Don’t miss John Fea’s interview of Terri L. Snyder about her brand-new book, The Power to Die: Slavery and Suicide in British North America (University of Chicago Press, 2015)., which I learned of via the ubiquitous and always-in-the-know Liz Covart on Twitter.
In the course of the interview, Snyder outlines how she came about her ideas for her second book in the course of researching her first book, Brabbilng Women: Disorderly Speech and the Law in Early Virginia (Cornell University Press, 2003; Cornell Paperback, 2013):
During my research for my first book, I was reading county court records from seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Virginia and noticed reports of suicide. Most of these accounts described self-destruction by young, indentured servants who died under bleak circumstances; their stories both absorbed and troubled me. I started collecting any references to suicide that I came across — from courts and legislatures, newspapers and periodicals, slave narratives and plantations records, for instance – and amassed a surprising amount of material. I ultimately focused on the suicides of enslaved men and women, however, because my research revealed that their deaths were understood, reacted to, and remembered distinctly, in ways that differed from those of free European Americans.
Read the whole thing–her book covers a great deal more than just suicide and slavery, as it covers the entire colonial period, delves into European and African religious traditions and their interpretations of suicide, and addresses the ways in which suicides among enslaved people become politicized in the era of the American Revolution. Echoing the alleged banner of Gabriel Prosser’s thwarted rebellion of 1800, “Death or Liberty,” which itself echoed Patrick Henry’s famous cry of “Give me liberty or give me death,” it was death or liberty for the people Snyder writes about. According to Snyder, “acts of self-destruction by enslaved people carried competing cultural meanings, exposed the paradox of personhood and property that was fundamental to the legal institution of slavery, and were a political force in challenging attitudes both toward slavery and suicide.”
I just ordered a copy for my university’s library–do a girlfriend a solid today on #FollowWomenWednesday and request a copy for your university’s library, too! (You can also follow Snyder on Twitter at @snyder_terri. I do!)