Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Dr. Carolyn Eastman

Second Advisor

Dr. Nicole Myers Turner

Third Advisor

Dr. Katherine Bassard


The purpose of this thesis is to provide a compressive examination of suicide and self-destructive behaviors within specific enslaved populations in early republic Virginia localities. I use coroners’ inquests as the primary means for identifying notable causes of death and potential behavioral patterns amongst the enslaved people presented in this study. I focused my investigation on two causes of death, demographics, and localities respectively: the drowning suicides committed by enslaved women along the Potomac River waterfront in Alexandria between 1807 and 1824 and the alcohol intoxication-related deaths of enslaved men in Henrico County between 1805 and 1829. Stepping away from the resistance narrative model used by some historians to provide generalized explanations for the self-destructive behaviors exhibited by some enslaved people, I approached this study in a way that delves deeper into the history of the black experience in early nineteenth century Virginia. By conducting close examinations of coroners’ inquests, along with other supporting materials, my thesis illustrates a more nuanced perspective of suicide and self-destruction as acts committed by individual enslaved people in response to their lives and experiences in specific early republic Virginia localities. This project brings attention to the enslaved people whose lives and deaths, without the existence of coroners’ inquests, would otherwise remain lost to American memory.


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Date of Submission


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