British Captain Simeon Ecuyer, portrayed by Ken Treese, second from right, offered blankets infected with smallpox to the Indians besieging Fort Pitt. From left, interpreters Christopher Jones, Ted Boscana, Treese, and Patrick Andrews.

British Captain Simeon Ecuyer, portrayed by Ken Treese, second from right, offered blankets infected with smallpox to the Indians besieging Fort Pitt. From left, interpreters Christopher Jones, Ted Boscana, Treese, and Patrick Andrews.

American History Myths Debunked: The Indians Weren’t Defeated by White Settlers

A plague named smallpox did the most damage, not the American history myth of settlers

When the 6 Ridiculous Lies You Believe About the Founding of America was posted May 15, 2012 by Cracked.com it started something of an Internet sensation; and a spike in people searching for things like “who discovered America?” More than 1.5 million people have viewed the story thus far. So we’ve decided to go a step further and offer our own take on their six myths – American History Myths Debunked, see where they got their information and see what else we can find.

Myth number six says “The Indians Weren’t Defeated by White Settlers,” it instead says Native Americans were wiped out by a plague.

This plague was smallpox, something Native Americans had never seen because it came from living in close proximity to livestock, something farmers in Europe had been doing for thousands of years.

Cracked.com sited a PBS series titled Guns, Germs and Steel based on the book by Jared Diamond that details how Europeans brought that disease and others like the flu and measles with them, killing some 90 percent of the Native American population between the time Columbus showed up and the Mayflower landed.

“More victims of colonization were killed by Eurasian germs, than by either the gun or the sword, making germs the deadliest agent of conquest,” says PBS.org.

And reports of the British then using biological warfare to gain an edge in subsequent battles against the American Indians abound. One of the most prevalent examples of its use came from Lord Jeffrey Amherst, who was commanding general of British forces in North America during the final battles of the French & Indian war (1754-1763).  The town of Amherst, Massachusetts was later named for him, as was Amherst College.

Historical stories point to Lord Amherst requesting that smallpox infected blankets be sent to the Indians, like this one in Carl Waldman’s Atlas of the North American Indian about a siege of Fort Pitt by Chief Pontiac’s forces during the summer of 1763: Captain Simeon Ecuyer had bought time by sending smallpox-infected blankets and handkerchiefs to the Indians surrounding the fort—an early example of biological warfare—which started an epidemic among them. Amherst himself had encouraged this tactic in a letter to Ecuyer.”

To push their point home, the Cracked.com post sites the book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann in which Giovanni de Verrazzano, an Italian sailor, describes first seeing the East Coast of North America in 1523. “He observed that the coastline everywhere was ‘densely populated,’ smoky with Indian bonfires; he could sometimes smell the burning hundreds of miles away.”

The Cracked.com post says there were between 20 million and 100 million people here before the plague, and the entire population of Europe was 70 million, so let’s face it, the settlers couldn’t have defeated the Native Americans without the diseases they brought with them, especially if the Vikings hadn’t been able to before them. Read more about that in yesterday’s post, American History Myths Debunked: Columbus Discovered America.

Also check out the first in ICMN’s series based on the Cracked.com post, American History Myths Debunked: No Native Influence on Founding Fathers.

This story was originally published May 20, 2012.

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American History Myths Debunked: The Indians Weren’t Defeated by White Settlers

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