How did Americans know to use smallpox infected blankets, before germ theory?

How did Americans know to use smallpox infected blankets, before germ theory?

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How did Americans know that Native Americans would be infected with smallpox, from smallpox infected blankets, hundreds of years before germ theory?

Before germ theory, there were similar concepts of infectious disease- bad humors, bad air, etc. Miasma theory held that decaying organic matter transmitted infectious fumes to other organic matter. Girolamo Fracastoro went further and developed a proto-germ theory in the 1500s. So people got the idea.

How did Americans know that Native Americans would be infected with smallpox, from smallpox infected blankets, hundreds of years before germ theory?

Did Americans know or merely hope that Native Americans would be infected with smallpox, from smallpox infected blankets?

Apparently smallpox can be spread by infected objects even though it usually spreads by airborn viruses from infected persons.

Certainly British commander in North America Lord Jefffrey Amherst hoped that giving Native Americans blankets from smallpox victims would infect them.

But wiser persons might have warned him that his evil and genocidal plan was highly flawed and would probably not work well enough to make any difference.

Certainly Native American populations had been decimated by infectious diseases many times in the last few centuries and their numbers had been greatly reduced. But Amherst still had a terrible problem with hostile Native Americans. It was wishful thinking to hope that a new epidemic would be enough to end troubles with the Native Americans during his time in command. Especially since simply reversing Amherst's own polices toward the Native Americans and granting them what they wanted would have ended the trouble much faster.

But at least Amherst's evil and over optimistic plan contributed to reducing the numbers of the eastern tribes so that after a few years they were no longer any trouble, as Richard Butler and Francis Dade could testify. Correct?

Much later many plains Indian tribes were devastated by a smallpox epidemic in 1837. And after that the plains Indians tribes were never numerous enough to fight the US government, right? That is the reason why in the year 1890 such old soldiers as John Lawrence Grattan, William Judd Fetterman, and George Armstrong Custer said that the peaceful history of the plains since about 1840 had been caused by that great smallpox epidemic in 1837, and without it many brave soldiers would have died fighting the plains Indians. Correct?

Colonial warfare: Were smallpox-infected blankets given to Native Americans?

North American colonists’ warfare against Native Americans often was horrifyingly brutal. But one method they appear to have used shocks even more than all the bloody slaughter: The gifting of blankets and linens contaminated with smallpox. The virus causes a disease that can inflict disfiguring scars, blindness and death. The tactic constitutes a crude form of biological warfare—but accounts of the colonists using it are actually few.

William Trent, a trader, land speculator and militia captain, wrote in his diary that on June 23, two Delaware emissaries had visited the fort, and asked to hold talks the next day. At that meeting, after the Native American diplomats had tried unsuccessfully to persuade the British to abandon Fort Pitt, they asked for provisions and liquor for their return. The British complied, and also gave them gifts—two blankets and a handkerchief which had come from the smallpox ward.

[Historian Paul Kelton] says the tactic, however callous and brutal, is only a small part of a larger story of brutality in the 1600s and 1700s. During this period British forces tried to drive out Native Americans by cutting down their corn and burning their homes, turning them into refugees. In Kelton’s view, that rendered them far more vulnerable to the ravages of disease than a pile of infected blankets.


The earliest documented incident of the intention to use biological weapons is possibly recorded in Hittite texts of 1500–1200 BCE, in which victims of tularemia were driven into enemy lands, causing an epidemic. [1] Although the Assyrians knew of ergot, a parasitic fungus of rye which produces ergotism when ingested, there is no evidence that they poisoned enemy wells with the fungus, as has been claimed.

According to Homer's epic poems about the legendary Trojan War, the Iliad and the Odyssey, spears and arrows were tipped with poison. During the First Sacred War in Greece, in about 590 BCE, Athens and the Amphictionic League poisoned the water supply of the besieged town of Kirrha (near Delphi) with the toxic plant hellebore. [2] According to Herodotus, during the 4th century BC Scythian archers dipped their arrow tips into decomposing cadavers of humans and snakes [3] or in blood mixed with manure, [4] supposedly making them contaminated with dangerous bacterial agents like Clostridium perfringens and Clostridium tetani, and snake venom. [5]

In a naval battle against King Eumenes of Pergamon in 184 BC, Hannibal of Carthage had clay pots filled with venomous snakes and instructed his sailors to throw them onto the decks of enemy ships. [6] The Roman commander Manius Aquillius poisoned the wells of besieged enemy cities in about 130 BC. In about AD 198, the Parthian city of Hatra (near Mosul, Iraq) repulsed the Roman army led by Septimius Severus by hurling clay pots filled with live scorpions at them. [7] Like Scythian archers, Roman soldiers dipped their swords into excrements and cadavers too — victims were commonly infected by tetanus as result. [8]

There are numerous other instances of the use of plant toxins, venoms, and other poisonous substances to create biological weapons in antiquity. [9]

The Mongol Empire established commercial and political connections between the Eastern and Western areas of the world, through the most mobile army ever seen. The armies, composed of the most rapidly moving travelers who had ever moved between the steppes of East Asia (where bubonic plague was and remains endemic among small rodents), managed to keep the chain of infection without a break until they reached, and infected, peoples and rodents who had never encountered it. The ensuing Black Death may have killed up to 25 million total, including China and roughly a third of the population of Europe and in the next decades, changing the course of Asian and European history.

