Suicide, divorce, and debt in Civil War era North Carolina Public Deposited

Downloadable Content

Download PDF
Last Modified
  • March 22, 2019
  • Silkenat, David Andrew
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of History
  • This dissertation explores shifting social mores in North Carolina over the course of the nineteenth century. It employs suicide, divorce, and debt as specific lenses through which to explore these shifts. The Civil War forced a fundamental reinterpretation of moral sentiments towards these practices, and the nature of this reinterpretation was predicated on race. White North Carolinians stigmatized suicide, divorce, and debt during the antebellum period. The Civil War undermined these entrenched attitudes, forcing them to reinterpret suicide, divorce, and debt in a new social, cultural, and economic context. Antebellum black North Carolinians, on the other hand, held very different attitudes towards suicide, divorce, and debt, shaped by slavery’s injustices. The Civil War and emancipation created the opportunity for them to create new moral constructs. This dissertation seeks to explicate how these changing moral sentiments reflect broader patterns of thought and action. For whites, this transformation entailed a shift from a world in which individuals were tightly bound to their local community to one in which they were increasingly untethered from social expectations. For black North Carolinians, however, these trends headed in the opposite direction, as emancipation laid the groundwork for new bonds of community. Drawing upon a robust and diverse body of sources, including insane asylum records, divorce petitions, bankruptcy filings, diaries, and personal correspondence, this study describes a society turned upside down as a consequence of a devastating war.
Date of publication
Resource type
Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Brundage, W. Fitzhugh
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Open access

This work has no parents.