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This essay considers rituals and language of public grief in North America between 1760 and 1812. It deals with traditions of public mourning that Americans inherited from Britain and examines their employment in service to the founding of the United States. The chapter also examines two occasions in the early nineteenth century when deaths in the South became national news and the objects of public mourning outside the region: the attack on the Chesapeake by the HMS Leopard shortly after it left Norfolk, Virginia, in June 1807, and the devastating Richmond Theatre Fire of December 1811. An ostensibly private catastrophe became public business, and performances of community grief were orchestrated by the city government, with the city's inhabitants playing key roles as well. The performances and texts of public mourning in the early nineteenth century consistently employed the language of nation and articulated a sense of common American identity.
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