Biologicals were extensively used in many parts of Africa from the sixteenth century AD, most of the time in the form of poisoned arrows, or powder spread on the war front as well as poisoning of horses and water supply of the enemy forces. [10] [11] In Borgu, there were specific mixtures to kill, hypnotize, make the enemy bold, and to act as an antidote against the poison of the enemy as well. The creation of biologicals was reserved for a specific and professional class of medicine-men. [11] In South Sudan, the people of the Koalit Hills kept their country free of Arab invasions by using tsetse flies as a weapon of war. [12] Several accounts can give an idea of the efficiency of the biologicals. For example, Mockley-Ferryman in 1892 commented on the Dahomean invasion of Borgu, stating that "their (Borgawa) poisoned arrows enabled them to hold their own with the forces of Dahomey notwithstanding the latter's muskets." [11] The same scenario happened to Portuguese raiders in Senegambia when they were defeated by Mali's Gambian forces, and to John Hawkins in Sierra Leone where he lost a number of his men to poisoned arrows. [13]

During the Middle Ages, victims of the bubonic plague were used for biological attacks, often by flinging fomites such as infected corpses and excrement over castle walls using catapults. Bodies would be tied along with cannonballs and shot towards the city area. In 1346, during the siege of Caffa (now Feodossia, Crimea) the attacking Tartar Forces (subjugated by the Mongol empire under Genghis Khan more than a century ago), used the bodies of Mongol warriors of the Golden Horde who had died of plague, as weapons. An outbreak of plague followed and the defending forces retreated, followed by the conquest of the city by the Mongols. It has been speculated that this operation may have been responsible for the advent of the Black Death in Europe. At the time, the attackers thought that the stench was enough to kill them, though it was the disease that was deadly. [14] [15]

At the siege of Thun-l'Évêque in 1340, during the Hundred Years' War, the attackers catapulted decomposing animals into the besieged area. [16]

In 1422, during the siege of Karlstein Castle in Bohemia, Hussite attackers used catapults to throw dead (but not plague-infected) bodies and 2000 carriage-loads of dung over the walls. [17]

English Longbowmen usually did not draw their arrows from a quiver rather, they stuck their arrows into the ground in front of them. This allowed them to nock the arrows faster and the dirt and soil was likely to stick to the arrowheads, thus making the wounds much more likely to become infected.

Europe Edit

The last known incident of using plague corpses for biological warfare occurred in 1710, when Russian forces attacked the Swedes by flinging plague-infected corpses over the city walls of Reval (Tallinn). [18] However, during the 1785 siege of La Calle, Tunisian forces flung diseased clothing into the city. [17]

North America Edit

The British Army attempted use of smallpox against Native Americans during the Siege of Fort Pitt in June 1763. [19] [20] [21] During a parley in midst of the siege on June 24, 1763, Captain Simeon Ecuyer gave representatives of the besieging Delawares two blankets and a handkerchief enclosed in small metal boxes that had been exposed to smallpox, in an attempt to spread the disease to the Natives in order to end the siege. [22] William Trent, the trader turned militia commander who had come up with the plan, sent a bill to the British Army indicating that the purpose of giving the blankets was "to Convey the Smallpox to the Indians." The invoice's approval confirms that the British command endorsed Trent's actions. [19] [20] A reported outbreak that began the spring before left as many as one hundred Native Americans dead in Ohio Country from 1763 to 1764. It is not clear, however, whether the smallpox was a result of the Fort Pitt incident or the virus was already present among the Delaware people as outbreaks happened on their own every dozen or so years [23] and the delegates were met again later and they seemingly hadn't contracted smallpox. [24] [25] [26] Trade and combat also provided ample opportunity for transmission of the disease. [21]

A month later British commander Lord Jeffery Amherst and Swiss-British officer Colonel Henry Bouquet discussed the topic of using blankets to spread smallpox amongst Natives. Four letters are cited from June 29, July 13, 16 and 26th, 1763. Excerpts: Amherst wrote on July 16, 1763, "P.S. You will Do well to try to Inocculate the Indians by means of Blankets, as well as to try Every other method that can serve to Extirpate this Execrable Race. I should be very glad your Scheme for Hunting them Down by Dogs could take Effect. " Bouquet replied on July 26, 1763, "I received yesterday your Excellency's letters of 16th with their Inclosures. The signal for Indian Messengers, and all your directions will be observed." Smallpox was highly contagious among the Native Americans, and — together with measles, influenza, chicken pox, and other Old World diseases — was a major cause of death since the arrival of Europeans and their animals. [27] [28] [29]

New South Wales Edit

Australian aborigines (Kooris) have always maintained that the British deliberately spread smallpox in 1789, [30] but this possibility has only been raised by historians from the 1980s when Dr Noel Butlin suggested “there are some possibilities that . disease could have been used deliberately as an exterminating agent”. [31]

In 1997, David Day claimed there “remains considerable circumstantial evidence to suggest that officers other than Phillip, or perhaps convicts or soldiers … deliberately spread smallpox among aborigines” [32] and in 2000 Dr John Lambert argued that “strong circumstantial evidence suggests the smallpox epidemic which ravaged Aborigines in 1789, may have resulted from deliberate infection”. [33]

Judy Campbell argued in 2002 that it is highly improbable that the First Fleet was the source of the epidemic as "smallpox had not occurred in any members of the First Fleet" the only possible source of infection from the Fleet being exposure to variolous matter imported for the purposes of inoculation against smallpox. Campbell argued that, while there has been considerable speculation about a hypothetical exposure to the First Fleet's variolous matter, there was no evidence that Aboriginal people were ever actually exposed to it. She pointed to regular contact between fishing fleets from the Indonesia archipelago, where smallpox was always present, and Aboriginal people in Australia's North as a more likely source for the introduction of smallpox. She notes that while these fishermen are generally referred to as ‘Macassans’, referring to the port of Macassar on the island of Sulawesi from which most of the fishermen originated, “some travelled from islands as distant as New Guinea”. She noted that there is little disagreement that the smallpox epidemic of the 1860s was contracted from Macassan fishermen and spread through the Aboriginal population by Aborigines fleeing outbreaks and also via their traditional social, kinship and trading networks. She argued that the 1789–90 epidemic followed the same pattern. [34]

These claims are controversial as it is argued that any smallpox virus brought to New South Wales probably would have been sterilised by heat and humidity encountered during the voyage of the First Fleet from England and incapable of biological warfare. However, in 2007, Christopher Warren demonstrated that the British smallpox may have been still viable. [35] Since then some scholars have argued that the British committed biological warfare in 1789 near their new convict settlement at Port Jackson. [36] [37]

