December 1988 | Volume 39, Issue 8
The July/August “Time Machine” mentions Jeffery Amherst’s 1763 suggestion that the colonists try to spread smallpox among the Indians. In fact, the campaign went further than that.
Amherst suggested to Col. Henry Bouquet, the commander of Fort Pitt, that he “send the small pox” among the tribes that had risen in the Ohio Valley. “ We must ,” he wrote, “Use Every Stratagem in our power to Reduce them.” Bouquet agreed to try to spread an epidemic using infected blankets.
Bouquet was off campaigning, but his second-in-command, Simeon Ecuyer, had anticipated Amherst’s suggestion. In late June he gave two blankets and a handkerchief that he had taken from the beds of smallpox patients to two Delaware Indians, Turtle’s Heart and Mamaltee.
The number of Native Americans carried away by Amherst’s strategy is unknown; but it was obviously an order to commit germ warfare, and this order was carried out.
In the same issue Stephen Jay Gould, professor of geology at Harvard University, nominated “whichever early European settler first brought smallpox to the New World” as the most underrated person. Professor Gould knows his history. He understands what a powerful weapon smallpox was.