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We Shall Be No More

We Shall Be No More: Suicide and Self-Government in the Newly United States

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 344
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  • Book Info
    We Shall Be No More
    Book Description:

    Though suicide is an individual act, Richard Bell reveals its broad social implications in early America. From Revolution to Reconstruction, everyone—parents, newspapermen, ministers and abolitionists alike—debated the meaning of suicide as a portent of danger or of possibility in a new nation struggling to define itself and its power.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-06479-9
    Subjects: History, Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[xii])
  3. Introduction: Alarming Progress
    (pp. 1-15)

    On a bright New York day in May 1807, Samuel Miller received an unsigned letter. “Rev. Sir,” it began, “I have no doubt it will give you pleasure to be informed, that you have been the means, through the blessing of God, of saving a miserable creature from perpetrating the horrid crime of suicide.” Purportedly mailed from a debtors’ prison, the letter explained how its author, a man “reduced from a respectable standing in society to the most embarrassed circumstances,” had made up his mind to relieve his sufferings by taking his own life. He had penned parting notes to...

  4. 1 Suicide and the State of the Union
    (pp. 16-42)

    The first issue of the first newspaper ever printed in America featured a suicide on its front page. It described how a group of friends had discovered the body of an old man hanging from a rope normally used to tie up cows for milking. By the time they found him, Boston’s Publick Occurences reported on September 25, 1690, “he was dead with his feet near touching the Ground.” Weeks earlier, this unnamed man, a pious and sober figure by all accounts, had buried his wife. According to Benjamin Harris, the editor of Publick Occurences, “The Devil [then] took Advantage...

  5. 2 The Sorrows of Young Readers
    (pp. 43-80)

    Setting down the novel for the final time, he raised the horse pistol to his temple and fired. Beachcombers found his young, “genteely dressed” body early the next morning, with the book and the gun lying together on the ground by its side. Three years earlier, in 1804, Alexander Hamilton’s blood had pooled among the dirt and rocks on this same stretch of the New Jersey shore. Like Hamilton, this man was an immigrant, and, like Hamilton, he had been behaving strangely in the weeks before his death, telling friends that he was tired of life and ready to die....

  6. 3 Saving Sinking Strangers
    (pp. 81-114)

    The man had been in the water about twelve minutes before they could get to him. No one had seen him jump from the Charles River Bridge, but everyone near the piers heard the splash as he hit the water. The man was about forty years old; he could not or would not swim and flailed only briefly before sinking below the surface. It took ferrymen and barrow boys those twelve long minutes to pile into two boats and row out to where he now floated, face down, apparently dead, with “nothing visible but his hair.” With hands or hooks...

  7. 4 Wounds in the Belly of the State
    (pp. 115-159)

    Thousands trudged up Pancake Hill on a cold November morning in 1815 to watch Jonathan Jewett hang. Sick of his father’s daily pleas that he find a job and mend his ways, Jewett, a free black man from Belchertown, Massachusetts, had stabbed the old man twice in the chest with a butcher’s knife. When his case had reached trial in October, the crowd in the courthouse had cheered when the judge told him he would swing. Since then, Jewett’s reported indifference to the fate that awaited him had made him infamous across New England, and now, with just hours to...

  8. 5 The Threshold of Heaven
    (pp. 160-200)

    In some ways the saddest suicides were those that seemed to slip by unnoted. Despite prevailing panics regarding the proclivities of novelreading teenagers and condemned criminals, no one paid much heed when a lonely old man named George Richards killed himself in March 1814. Details of his death were sparse and hard to come by. Most newspaper readers learned only that this poor, apparently deranged ex-clergyman had hanged himself in a basement ward of the Pennsylvania Hospital. Other than that, his death went almost unheeded. While a few old friends mourned his passing, no one else gave a second thought...

  9. 6 The Problem of Slave Resistance
    (pp. 201-246)

    Pinning his master to the ground, Quashi sat astride his chest and drew a blade from his belt. His master had chased him across this stone-strewn field and when Quashi had tripped and fallen, they had struggled for what seemed like hours, “wrestl[ing] for mastery.” At last the stout black overseer got the better of his white owner, “the elevation of his mind add[ing] vigour to his arm.” His pinioned young master now guessed his fate and “lay in dreadful expectation, helpless and shrinking into himself.” His bloody murder would be swift retribution for pursuing his once-favored slave here, to...

  10. Conclusion: Martyrs on the Altar of the Nation
    (pp. 247-266)

    In 1862, as the Civil War stretched into its second year, Union forces, under the command of Generals Grant and Buell, pushed their way into Tennessee. Their advance drove many slave owners in this frontline Confederate state to try to limit their potential losses by selling some of their human inventory to plantation owners in the Deep South. This, according to a report in the May 9 issue of the Hartford Daily Courant, was the cause that drove “a large and rather intelligent mulatto” to take his own life. Snatched away from his wife and children and sold at a...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 269-318)
  12. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 319-320)
  13. Index
    (pp. 321-332)