In 2013 Warren reviewed the issue and argued that smallpox did not spread across Australia before 1824 and showed that there was no smallpox at Macassar that could have caused the outbreak at Sydney. Warren, however, did not address the issue of persons who joined the Macassan fleet from other islands and from parts of Sulawesi other than the port of Macassar. Warren concluded that the British were "the most likely candidates to have released smallpox" near Sydney Cove in 1789. Warren proposed that the British had no choice as they were confronted with dire circumstances when, among other factors, they ran out of ammunition for their muskets. Warren also uses native oral tradition and the archaeology of native graves to analyse the cause and effect of the spread of smallpox in 1789. [38]

Prior to the publication of Warren's article (2013), a professor of physiology John Carmody argued that the epidemic was an outbreak of chickenpox which took a drastic toll on an Aboriginal population without immunological resistance. [39] With regard to how smallpox might have reached the Sydney region, Dr Carmody said: "There is absolutely no evidence to support any of the theories and some of them are fanciful and far-fetched.." [40] [41] Warren argued against the chickenpox theory at endnote 3 of Smallpox at Sydney Cove – Who, When, Why?. [42] However, in a 2014 joint paper on historic Aboriginal demography, Carmody and the Australian National University's Boyd Hunter argued that the recorded behavior of the epidemic ruled out smallpox and indicated chickenpox. [43]

By the turn of the 20th century, advances in microbiology had made thinking about "germ warfare" part of the zeitgeist. Jack London, in his short story '"Yah! Yah! Yah!"' (1909), described a punitive European expedition to a South Pacific island deliberately exposing the Polynesian population to measles, of which many of them died. London wrote another science fiction tale the following year, "The Unparalleled Invasion" (1910), in which the Western nations wipe out all of China with a biological attack.

First World War Edit

During the First World War (1914–1918), the Empire of Germany made some early attempts at anti-agriculture biological warfare. Those attempts were made by special sabotage group headed by Rudolf Nadolny. Using diplomatic pouches and couriers, the German General Staff supplied small teams of saboteurs in the Russian Duchy of Finland, and in the then-neutral countries of Romania, the United States, and Argentina. [44] In Finland, saboteurs mounted on reindeer placed ampoules of anthrax in stables of Russian horses in 1916. [45] Anthrax was also supplied to the German military attaché in Bucharest, as was glanders, which was employed against livestock destined for Allied service. German intelligence officer and US citizen Dr. Anton Casimir Dilger established a secret lab in the basement of his sister's home in Chevy Chase, Maryland, that produced glanders which was used to infect livestock in ports and inland collection points including, at least, Newport News, Norfolk, Baltimore, and New York City, and probably St. Louis and Covington, Kentucky. In Argentina, German agents also employed glanders in the port of Buenos Aires and also tried to ruin wheat harvests with a destructive fungus. Also, Germany itself became a victim of similar attacks — horses bound for Germany were infected with Burkholderia by French operatives in Switzerland. [46]

The Geneva Protocol of 1925 prohibited the use of chemical weapons and biological weapons, but said nothing about experimentation, production, storage, or transfer later treaties did cover these aspects. Twentieth-century advances in microbiology enabled the first pure-culture biological agents to be developed by World War II.

Interwar period and WW II Edit

In the interwar period, little research was done in biological warfare in both Britain and the United States at first. In the United Kingdom the preoccupation was mainly in withstanding the anticipated conventional bombing attacks that would be unleashed in the event of war with Germany. As tensions increased, Sir Frederick Banting began lobbying the British government to establish a research program into the research and development of biological weapons to effectively deter the Germans from launching a biological attack. Banting proposed a number of innovative schemes for the dissemination of pathogens, including aerial-spray attacks and germs distributed through the mail system.

With the onset of hostilities, the Ministry of Supply finally established a biological weapons programme at Porton Down, headed by the microbiologist Paul Fildes. The research was championed by Winston Churchill and soon tularemia, anthrax, brucellosis, and botulism toxins had been effectively weaponized. In particular, Gruinard Island in Scotland, during a series of extensive tests, was contaminated with anthrax for the next 48 years. Although Britain never offensively used the biological weapons it developed, its program was the first to successfully weaponize a variety of deadly pathogens and bring them into industrial production. [47] Other nations, notably France and Japan, had begun their own biological-weapons programs. [48]

When the United States entered the war, mounting British pressure for the creation of a similar research program for an Allied pooling of resources led to the creation of a large industrial complex at Fort Detrick, Maryland in 1942 under the direction of George W. Merck. [49] The biological and chemical weapons developed during that period were tested at the Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah. Soon there were facilities for the mass production of anthrax spores, brucellosis, and botulism toxins, although the war was over before these weapons could be of much operational use. [50]

However, the most notorious program of the period was run by the secret Imperial Japanese Army Unit 731 during the war, based at Pingfan in Manchuria and commanded by Lieutenant General Shirō Ishii. This unit did research on BW, conducted often fatal human experiments on prisoners, and produced biological weapons for combat use. [51] Although the Japanese effort lacked the technological sophistication of the American or British programs, it far outstripped them in its widespread application and indiscriminate brutality. Biological weapons were used against both Chinese soldiers and civilians in several military campaigns. Three veterans of Unit 731 testified in a 1989 interview to the Asahi Shimbun that they contaminated the Horustein river with typhoid near the Soviet troops during the Battle of Khalkhin Gol. [52] In 1940, the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force bombed Ningbo with ceramic bombs full of fleas carrying the bubonic plague. [53] A film showing this operation was seen by the imperial princes Tsuneyoshi Takeda and Takahito Mikasa during a screening made by mastermind Shiro Ishii. [54] During the Khabarovsk War Crime Trials the accused, such as Major General Kiyashi Kawashima, testified that as early as 1941 some 40 members of Unit 731 air-dropped plague-contaminated fleas on Changde. These operations caused epidemic plague outbreaks. [55]

