Smallpox and the American Indian

Smallpox and the American Indian - George Dorfman Emily...

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George Dorfman Emily Renaud Research in the Disciplines October 29, 2007 The Scourge of the New World In the preemptive years before Europeans set foot on the land they later referred to as the New World, another race inhabited the area. These were the Native Americans, as we have come to call them. Depicted often as a primitive, barbaric people, the Native Americans lived amongst themselves alone—that is, until the first invaders arrived. As soon as the first Europeans disembarked upon the new land, the Indians began to suffer. The first to come upon the newly arrived Spanish were either forced into servitude or killed, women and children included. This became merely the beginning of the centuries-long struggle between the Native Americans and the Europeans. However, the natives and Europeans were not the only factors in this battle. Another smaller, invisible factor existed that turned out to be quite more lethal than the fighting that ensued as the Europeans attempted to annihilate the natives through the years. When one of the first ships came over from Europe, it brought with it, by means of a passenger, a disease called Variola major, otherwise known as smallpox. Throughout the next few centuries, this disease would kill more Native Americans and Europeans than the wars that ensued during this time period. Thus, it is my belief that Smallpox became a vital contributor in the rapid annihilation of the Indians, which then influenced the fur trade and the progression of European settlers in the New World. Throughout recorded history, smallpox has played a role in deciding the fates of various civilizations. A recent presentation at the Nation Academy of Science entitled “On
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the Origin of smallpox: Correlating variola phylogenics with phylogenics with historical smallpox records,” stated that “Human disease likely attributable to variola virus…has been reported in human populations for >2000 years” (Li and Carroll 1-3). In 430 BC, smallpox ravaged the city of Athens to such an extent that they named the outbreak the “Plague of Athens.” In 400 A.D. a similar epidemic took place in India, in which the symptoms described by medical writings of that era were highly similar to the symptoms synonymous with the Variola major virus. The characteristic bumps and pustules that victims were plagued with was evident in almost every Eurasian population at the time the first case of smallpox reached the island of Santa Domingo in Hispaniola in 1518 (Aberth 50). Thus began the terrible devastation of lives in the New World caused by smallpox in the New World. Bartolome De Las Casas, the editor of the journal of Christopher Columbus, landed on Hispaniola in 1520, only to see a plethora of deceased natives and Spaniards alike. At that time, Indians on the island were being shipped to Spain from Hispaniola by the Spanish. Las Casas wrote describing the vision of Hispaniola as he arrived: “A terrible plague came, and almost everyone died…This was smallpox, which was
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Smallpox and the American Indian - George Dorfman Emily...

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