AbstractsMedical & Health Science

A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down: Poison Use by Slaves in Antebellum Virginia

by Alexcia Cleveland

Institution: Leiden University
Year: 2016
Keywords: slavery; slave resistance; antebellum virginia; poison
Posted: 02/05/2017
Record ID: 2107773
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/1887/41853


This paper offers an in-depth study into slaves using poison as a form of resistance in antebellum Virginia. Although much attention has been given to sensational and bloody slave resistance such as Nat Turner’s Rebellion and more recent scholarship has focused on “everyday resistance,” this paper attempts to bridge the gap between the two as poisoning is simultaneously violent yet hidden. While previous scholars have given some study to eighteenth-century poisoning, the nineteenth century is perhaps of more interest as advances in forensics and the rise of paternalism created an environment vastly different from, and in many ways more conducive to, poisoning than that found in the previous century. To try to gain a more complete understanding of poison practices this paper presents cases that involve slaves of different genders, occupations, and ages. Contrary to some historians, this paper presents poisoning in the context of its practicality and is critical of the view of poison being spiritually tied to Africa; as such, this paper explores the many varieties of poisons slaves utilized. Using newspaper articles and other primary sources, this paper dissects the poisoning practices of slaves as well as the white reactions to it. Advisors/Committee Members: Pargas, Damian (advisor).