Thesis ID: CBB410055828

Poisoned Relations: Medicine, Sorcery, and Poison Trials in the Contested Atlantic, 1680-1850 (2019)


Games, Alison (Advisor)
Berry, Chelsea (Author)

Games, Alison
Georgetown University
Publication date: 2019
Language: English

Publication Date: 2019
Physical Details: 336

From 1680 to 1850, courts in the slave societies of the western Atlantic tried hundreds of free and enslaved people of African descent for poisoning others, often through sorcery. As events, poison accusations were active sites for the contestation of ideas about health, healing, and malevolent powers. Many of these cases centered on the activities of black medical practitioners. This thesis explores changes in ideas about poison through the wave of poison cases over this 170-year period and the many different people who made these changes and were bound up these cases. It analyzes over five hundred investigations and trials in Virginia, Bahia, Martinique, and the Dutch Guianas—each vastly different slave societies that varied widely in their conditions of enslaved labor, legal systems, and histories. It is these differences that make the shared patterns in the emergence, growth, and decline of poison cases, and of the relative importance of African medical practitioners within them, so intriguing. Across these four locations, there was a specific, temporally bounded, and widely shared relationship between poison, medicine, and sorcery in this period. This relationship centered on medical practitioners of African descent involved in poison cases where the affliction, cure, or both were made with sorcery. My quantitative analysis of these cases also reveals a shared cluster of cases in the mid-eighteenth century—before the age of revolutions—and a heavily male gender ratio among the accused. These findings complicate the focus historians have placed on famous cases occurring in the context of wars and highlight a significant change from contemporary European associations between poison and women. These poison cases were central to a long interaction and transformation of ideas about the causes of and solutions to illness, which were among the most formative and fundamental challenges faced by people in the Atlantic World.

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Authors & Contributors
Bernschneider-Reif, Sabine
Bertomeu Sánchez, José Ramón
Brown, Kathleen M.
Burney, Ian Adnan
Christen, Arden G.
Christen, Joan A.
HOST: Journal of History of Science and Technology
Journal of the History of Dentistry
Medical History
Nineteenth-Century Contexts
Osiris: A Research Journal Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
Science in Context
University of Toronto
Harvard University Press
Lexington Books
Louisiana State University Press
Manchester University Press
Medicine and race
Medicine and law
Trials (law)
Hartlieb, Johannes
Hoffmann, Ernst Theodor Amadeus
Jones, Mary Dixon
Kingsley, Charles
Orfila, Mathieu Joseph Bonaventure
Paracelsus, Theophrast von Hohenheim
Time Periods
19th century
18th century
20th century
15th century
16th century
17th century
United States
Great Britain
North America
New York (U.S.)
Harvard University

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