Many of these operations were ineffective due to inefficient delivery systems, using disease-bearing insects rather than dispersing the agent as a bioaerosol cloud. [51]

Ban Shigeo, a technician at the Japanese Army's 9th Technical Research Institute, left an account of the activities at the Institute which was published in "The Truth About the Army Noborito Institute". [56] Ban included an account of his trip to Nanking in 1941 to participate in the testing of poisons on Chinese prisoners. [56] His testimony tied the Noborito Institute to the infamous Unit 731, which participated in biomedical research. [56]

During the final months of World War II, Japan planned to utilize plague as a biological weapon against U.S. civilians in San Diego, California, during Operation Cherry Blossoms at Night. They hoped that it would kill tens of thousands of U.S. civilians and thereby dissuade America from attacking Japan. The plan was set to launch on September 22, 1945, at night, but it never came into fruition due to Japan's surrender on August 15, 1945. [57] [58] [59] [60]

When the war ended, the US Army quietly enlisted certain members of Noborito in its efforts against the communist camp in the early years of the Cold War. [56] The head of Unit 731, Shiro Ishii, was granted immunity from war crimes prosecution in exchange for providing information to the United States on the Unit's activities. [61] Allegations were made that a "chemical section" of a US clandestine unit hidden within Yokosuka naval base was operational during the Korean War, and then worked on unspecified projects inside the United States from 1955 to 1959, before returning to Japan to enter the private sector. [56] [62]

Some of the Unit 731 personnel were imprisoned by the Soviets [ citation needed ] , and may have been a potential source of information on Japanese weaponization.

Postwar period Edit

Considerable research into BW was undertaken throughout the Cold War era by the US, UK and USSR, and probably other major nations as well, although it is generally believed that such weapons were never used.

In Britain, the 1950s saw the weaponization of plague, brucellosis, tularemia and later equine encephalomyelitis and vaccinia viruses. Trial tests at sea were carried out including Operation Cauldron off Stornoway in 1952. The programme was cancelled in 1956, when the British government unilaterally renounced the use of biological and chemical weapons.

The United States initiated its weaponization efforts with disease vectors in 1953, focused on Plague-fleas, EEE-mosquitoes, and yellow fever – mosquitoes (OJ-AP). [ citation needed ] However, US medical scientists in occupied Japan undertook extensive research on insect vectors, with the assistance of former Unit 731 staff, as early as 1946. [61]

The United States Army Chemical Corps then initiated a crash program to weaponize anthrax (N) in the E61 1/2-lb hour-glass bomblet. Though the program was successful in meeting its development goals, the lack of validation on the infectivity of anthrax stalled standardization. [ citation needed ] The United States Air Force was also unsatisfied with the operational qualities of the M114/US bursting bomblet and labeled it an interim item until the Chemical Corps could deliver a superior weapon. [ citation needed ]

Around 1950 the Chemical Corps also initiated a program to weaponize tularemia (UL). Shortly after the E61/N failed to make standardization, tularemia was standardized in the 3.4" M143 bursting spherical bomblet. This was intended for delivery by the MGM-29 Sergeant missile warhead and could produce 50% infection over a 7-square-mile (18 km 2 ) area. [63] Although tularemia is treatable by antibiotics, treatment does not shorten the course of the disease. US conscientious objectors were used as consenting test subjects for tularemia in a program known as Operation Whitecoat. [64] There were also many unpublicized tests carried out in public places with bio-agent simulants during the Cold War. [65]

In addition to the use of bursting bomblets for creating biological aerosols, the Chemical Corps started investigating aerosol-generating bomblets in the 1950s. The E99 was the first workable design, but was too complex to be manufactured. By the late 1950s the 4.5" E120 spraying spherical bomblet was developed a B-47 bomber with a SUU-24/A dispenser could infect 50% or more of the population of a 16-square-mile (41 km 2 ) area with tularemia with the E120. [66] The E120 was later superseded by dry-type agents.

Dry-type biologicals resemble talcum powder, and can be disseminated as aerosols using gas expulsion devices instead of a burster or complex sprayer. [ citation needed ] The Chemical Corps developed Flettner rotor bomblets and later triangular bomblets for wider coverage due to improved glide angles over Magnus-lift spherical bomblets. [67] Weapons of this type were in advanced development by the time the program ended. [67]

From January 1962, Rocky Mountain Arsenal “grew, purified and biodemilitarized” plant pathogen Wheat Stem Rust (Agent TX), Puccinia graminis, var. tritici, for the Air Force biological anti-crop program. TX-treated grain was grown at the Arsenal from 1962–1968 in Sections 23–26. Unprocessed TX was also transported from Beale AFB for purification, storage, and disposal. [68] Trichothecenes Mycotoxin is a toxin that can be extracted from Wheat Stem Rust and Rice Blast and can kill or incapacitate depending on the concentration used. The “red mold disease” of wheat and barley in Japan is prevalent in the region that faces the Pacific Ocean. Toxic trichothecenes, including nivalenol, deoxynivalenol, and monoace tylnivalenol (fusarenon- X) from Fusarium nivale, can be isolated from moldy grains. In the suburbs of Tokyo, an illness similar to “red mold disease” was described in an outbreak of a food borne disease, as a result of the consumption of Fusarium- infected rice. Ingestion of moldy grains that are contaminated with trichothecenes has been associated with mycotoxicosis. [69]

Although there is no evidence that biological weapons were used by the United States, China and North Korea accused the US of large-scale field testing of BW against them during the Korean War (1950–1953). At the time of the Korean War the United States had only weaponized one agent, brucellosis ("Agent US"), which is caused by Brucella suis. The original weaponized form used the M114 bursting bomblet in M33 cluster bombs. While the specific form of the biological bomb was classified until some years after the Korean War, in the various exhibits of biological weapons that Korea alleged were dropped on their country nothing resembled an M114 bomblet. There were ceramic containers that had some similarity to Japanese weapons used against the Chinese in World War II, developed by Unit 731. [51] [70]

