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.