The Power To Die: Slavery And Suicide In British North America

Hardcover | August 28, 2015

byTerri L. Snyder

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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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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...

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.

other books by Terri L. Snyder

Brabbling Women: Disorderly Speech and the Law in Early Virginia
Brabbling Women: Disorderly Speech and the Law in Early...

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:256 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.9 inPublished:August 28, 2015Publisher:University Of Chicago PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:022628056X

ISBN - 13:9780226280561

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“Often revelatory. . . . As the first monograph devoted to this important subject, The Power to Die serves a valuable, foundational role. It builds upon many shorter, less comprehensive studies; it constructs bridges between several discrete academic subfields; and it imposes its own analytic architecture on a diverse body of difficult sources to conclusively demonstrate that ‘suicide was central to the history and culture of slavery and antislavery efforts in early British America and the United States.’”