The Power to Die: Slavery and Suicide in British North America

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University of Chicago Press, Aug 28, 2015 - History - 240 pages
The history of slavery in early America is a history of suicide. On ships crossing the Atlantic, enslaved men and women refused to eat or leaped into the ocean. They strangled or hanged themselves. They tore open their own throats. In America, they jumped into rivers or out of windows, or even ran into burning buildings. Faced with the reality of enslavement, countless Africans chose death instead.

In The Power to Die, Terri L. Snyder excavates the history of slave suicide, returning it to its central place in early American history. How did people—traders, plantation owners, and, most importantly, enslaved men and women themselves—view and understand these deaths, and how did they affect understandings of the institution of slavery then and now? Snyder draws on ships’ logs, surgeons' journals, judicial and legislative records, newspaper accounts, abolitionist propaganda and slave narratives, and many other sources to build a grim picture of slavery’s toll and detail the ways in which suicide exposed the contradictions of slavery, serving as a powerful indictment that resonated throughout the Anglo-Atlantic world and continues to speak to historians today.
 

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Contents

Prologue Annas Leap
1
Introduction The Problem of Suicide in North American Slavery
7
One Suicide and the Transatlantic Slave Trade
23
Two Suicide and Seasoning in British American Plantations
46
Three Slave Suicide in the Context of Colonial North America
64
Four The Power to Die or the Power of the State? The Legalities of Suicide in Slavery
82
Five The Paradoxes of Suicide and Slavery in Print
101
Six The Meaning of Suicide in Antislavery Politics
121
Epilogue Suicide Slavery and Memory in American Culture
157
An Essay on Sources
167
Abbreviations
173
Notes
175
Select Bibliography of Primary Sources
225
Index
233
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About the author (2015)

Terri L. Snyder is professor of American studies at California State University, Fullerton, and the author of Brabbling Women: Disorderly Speech and the Law in Early Virginia. She lives in Pasadena.

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