Cuba also accused the United States of spreading human and animal disease on their island nation. [71] [72]

During the 1948 1947–1949 Palestine war, International Red Cross reports raised suspicion that the Israeli Haganah militia had released Salmonella typhi bacteria into the water supply for the city of Acre, causing an outbreak of typhoid among the inhabitants. Egyptian troops later claimed to have captured disguised Haganah soldiers near wells in Gaza, whom they executed for allegedly attempting another attack. Israel denies these allegations. [73] [74]

Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention Edit

In mid-1969, the UK and the Warsaw Pact, separately, introduced proposals to the UN to ban biological weapons, which would lead to the signing of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention in 1972. United States President Richard Nixon signed an executive order on November 1969, which stopped production of biological weapons in the United States and allowed only scientific research of lethal biological agents and defensive measures such as immunization and biosafety. The biological munition stockpiles were destroyed, and approximately 2,200 researchers became redundant. [75]

Special munitions for the United States Special Forces and the CIA and the Big Five Weapons for the military were destroyed in accordance with Nixon's executive order to end the offensive program. The CIA maintained its collection of biologicals well into 1975 when it became the subject of the senate Church Committee.

The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention was signed by the US, UK, USSR and other nations, as a ban on "development, production and stockpiling of microbes or their poisonous products except in amounts necessary for protective and peaceful research" in 1972. The convention bound its signatories to a far more stringent set of regulations than had been envisioned by the 1925 Geneva Protocols. By 1996, 137 countries had signed the treaty however it is believed that since the signing of the Convention the number of countries capable of producing such weapons has increased.

The Soviet Union continued research and production of offensive biological weapons in a program called Biopreparat, despite having signed the convention. The United States had no solid proof of this program until Dr. Vladimir Pasechnik defected in 1989, and Dr. Kanatjan Alibekov, the first deputy director of Biopreparat defected in 1992. Pathogens developed by the organization would be used in open-air trials. It is known that Vozrozhdeniye Island, located in the Aral Sea, was used as a testing site. [76] In 1971, such testing led to the accidental aerosol release of smallpox over the Aral Sea and a subsequent smallpox epidemic. [77]

During the closing stages of the Rhodesian Bush War, the Rhodesian government resorted to use chemical and biological warfare agents. Watercourses at several sites inside the Mozambique border were deliberately contaminated with cholera. These biological attacks had little impact on the fighting capability of ZANLA, but caused considerable distress to the local population. The Rhodesians also experimented with several other pathogens and toxins for use in their counterinsurgency. [78]

After the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Iraq admitted to the United Nations inspection team to having produced 19,000 liters of concentrated botulinum toxin, of which approximately 10,000 L were loaded into military weapons the 19,000 liters have never been fully accounted for. This is approximately three times the amount needed to kill the entire current human population by inhalation, [79] although in practice it would be impossible to distribute it so efficiently, and, unless it is protected from oxygen, it deteriorates in storage. [80]

Religio-Political Talk (RPT)

Updated a bit…

Usually treated as an isolated anomaly, the Fort Pitt episode itself points to the possibility that biological warfare was not as rare as it might seem. It is conceivable [e.g., makes for good suspense and is merely a guess with no historical proof], of course, that when Fort Pitt personnel gave infected articles to their Delaware visitors on June 24, 1763, they acted on some earlier communication from Amherst that does not survive today. 8

[8] Such a communication might have been either written or oral in form. It is also possible that documents relating to such a plan were deliberately destroyed.

In other words, it’s anybody’s guess if this is real history OR an author’s guess.

Even the HISTORY CHANNEL at the worst says this of the “event”:

  • For all the outrage the account has stirred over the years, there’s only one clearly documented instance of a colonial attempt to spread smallpox during the war, and oddly, Amherst probably didn’t have anything to do with it. There’s also no clear historical verdict on whether the biological attack even worked.

They continue with the “did it work” line of reasoning:

It’s not clear smallpox-infected blankets even worked.

It’s also not clear whether or not the attempt at biological warfare had the intended effect. According to Fenn’s article, the Native Americans around Fort Pitt were “struck hard” by smallpox in the spring and summer of 1763. “We can’t be sure,” Kelton says. Around that time, “we know that smallpox was circulating in the area, but they [Native Americans] could have come down with the disease by other means.”

Historian Philip Ranlet of Hunter College and author of a 2000 article on the smallpox blanket incident in Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies, also casts doubt. “There is no evidence that the scheme worked,” Ranlet says. “The infection on the blankets was apparently old, so no one could catch smallpox from the blankets. Besides, the Indians just had smallpox—the smallpox that reached Fort Pitt had come from Indians—and anyone susceptible to smallpox had already had it.”

The most important indication that the scheme was a bust, Ranlet says, “is that Trent would have bragged in his journal if the scheme had worked. He is silent as to what happened.”

Even if it didn’t work, British officers’ willingness to contemplate using smallpox against the Indians was a sign of their callousness. “Even for that time period, it violated civilized notions of war,” says Kelton, who notes that disease “kills indiscriminately—it would kill women and children, not just warriors.”

… Now, about these smallpox blankets.

During the Siege of Fort Pitt in 1763 — 13 years before American independence — Delaware and Shawnee Indians, aroused by Pontiac’s Rebellion , attacked Fort Pitt, which was near modern day Pittsburgh. Shortly after the siege began, British General Jeffrey Amherst wrote to Colonel Henry Bouquet, who was preparing to lead a party of troops to relieve the siege, “Could it not be contrived to Send the Small Pox among those Disaffected Tribes of Indians? We must, on this occasion, Use Every Stratagem in our power to Reduce them.” Bouquet agreed, but there is no evidence that he actually carried out the suggestion, and he indicated in a letter that he was afraid he could contract smallpox himself.

