Lot 10 of 613:
Mentally-ill N. Carolina woman’s anti-slave “delusions”, 1851 letter  

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Mentally-ill North Carolina woman’s anti-slave “delusions” - letter from her husband to her Doctor

John W. Norwood





Autograph Letter signed. Hillsborough, North Carolina. July 21, 1851. 3pp.+ stampless address leaf. To Dr. F.[rancis] T. Stribling (Superintendent, Virginia Western State Lunatic Asylum), Staunton, Virginia

Norwood -  an attorney and Virginia state legislator – writes about his mentally-ill wife’s obsessive “delusions” against their slaves.

Norwood had just returned home with his “poor wife” Annabella, who had been a patient at the Virginia Asylum, being in “very painful doubt” that bringing her home would be beneficial to her mental health. She certainly “felt much joy” in seeing her seven children and resuming her “domestic duties”, taking charge of the household, “down to the smallest particular.” But a relapse soon set in.  She exclaimed that God was “cruel and unjust”, “that the children had ceased to care for her” – and resumed her “old delusions” about the Negro servants. She “became violently excited, saying that I was a coward and monster for submitting to it and urging me to sell them, imprison them or even put them to death.” This despite the fact that she had “no actual malignity of felling towards any of the servants”, except the Black overseer of the plantation slaves. Nor had she “any fear of immediate mischief” from them – probably meaning a slave revolt. She was adamant in refusing to return to the Asylum but her husband was worried that she ate and slept little and was ‘greatly disturbed by her dreams.”
We could find no historical record of whether Annabella Norwood, who lived into the 1870s, was again committed to Stribling’s Asylum – or even of her being a patient there in the first place. Published biographic sketches of Norwood, who later became a State Senator, subtly say only that the lives of husband and wife were both “clouded for many years by her recurrent bouts of ill health.” Presumably, Norwood adhered to the typical Southern defense of slavery before the Civil War, but afterward, during Reconstruction, he was one of a handful of North Carolina politicians who attempted to suppress the terrorism of the Ku Klux Klan.

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