Native Societies and Disease Essay

Pages: 8 (2339 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 4  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Disease

Marie, Detroit and around Lake Superior. In 1669-70, a smallpox epidemic "spread from New France to sault Ste. Marie on Lake Superior," originally brought to the colony from a ship that landed in Quebec. Aboriginal peoples regularly gathered in this city during the warm weather months, and they brought the disease back with them. It destroyed 90% or more of the population around Tadoucsac, Isle Verte and the Gaspe region, then spread north along the Rupert River.[footnoteRef:18] Smallpox also "devastated the Attikameque living up the St. Lawrence near Trois Rivieres," so much so that they were forced to abandon their town.[footnoteRef:19] This epidemic continued its work at least up to 1679, with European traders and missionaries reporting outbreaks and starvation throughout the north and west. [17: Hackett, p. 42.] [18: Hackett, p. 45.] [19: Hackett, p. 49.]Get full Download Microsoft Word File access
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Similar reports occurred regularly in the 18th Century, and if anything because more frequent and intense. Only occasionally were diseases brought from the HBC ships, however, such as the 1720-21 smallpox epidemic and overland trade routes remained the most common avenues of disease. Another major epidemic of smallpox was brought to the western regions by French traders in 1737-38, for example.[footnoteRef:20] Like other epidemics before and afterwards, it originated on the Atlantic seaboard, in this case from a ship that landed in Boston in 1729. Even though it had been held in quarantine, the epidemic spread rapidly to New York and Philadelphia, and then to Albany, where half the population was infected in 1731.[footnoteRef:21] A Seneca trader spread the disease from there throughout the Iroquois territories, even though the governor of New France tried to "establish a quarantine" in 1731. From Albany, it spread to Quebec and Montreal, where over 2,000 European settlers died, then it moved on to the interior along the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers and the Great Lakes, and to Detroit and Sault Ste. Marie, where large numbers of Miami, Potawatomie and Illinois died.[footnoteRef:22] This epidemic was rather slow, and often paused during the winters, and took over five years to cover the 1,600 kilometers to the Mississippi River. It continued on from there, infecting the Teton and Yankton Sioux in 1736, once again along trade routes and exchanges that were held in warm weather months. At this time, the Sioux also massacred French traders and missionaries after accusing them of spreading the disease, while other reports indicated that the Winnipeg Cree "had all died of smallpox," as had 60-70% of the Assiniboine.[footnoteRef:23] In the West, the aboriginal peoples used the same strategies, as those in the East, raiding other native communities to acquire replacements for those who had died in the epidemics, abandoning less productive settlements and consolidating others. [20: Hackett, p. 59.] [21: Hackett, p. 60.] [22: Hackett, p. 61.] [23: Hackett, p. 68.]

Although the pre-1492 population figures for aboriginal peoples in North America will never be known with certainty beyond question they were far higher than after the epidemics started. Even if a continental pandemic did not expand everywhere in the Americas from Mexico in the 16th Century, it definitely did affect Peru, Argentina and the southern and central regions of North America, causing a population die off of 80-90%. Other evidence indicates that epidemics occurred before settlement on the Atlantic seaboard before actual colonization took place, and indeed greatly facilitating European settlement and colonization. As early as 1534, Cartier reported an epidemic in Canada brought by his own men that permanently devastated at least one region along the St. Lawrence. These are just the pre-contact epidemic that are known, and from the better documents ones later in history it would seem very likely that they destroyed the majority of the native population wherever they occurred. In the 17th and 18th Centuries, epidemics spread along the fur trade routes to the far northern and western regions of North America, wiping out aboriginal populations as far west as Manitoba and the Dakotas, and as far north as Hudson Bay. These epidemics originated on the Atlantic coast and the St. Lawrence River, which would indicate that the voyage across the Atlantic was not necessary long enough to act as a quarantine against all diseases, especially smallpox. Indeed, this particular disease had the most destructive impacts on the aboriginal populations of all, along with plague, influenza and measles, and studies of burial grounds indicate that they did not exist before European contact. Only when they found a 'virgin population' that had no immunity to them could they have the exterminating effect of the Black Death in Europe, and neither Africa or Asia reported such extreme levels of population los as a result on contact with Europeans. In the Americas, they ensured that conquest and colonization would meet far less resistance than they otherwise might have, which is why the Europeans often attributed the destruction of the aboriginal peoples as an act of divine providence on their behalf.


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How to Cite "Native Societies and Disease" Essay in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Native Societies and Disease.  (2011, May 1).  Retrieved January 16, 2021, from

MLA Format

"Native Societies and Disease."  1 May 2011.  Web.  16 January 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"Native Societies and Disease."  May 1, 2011.  Accessed January 16, 2021.