In doing family history research I came across this death notice, "John French, his wife drown’d herself 13 May 1701." Curious wording. Last summer I visited the French-Andrews house, still standing in Topsfield, Mass. The current owner suggested she must have been terminally ill and that her husband/family drowned her as a form of mercy killing.? He also said this was a known practice in Colonial America. Try as I may, I have been unable to find any sort of reference to such a practice. Any thoughts?

  • 6
    Seems unlikely, considering prevalent Christian morality at that time, stigma on suicide and of course murder. – rs.29 Aug 4 at 20:25
  • 1
    She could literally have drowned herself if she couldn't swim - just take a boat out onto a deep-enough lake and jump into the water. Reasons for suicide are of course personal, but she could easily have had depression (post-partum or otherwise) or been trapped in a very unhappy and/or abusive marriage. – Jurp Aug 4 at 21:27
  • 1
    Extremely unlikely. Until very recently Christian morals strictly forbade suicide and assisted suicide. Not to mention the experience itself is gruesome. Try it for yourself. It's called "waterboarding". – Jos Aug 5 at 0:34
  • 2
    Not a direct answer but maybe of interest: "Massachusetts... passed a statute in 1660 outlawing suicide and requiring contemptuous burial of a suicide's corpse on a public highway with 'a Cart-load of Stones laid upon the Grave as a Brand of Infamy, and as a warning to others to beware of the like Damnable practices.' This statute was not repealed until 1823... " (source) – Brian Z Aug 5 at 12:31
  • Suicide by drowning is far from unknown. – Gort the Robot Aug 6 at 1:11

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.