The Author of the document is Elizabeth A. Fenn, an assistant professor of history at George Washington University. This essay received the Louis Pelzer Memorial Award for 1999.
The receipt that appears to prove the claim that the British did intentionally convey smallpox to the Original People of American is located in the British Museum under the following reference:
Levy, Trent and Company: Account against the Crown, Aug. 13, 1763, in Papers of Col. Henry Bouquet, ed. Stevens and Kent, ser. 21654, pp. 218-19. The series numbers cited here correspond to the Additional Manuscripts classification of the British Museum, London, where the original manuscripts are stored
Later, Banks and Cook met in 1766 in Newfoundland, a safe cold place 2000kms from The Great Lakes, where Fort Pitt is located.
It was here that they are perceived to have hatched a plan to deliver smallpox to the Original People of Australia. It is quite perceivable that they did deliver smallpox in 1770 and did not return for some 18 years later ... perhaps they were avoiding it like the plague.
Biological Warfare in Eighteenth-Century North America: Beyond Jeffery Amherst
By Elizabeth A. Fenn
: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-82
Elizabeth A. Fenn
Did he or didn't he? For generations, the Amherst-smallpox blanket episode has elicited animated debate both within and beyond academic circles. In books, journals, and now in internet discussion groups, historians, folklorists, and lay people have argued the nuances of the case. Some have contended that at Gen. Jeffery Amherst's orders, British subordinates at Fort Pitt in 1763 did indeed infect local Indians with items taken from a nearby smallpox hospital. Others have argued that they did not, that the British lacked the knowledge, the ability, or the desire to do so. Still others have claimed that regardless of intent, the timing is wrong, that the Indians around Fort Pitt came down with smallpox well before the damning exchange of letters between Jeffery Amherst and his subordinate Henry Bouquet, and that in fact they were sick even before they received "two Blankets and an Handkerchief" out of the post's smallpox hospital. Finally, and perhaps predictably, a recent article has focused on the incident's genesis as a highly mutable cross-culturallegend that reflects deep anxieties about encounters with the "other,"!
Elizabeth A. Fenn is an assistant professor of history at George Washington University. This essay received the
Louis Pelzer Memorial Award for 1999.
I am grateful to John Mack Faragher for suggesting that I write this article and for commenting on an early draft. Wayne Lee shared important references with me and helped me locate the essay in the field of military history. Members of the Michigan Colonial Studies Seminar and the Michigan History of Medicine and Health Colloquium provided helpful critiques of an earlier version, as did the Faculty and Graduate Student Seminar at the University of South Florida department of history. Further insights, references, and assistance came from Holly Brewer, Erika Bsumek, John Dann, Pat Galloway, Don Higginbotham, Margaret Humphreys, Paige Raibmon, Neal Salisbury, Mark Wheelis, and Peter Wood, as well as the editors and anonymous reviewers of The Journal of American History. Financial support came from the Charlotte W Newcombe Foundation.
1 William Trent, "William Trent's Journal at Fort Pitt, 1763," ed. A. T. Volwiler, Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 11 (Dec. 1924), 400. For an excellent appraisal of the Fort Pitt episode that places it in the context of the larger and more complicated struggle for control of the Ohio Valley, see Michael N. McConnell, A Country Between: The Upper Ohio Valley and ItsPeoples, 1724-1774 (Lincoln, 1992), 194-96. For an example of an Internet discussion devoted to biological warfare and smallpox, see the H-OIEAHC discussion log for April 1995, available at http://www.h-net.msu.edu / logs/. For the contention that the attempt at biological warfare was "unquestionably effective at Fort Pitt," see Francis Jennings, Empire of Fortune: Crowns, Colonies, 6' Tribes in the Sellen }'ears war in America (New York, 1990),447-48, 447n26. On the issue of timing, see Bernhard Knollenberg, "General Amherst and Germ Warfare," Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 41 (Dec. 1954),489-94; Bernhard Knollenberg to editor, "Communications," Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 41 (March 1955),762; and Donald H. Kent, to editor, ibid., 762-63. For a cross-cultural analysis of the incident's place in a pantheon of other such "legends," see Adrienne Mayor, "The Nessus Shirt in the New World: Smallpox Blankets in History and Legend," Journal of American Folklore, 108 (Winter 1995), 54-77. 1552 The Journal of American History March 2000.
Biological Warfare in Eighteenth-CenturyAmerica 1553
What follows is not an attempt to condemn or exonerate Jeffery Amherst. The man's documentary record speaks loudly enough regarding his character, if not regarding his ultimate culpability for the smallpox that struck Indians near Fort Pitt in 1763 and 1764. Nor is this essay an exhaustive accounting of all the accusations and incidents of biological warfare in late-eighteenth-century North America. It is, however, an attempt to broaden the debate and to place it in context." Our preoccupation with Amherst has kept us from recognizing that accusations of what we now call biological warfare-the military use of smallpox in particular-arose frequently in eighteenth-century America. Native Americans, moreover, were not the only accusers. By the second half of the century, many of the combatants in America'swars of empire had the knowledge and technology to attempt biological warfare with the smallpox virus. Many also adhered to a code of ethics that did not constrain them from doing so. Seen in this light, the Amherst affair becomes not so much an aberration as part of a larger continuum in which accusations and discussions of biological warfare were common, and actual incidents may have occurred more frequently than scholars have previously acknowledged.
Fort Pitt, 1763
The most famous "smallpox blanket" incident in American history took place in the midst of Pontiac's Rebellion in 1763. In May and June of that year, a loose confederation of tribes inspired by the Ottawa war leader Pontiac launched attacks on Britishheld posts throughout the Great Lakes and Midwest. On May 29, 1763, they began a siege of Fort Pitt, located in western Pennsylvania at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers. The officer in charge at Fort Pitt was the Swiss-born captain Simeon Ecuyer. On June 16, 1763, Ecuyer reported to Col. Henry Bouquet at Philadelphia that the frontier outpost's situation had taken a turn for the worse.
Local Indians had escalated the hostilities, burning nearby houses and attempting to lure Ecuyer into an engagement beyond the walls of the well-protected post, where traders and colonists, interlopers on Indian lands, had taken refuge. "We are so crowded in the fort that I fear disease," wrote Ecuyer, "for in spite of all my care I cannot keep the place as clean as I should like; moreover, the small pox is among us. For this reason I have had a hospital built under the bridge beyond musket-fire." Henry Bouquet, in a letter dated June 23, passed the news on to Jeffery Amherst, the British commander in chief, at New York. "Fort Pitt is in good State of Defence against all attempts from Savages," Bouquet reported, but "Unluckily the small Pox has broken out in the Garrison."3 ByJune 16, then, from sources unknown, small-pox had established itself at Fort Pitt. It is likely that Amherst knew of the situation
by the end of June.
2 A thorough appraisal of the use of biological warfare in the prescientific era can be found in Mark Wheelis, "Biological Warfare before 1914," in Biological and Toxin Weapons: Research, Development, and Use ftom theMiddle Ages to 1945, ed. Erhard Geissler and John van Courtland Moon (Oxford, 1999), 8-34.
3 For a summary of the documentation of this incident, see Knollenberg, "General Amherst and Germ Warfare," 489-94; and Kent to editor, "Communications," 762-63. While my conclusions differ from Knollenberg's, much of the evidence consulted is the same. Simeon Ecuyer to Henry Bouquet, June 16, 1763 [translation], in ThePapers ofCoL Henry Bouquet, ed. Sylvester K. Stevens and Donald H. Kent (30 series, Harris-