Moments of Despair: Suicide, Divorce, and Debt in Civil War Era North Carolina

Moments of Despair: Suicide, Divorce, and Debt in Civil War Era North Carolina

by David Silkenat
Moments of Despair: Suicide, Divorce, and Debt in Civil War Era North Carolina

Moments of Despair: Suicide, Divorce, and Debt in Civil War Era North Carolina

by David Silkenat


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During the Civil War era, black and white North Carolinians were forced to fundamentally reinterpret the morality of suicide, divorce, and debt as these experiences became pressing issues throughout the region and nation. In Moments of Despair, David Silkenat explores these shifting sentiments.

Antebellum white North Carolinians stigmatized suicide, divorce, and debt, but the Civil War undermined these entrenched attitudes, forcing a reinterpretation of these issues in a new social, cultural, and economic context in which they were increasingly untethered from social expectations. Black North Carolinians, for their part, used emancipation to lay the groundwork for new bonds of community and their own interpretation of social frameworks. Silkenat argues that North Carolinians' attitudes differed from those of people outside the South in two respects. First, attitudes toward these cultural practices changed more abruptly and rapidly in the South than in the rest of America, and second, the practices were interpreted through a prism of race. Drawing upon a robust and diverse body of sources, including insane asylum records, divorce petitions, bankruptcy filings, diaries, and personal correspondence, this innovative study describes a society turned upside down as a consequence of a devastating war.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780807877951
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date: 03/07/2011
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 296
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

David Silkenat is assistant professor of history and education at North Dakota State University.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

Part I By his Own Hand Suicide 7

1 Most Horrible of Crimes

Suicide in the Old South 11

2 The Self-Slaying Epidemic

Suicide after the Civil War 23

3 The Legacy of the War We Suppose

Suicide in Medical and Social Thought 53

Part II To Loosen the Bands of Society Divorce 71

4 The Country Is Also a Party

Antebellum Divorce in Black and White 75

5 Connubial Bliss until He Entered the Army by Conscription

Civil War and Divorce 95

6 The Divorce Mill Runs Over Time

Marital Breakdown and Reform in the New South 113

Part III Enslaved by Debt The Culture of Credit and Debt 137

7 Sacredness of Obligations

Debt in Antebellum North Carolina 141

8 Out of Debt before I Die

The Credit Crisis of the Civil War 159

9 What the Landlord and the Storeman Choose to Make It

General Stores, Pawnshops, and Boardinghouses in the New South 173

10 Nothing Less than a Question of Slavery or Freedom

Populism and the Crisis of Debt in the New South 205

Conclusion 217

Appendix: Methodological Problems in Studying the History of Suicide 221

Notes 225

Bibliography 259

Index 291

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

This original and outstanding book is significant not just for scholarship about North Carolina but also for our understanding of southern culture as a whole in the Civil War era. The research is impressively thorough, and the analysis is wisely and thoughtfully done.—Paul D. Escott, Wake Forest University

An excellent book full of wide-ranging, convincing research, Moments of Despair reshapes discussions of the Civil War, race, community, and personal strife in an innovative and convincing way. David Silkenat reveals that suicide, divorce, and debt form a fascinating triad on which rests important insight into postwar North Carolina, and by extension, the entire South. A book about many gloomy times, this is far from a gloomy read.—Steven Stowe, Indiana University

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