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Slave Suicide in the Context of Colonial North America

Slave Suicide in the Context of Colonial North America

(p.64) Three Slave Suicide in the Context of Colonial North America
The Power to Die
Terri L. Snyder
University of Chicago Press

Suicide by enslaved people had the potential to expose the contradictions of slavery in colonial British North America. Those contradictions can best be comprehended first by analyzing the competing meanings acts of self-destruction and, second, by situating slave suicide in the comparative context of other accounts of self-inflicted death by early Americans. Some stories of slave suicide accentuated similarities between blacks and whites by appealing to masculine ethics of choosing death before dishonor, a theme that resonated with the Anglo-American elite. Yet, if some accounts of enslaved peoples' suicides reflected a set of reasons for choosing death that were shared across racial lines, others confirmed differences based on race and class. Such appraisals distanced the meanings of slave suicide from those of free Europeans, and sustained the disarticulation of suicide and slavery that had begun in the slave trade. Additionally reports of slave suicide also contained critical estimations of masters, a theme that became more pronounced over the course of the eighteenth century. In these ways as well, stories of enslaved people's suicides presented Anglo-American observers with a host of competing, contradictory, and charged messages and had the potential to unsettle the acceptance of slavery and assumptions about enslaved people.

Keywords:   masculine, honor, contradictions, race

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