Natural Causes

The "hand of God" is an active presence in CSI:D files. To be sure, the Almighty took no part in the suicides and homicides; those were the work of men "not having God Before [their] Eyes But moved by the instigation of the Devil." Deaths that could be traced to what we would call 'natural causes,' however, were typically deemed an 'act of God,'a 'visitation by God,' or the 'dispensation of Providence.'

Such cases expand on the point made in the introduction that coroners' inquests paint a very particular portrait of death in the nineteenth-century South. The stock and trade of the coroner's office were sudden deaths, especially those that intruded upon the public view. An old man succumbing to slow cancer in his own home was unsuspicious and unlikely to be investigated. This explains why heart attacks and strokes (which they called apoplexy) figure more prominently than fever among the 'hand of God' cases in these files. It also explains the relative frequency of deaths that occurred out-of-doors. Daniel Brown died in his cotton field; Jane Laniere died "in the woods near the public road"; Hartwell Roper "fell dead ... at his plow."

The words 'Hand of God' were also used in cases where the deceased had been struck by lightning. (In perhaps the strangest case, Broderick Mason and his enslaved girl, Cinthy, were killed by the same lightning bolt, a sure sign that God does not play favorites.) Despite the similarity in terminology, however, lightning deaths have been filed as accidents because, like cave ins and train crashes, they are cases of people simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time and however 'natural' they might seem they are not a 'natural death.'

NEXT: Meet the Coroners

 

Natural Causes Inquests

Displaying 301 - 301 of 301
Name Deceased Description Date Inquest Location Death Method Inquest Finding
William Smith infant January 20, 1869 at Stephen C. Smith residence, Greenville County, SC

upon their oaths do say that he came to his death by some means or disease to the jurors unknown

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