Scholars have explored eighteenth-century suicide letters from a literary perspective, examining issues of performativity and reception. However, it is fruitful to see these letters as material as well as textual objects, which were utterly embedded in people's social lives. Using thirty manuscript letters, in conjunction with other sources, this article explores the contexts in which suicide letters were written and left for others. It looks at how authors used space and other materials to convey meaning, and argues that these letters were epistolary documents usually meant for specific, known persons, rather than the press. Generally written by members of the ‘lower orders’, these letters also provide insight into the emotional writing practices of the poor, and their experiences of emotional distress. Overall, this article proposes that these neglected documents should be used to investigate the emotional and material contexts for eighteenth- and nineteenth-century suicide. It also argues that, at a time when the history of emotions has reached considerable prominence, historians must be more attentive to the experiences of the suicidal.