However, those besieged in the fort had already, of their own initiative, tried to infect the besiegers with smallpox and failed. During a parley, the fort’s leader, Captain Simeon Ecuyer, gave blankets and a handkerchief from a smallpox ward to two of the native American delegates, Turtleheart and Mamaltee. However, the effort evidently failed, because they came back for further talks a month later with no signs of disease, and smallpox normally shows signs within two weeks. Furthermore Turtleheart was one of the signatories in the Treaty of Fort Stanwix five years later. Modern historians believe that the blankets had been unused for too long, and any virus present on the blankets would have already died. It is also possible that the Delaware Indians who were given the blankets were immune through prior contact. Smallpox kills 30-35% of those who get it those who survive are immune from then on.

One thing that is certain is that many native Americans had already contracted smallpox in the ordinary way, unintentionally though contacts with infected whites. There is no example of an outbreak in the Fort Pitt region following the siege. There is a documented outbreak elsewhere in the region among a different people, the Lenape, who had attacked a white settlement where smallpox was present.

  • Infecting people with smallpox was not US government policy or practice, and the only effort to do so occurred prior to US independence.
  • The Fort Pitt event was undertaken by Captain Simeon Ecuyer of the British army on his own initiative it was neither official British policy or official army policy. In fact, King George III’s Royal Proclamation of 1763banned colonial settlement west of the Appalachian Mountains because that territory belonged to the native Americans.
  • There is no evidence that it succeeded there is some evidence that it failed, as the people given the blankets are known to have survived.

And another post by Beyond Highbrow – Robert Lindsay has the common sense commentary about the incident:

… Although we do not know how the plan worked out, modern medicine suggests that it could not possibly have succeeded. Smallpox dies in several minutes outside of the human body. So obviously if those blankets had smallpox germs in them, they were dead smallpox germs. Dead smallpox germs don’t transmit smallpox.

In addition to the apparent scientific impossibility of disease transmission, there is no evidence that any Indians got sick from the blankets, not that they could have anyway. The two Delaware chiefs who personally received the blankets were in good health later. The smallpox epidemic that was sweeping the attacking Indians during this war started before the incident. The Indians themselves said that they were getting smallpox by attacking settler villages infected with smallpox and then bringing it back to their villages.

So, it’s certain that one British commander (British – not even an American, mind you), and not even the one usually accused, did give Indians what he mistakenly thought were smallpox-infected blankets in the course of a war that was genocidal on both sides.

Keep in mind that the men who did this were in their forts, cut off from all supplies and reinforcements, facing an army of genocidal Indians who were more numerous and better armed than they were, Indians who were given to killing all defenders whether they surrendered or not.

If a fort was overwhelmed, all Whites would be immediately killed, except for a few who were taken prisoner by the Indians so they could take them back to the Indian villages to have some fun with them. The fun consisted of slowly torturing the men to death over a 1-2 day period while the women and children watched, laughed and mocked the helpless captives. So, these guys were facing, if not certain death, something pretty close to that.

And no one knows if any Indians at all died from the smallpox blankets (and modern science apparently says no one could have died anyway). I say the plan probably didn’t even work and almost certainly didn’t kill any of the targeted Indians, much less 50% of them. Yes, the myth says that Amherst’s germ warfare blankets killed 50% of the attacking Indians!

Another example of a big fat myth/legend/historical incident, that, once you cut it open – well, there’s nothing much there …

Were blankets infected with smallpox intentionally given to Native Americans?

Was this a tactic used by either the British or Americans?

I actually never questioned this until recently. I just accepted it as fact. I was always under the belief that it was a common tactic used by American settlers and soldiers who wanted to expand westward.

And again, it's only recently that I'd even heard of the accusations being leveled against the British as well.

So, what's the truth of the matter?

Lord Fairfax

Was this a tactic used by either the British or Americans?

I actually never questioned this until recently. I just accepted it as fact. I was always under the belief that it was a common tactic used by American settlers and soldiers who wanted to expand westward.

And again, it's only recently that I'd even heard of the accusations being leveled against the British as well.

So, what's the truth of the matter?

There is documentary evidence that Baron Amherst (Governor of Virginia, Governor of Quebec) advocated distributing smallpox blankets to natives at Fort Pitt.


Yes, at the siege of Fort Pitt in 1763 during Pontiac's War the defenders gave Delaware negotiators smallpox-infected blankets and a handkerchief in hopes of spreading it to the beseiging forces outside.

And General Amhurst during the Seven Years War suggested spreading smallpox-infected material to the Indians with the explicitly genocidal goal of wiping them out. However there's no evidence that this was ever carried out.

It should be noted that from what I've heard, smallpox transmits very poorly outside of human hosts and transmitting smallpox via infected blankets would be unlikely to be successful.


Broaden the question to, "Did anyone deliberately and knowingly infect an "enemy" with diseases known to be frequently fatal?" The answer is, of course, yes. We know that diseased corpses were just another weapon in siege warfare from early times. Finding evidence that living people with horrific diseases were sent into the "enemy camp" is difficult to come by, but its the sort of thing that humans would do.

For most of human history the causes of epidemics and plagues were unknown, so in most cases it is likely that biological warfare was often unintentional. So when did diseases with high mortality rates become well-enough understood to be used as biological war? The Spanish were the first modern Europeans to enter the New World, and they brought with them a host of diseases fatal to the aboriginal inhabitants. Diseases that Europeans were immune to cut down as much as half the native population of the Americas (only speculative figures available), but the introduction of disease was not intentional.

As noted above a Colonial Governor in Virginia advocated biological war against the Indians, but I don't believe the strategy was used much before the second quarter of the 19th century. As infection vectors became better understood, the use of biological agents against the Indian tribes of North America almost certainly did happen, but finding documentation for it is hard. No one was going around bragging that they killed helpless women and children by deliberately infecting them with fatal diseases. There are a few documented cases. If memory serves, the Cayuse Tribe was deliberately infected to produce a plague that wiped out the tribe. For what purpose? The tribe was famous for their horses quality. An Americanism is "Old Cayuse" referring to the quality of old frontiersmen.

