A new post in the smallpox and American otherness series.
At the time of organising the expedition, which aimed to explore the interior of the continent from west of the Mississippi as far as the Pacific coast of what is now British Columbia, Jefferson told Lewis to take with him “some matter of the kine-pox”, adding: “inform those of them with whom you may be, of it’s efficacy as a preservative from the small pox; and instruct & encourage them in the use of it”. Vaccination programmes are part of a broader presence of medical interests in the expedition, which unfolds both in terms of gathering detailed information on the populations encountered, and in the use of practical medical knowledge as a means of gaining credit and prestige, and establishing diplomatic relations.
The use of medical preparations and practices in diplomacy was certainly not an invention of the expedition: in North America, for example, there were cases of vaccinations by a delegation from Shawnee and Delaware in Washington in 1802, and material sent to the Five Nations in Canada by Jenner himself. The circulation of knowledge in the field of medicine and public health between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was – at various levels and latitudes – part of the cultural and administrative apparatus of European colonial expansion around the world.
Continue reading “Smallpox and medical knowledge in the Lewis and Clark expedition”
Adair and Colden witnesses to epidemics in eighteenth-century North America: a new post in the smallpox series
The fur trader James Adair, who lived between the turn of the century and the 1770s in an area between present-day North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Florida, recorded smallpox as an imported disease among the First Nations he came in contact with. “I have lived among them in the raging time of the small pox”:1 Adair highlighted the first-hand experience that has made his History of the American Indians, published in London in 1775, one of the primary sources adopted in studies of the historical ethnography of the peoples of the South East.2
With the linguistic-cultural awareness that is typical of his compilation, Adair reported the mythographic conceptualisation of smallpox by the Cherokee (Cheerake):3
“The small-pox, a foreign disease, no way connatural to their healthy climate, they call Oonatàquára, imagining it to proceed from the invisible darts of angry fate, pointed against them, for their young people’s vicious conduct.”4
Continue reading ““I have lived among them in the raging time of the small pox””
A new post in the smallpox series: An epidemiological aspect was at work in the conceptualisation of a European self in the mirror of American otherness.
In the journal of his voyage to the Carolinas published in 1709, John Lawson connects the arrival of syphilis in America to Columbus, describing the striking consequences for the Santee,1 a Siouan population near the river of the same name in present-day South Carolina, which declined from about a thousand in the seventeenth century to less than ninety at the beginning of the eighteenth.2
On behalf of the Lords Proprietors of Carolina, to whom he dedicated his New Voyage, Lawson set out from Charleston on 28 December 1700, and arrived at the mouth of the Pamlico River (Pampticough) on 24 February 1701,3 drawing a wide arc in Carolina territories. It crossed and described an unmapped area, about which Europeans’ knowledge was largely lacking. The observer clearly identified the role of diseases of European origin, smallpox above all, in the rapid decline of populations such as the Sewee, another nation probably of Siouan stock, whose numbers, estimated at around eight hundred in the seventeenth century, were reduced to seventy-five in 1715:4
the Sewees have been formerly a large Nation, though now very much decreas’d since the English hath seated their Land, and all other Nations of Indians are observ’d to partake of the same Fate, where the Europeans come, the Indians being a People very apt to catch any Distemper they are afflicted withal; the Small-Pox has destroy’d many thousands of these Natives.
Continue reading “Plagues from the Old World and European identities in North America”