Dissertation Defense: Chelsea Berry

Candidate Name: Chelsea Berry

Major: History

Advisor: Alison Games, Ph.D.

Title: Poisoned Relations: Medicine, Sorcery, and Poison Trials in the Contested Atlantic, 1680-

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 supernatural means. As events, poison accusations were active sites for the interaction and transformation 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. 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.

Monday, March 25, 2019 at 10:00am to 12:00pm

Edward B. Bunn, S.J. Intercultural Center, 450
37th and O St., N.W., Washington

Event Type

Academic Events, Dissertation Defense


Georgetown College, History, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences



Open to the public and the press?


Event Contact Name

Carolina Madinaveitia

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