Doubtless disease, cold and famine did more to decimate the American Aboriginal population than any other European cause.

Were infected blankets given to Native Americans?

There are history book that accused a half black freedman Trapper named Jim beckwourth with giving infected blankets to indians- however- at the time he was reported to have done so, he was actually in washington DC giving testimony regarding the Chivington massacre on Sand Creek.

The sad truth is that accounts of smallpox among the indians are almost always false. Smallpox- though deadly- needs direct physical contact to spread- and it is the usual culprit that is blamed Because of the massive death toll- early historians assumed it had to be a disease that was AS deadly in white populations.

But in fact- almost all cases of smallpox among natives were actually measles. The symptoms are similar in terms of small pocks all over the body- but early white historians did not think measles because among europeans measles is not nearly that deadly, thanks to thousands of years of evolved resistance.

But Native Americans had never encountered measles and for them it was devastating. Measles is the single most infectious disease known to man and its long incubation period gives it ample time to spread before it starts to kill. Accounts of these plagues preceding white contact are the proof that it had to be measles. because measles can spread thru the air and can survive in an enclosed space for days before infecting someone else.
For europeans, a single person who has measles, and for whom the illness is no worse than an itchy rash, can infect a hundred people in a single walk thru a public space.
If that public space is a meeting place where natives are parleying with trappers, or dignitaries, they will not show symptoms in the several days it takes to return to their tribe.


There are history book that accused a half black freedman Trapper named Jim beckwourth with giving infected blankets to indians- however- at the time he was reported to have done so, he was actually in washington DC giving testimony regarding the Chivington massacre on Sand Creek.

The sad truth is that accounts of smallpox among the indians are almost always false. Smallpox- though deadly- needs direct physical contact to spread- and it is the usual culprit that is blamed Because of the massive death toll- early historians assumed it had to be a disease that was AS deadly in white populations.

But in fact- almost all cases of smallpox among natives were actually measles. The symptoms are similar in terms of small pocks all over the body- but early white historians did not think measles because among europeans measles is not nearly that deadly, thanks to thousands of years of evolved resistance.

But Native Americans had never encountered measles and for them it was devastating. Measles is the single most infectious disease known to man and its long incubation period gives it ample time to spread before it starts to kill. Accounts of these plagues preceding white contact are the proof that it had to be measles. because measles can spread thru the air and can survive in an enclosed space for days before infecting someone else.
For europeans, a single person who has measles, and for whom the illness is no worse than an itchy rash, can infect a hundred people in a single walk thru a public space.
If that public space is a meeting place where natives are parleying with trappers, or dignitaries, they will not show symptoms in the several days it takes to return to their tribe.

Did Europeans realize they were spreading Smallpox during their journeys to the New World?

The incubation period for Smallpox is about 12 days. Columbus' first journey took 29 days. So this gives the travelers time to develop the disease mid-voyage. Did they truly not know they were sick and develop symptoms on the ship? If so, were there any measures taken to reduce exposure to others? Or were these men asymptomatic due to surviving the disease for generations and passing along traits that kept the virus contagious but otherwise dormant in their bodies?

I ask because astronauts go through intense physicals etc. It would seem odd that anyone would want to board a ship with a sick person, especially since diseases back in the 15th century were probably nothing to laugh about. Sharing a boat with a sick person for a month would probably not be ideal.

As colonization started before the development of the germ theory, Europeans had no direct proof they were responsible for the spread of infectious organisms among the Native American population. That said, Europeans realized infections could spread, and mortality from infectious diseases seemed to follow the Europeans as they arrived in the New World.

Europeans knew diseases could be transmitted in some way. The practice of quarantine was established in the 14th century in an effort to restrict the spread of the bubonic plague. When faced with high Native American mortality many colonists were apt to interpret Native American deaths as a sign of divine favor for European efforts. The idea of disease transmission varied among Native American populations. Some did not know disease could spread person to person, while others, for whatever reason, took protective measures. For example, by 1523 Abenaki living along the coast of Maine refused to conduct face-to-face trade with Verrazzano, preferring instead to pass trade goods via a rope over the open water. We don't know if this was a response to prevent disease spread, or an attempt to prevent Europeans from kidnapping and selling them into slavery.

We have no evidence that anyone on Columbus's first voyage was infected with smallpox. The virus arrived later, reaching Hispaniola by 1509. The first recorded introduction of smallpox to the New World mainland occurred with Cortez's 1529 venture into Mexico. It is important to remember that smallpox was only one of a cocktail of infectious organisms introduced to the New World. Measles, typhoid, influenza, cholera, and others added to the infectious disease mortality.

As an aside, pathogens constantly evolve and modify their virulence in response to changing host/environmental conditions. There is no reason to assume all New World epidemics were the result of introduced organisms. For example, a cocolitzli epidemic that burned through Mexico in 1545 and again in 1576 was likely caused by a Hanta Virus-like pathogen native to the New World. When the environment changed, like the extreme drought conditions seen those two years, the opportunity for pathogen transmission to human hosts changed and resulted in an extremely virulent epidemic with high mortality.

Or were these men asymptomatic due to surviving the disease for generations and passing along traits that kept the virus contagious but otherwise dormant in their bodies?

No, smallpox is only contagious when you have an active infection. Once the lesions go away, you are not contagious. However, dried lesions on clothing or bedding can infect others.

Did they truly not know they were sick and develop symptoms on the ship?

You are assuming that the spreading/killing rate of smallpox among Europeans was the same as in Amerindians. Obviously, it wasn't. Most Europeans old enough to join a crew and sail the Atlantic would have already been exposed to the disease and survived it (it was most common and deadly among European children and teenagers back then). Most people aboard this given ship, in consequence, would be immune to smallpox and not get the infection from the one or two odd adults in the ship that was suffering from the disease. These sick Europeans wouldn't be as likely to die as the natives either. What caught the Europeans' attention was not that the natives were catching smallpox and other diseases, it was that so many of them caught the diseases at the same time, and so many died of it so quickly, rather than recovering. That was not how things usually went in Europe.

