Surre, “possessed of the divel”

December, 1730

Nicholas Litchfield sued Isreal Cowing for fraud. Cowing sold Litchfield a Negro man named Jack and a woman named Surre for £160, but Surre was never delivered. Cowing had promised to “deliver said Negroes well and in good order”, but Surre was “mad distracted or possessed of the divel of…which [Litchfield] was wholly ignorant”. Subsequently, Surre was “hanged and dead”.

The question arises why are we learning this as a fraud case and not a murder case? It seems that Surre may have been suffering from mental illness and it is not impossible that she seized one of the few methods of resistance available and died by suicide, but the record does not read as a suicide. And it would also be fair to wonder if the account of the “possession” was Surre practicing African rituals or traditions. Why doesn’t the judge follow up on who “hanged” Surre?

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Copyright Wayne Tucker 2021. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

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