the fear of being buried alive) during the 18th and 19th centuries. Outbreaks of diseases such as cholera and smallpox were events in which many bodies were buried in a short period of time; sometimes victims of illnesses would be incapacitated, unable to move or speak.
The linked article below lists accounts of people being buried alive that were published in various American newspapers. The author uses quotes around the word 'true' when describing them as "'true' stories" probably because some are hearsay. Here's one story from the January 2, 1904 issue of The Wichita Beacon:
"Independence, Mo. Jan. 2.— George Hayword, a manufacturing jeweler,died here recently. He was 82 years of age. Until two weeks ago he was strong and worked every day at his trade. Mr. Hayward when a young man in England was buried alive.
This is the story of his startling experience as told by Mr. Hayward:'It was in Marshville, County of Gloucester, England, where I was buried. While helping to haul straw one day by accident I was struck in the head with a pitchfork. It penetrated my skull and made me feel faint and dizzy. Two doctors were called. One of them insisted that my condition was due to a blow on the head and the other that I had pleurisy...
Two weeks elapsed and my eyes closed in supposed death... Yet I was painfully conscious of every movement going around. As soon as the undertaker arrived I knew I was to be buried alive.
Well the time for the funeral arrived and then the burial. Suddenly the shoveling ceased and the silence of the tomb was complete. I did not seem to have the fear then that a person would naturally expect under such circumstances. All I remember is that the grave is a lonely place and the silence of the tomb was horribly oppressive. A dreamy sensation came over me and a sense of suffocation became apparent.