Now, as anthropology_nerd said, it wasn't Columbus who introduced smallpox in the New World anyway and it arrived later to the Caribbean. The great plague wave that hit the Aztecs and also caused the Inca Civil War in the late 1520s is believed to have arrived from Cuba in an African slave that was part of the Narvaez expedition against Cortés in 1520. But that doesn't mean this African slave brought the smallpox and was suffering from it all the way from Africa. He could have caught it in the Havana docks the day before leaving, for all we know.

There is actually much scholarly debate on the topic. This is a famous example from later colonial history. This is from a scholarly article discussing this very topic, and one of the few cases of evidence we have for it.

During the Indian resistance to British imperialism in the Great Lakes area (Pontiac's Rebellion, 1763-1764), Amherst brought up the idea of germ warfare in writing to Colonel Henry Bouquet (their correspondence is preserved in the British Museum). Scholars dispute the handwriting, signatures, chronology, authenticity, responsibility, and outcome. According to some, Amherst was only recommending biological warfare when he suggested in a letter sometime in 1763, "Could it not be contrived to send the small pox among the disaffected tribes of Indians? We must on this occasion use every strategem [sic] in our power to reduce them." Bouquet wrote back in July, "I will try to inoculate [them] with some blankets that may fall in their hands, and take care not to get the disease myself" (Heagerty 1928:43 Hopkins 1983:246 McConnell 1992:194 Simpson 1980:30).

Others stress that Amherst issued a direct command: "Infect the Indians with sheets upon which smallpox patients have been lying, or by any other means which may exterminate this accursed race" (Utley and Washburn 1977:98 Wright 1992:136-137). Still others quote Amherst thus: "You do well to try to inoculate the Indians by means of blankets, as well as try every other method that can serve to extirpate this excrable race" *(Knollenberg 1954:492-493 Parkman 1991:648). *

The Nessus Shirt in the New World: Smallpox Blankets in History and Legend Adrienne Mayor The Journal of American Folklore , Vol. 108, No. 427 (Winter, 1995) , pp. 54-77

Here is a primary source, with citation :

The case you mention is one where a local smallpox outbreak was intentionally spread to nearby native people, but that is very different from Europeans understanding that they were carrying diseases with them on their journeys across the Atlantic to a place that had previously not had those diseases.

Before Girolamo Fracastoro theorized that disease epidemics were caused by the transfer of small spores/seeds/particles that could transmit the infection, most educated Europeans believed the Miasma theory that postulated that diseases were the result of pollution, rotting organic matter, contaminated water, etc. Less educated Europeans may have believed in a variety of disease causes, including witchcraft and sorcery. Fracastoro proposed his theory in 1546, after Colombus Caral Cabot Champlain Balboa Cortez Pizarro, and also after small pox epidemics had ravaged the native populations in successive waves. Further, it probably took a while for his idea to catch on. It wasn't until 1668 that another Italian performed an experiment that provided evidence against the notion of spontaneous generation. 1670 was the first observation of microorganism and it wouldn't be until 1700 that Nicolas Andry claimed that small pox and other diseased were spread by microorganism. By then, Europeans had many settlements in the New World and some pretty extensive contact with native people most of the major diseases had already found their way to the new world.

Amherst would not likely have known that his proposal was to employ "germ warfare" but he might have. His stratagem would indicate that he subscribed to something like either Fracastoro's or Andry theories of disease transmission, at least enough to take a chance on one or the other or both.

It is also worth noting that Amherst was not Journeying to the new world but rather was operating in the New World well after Europeans and their diseases had long established a firm foothold there. I cannot say whether it is possible that someone like Amherst or any other European would have learned by then that so many of the diseases in his time and place had been unknown to the natives before European contact. Certainly, none of the sailors on the earliest voyages to the New World would have fathomed what little surprises they brought with them and what destruction they would bring.

As for the OP's scenario of the sailors on a ship, the answer would depend on the time. If there had been sailors falling ill on one of Columbus's ships, the sailors would have not understood some of the mechanisms for limiting exposure to others, however the practice of quarantining goes back long before Columbus's era and may have been practiced in such an event.

How did Americans know to use smallpox infected blankets, before germ theory? - History

Lord Jeffery Amherst was the commanding general of British forces in North America during the final battles of the French and Indian war (1754-1763). During this war, the French allied with the Indians in an attempt to drive the British out of North America. The evidence that suggests a possible "germ warfare" tactic during this war consists entirely of postscripts attached to the ends of two letters from Colonel Henry Bouquet during Pontiac's Rebellion:

Colonel Henry Bouquet to General Amherst, dated 13 July 1763:

Amherst responded to Bouquet, in a letter dated 16 July 1763:

A third letter on 26 July 1763 from Colonel Bouquet acknowledges receipt of the approval:

The original letters were microfilmed in Britain during World War II to protect them from possible damage. Assuming that these letters are authentic, it seems clear from the foregoing that Amherst was caught up in war fever, and not at all fond of Indians, and that plans were made to inoculate them with some disease. This disease is presumed to be smallpox, because one earlier letter contains the line:

However, there is not a shred of evidence that this plan was actually carried out. Conspicuous by its absence is any letter indicating that either of them took any action on the plan. It is inconceivable that such a letter, if it existed, would not have been found, with the armies of revisionist historians undoubtedly searching for it. Since smallpox was known to be in the area at the time, any disease outbreak among the Indians would prove little. It is also not clear why Lord Amherst hated Indians so much. Although there were often conflicts between the settlers and native Indians, history shows that in most cases both sides went to great lengths to maintain peaceful relations. Thomas Jefferson, for example, had a Romantic conception of the Indians, speculating at one point that they might be one of the lost tribes of Israel. One possibility for the anger is that the British may have felt betrayed by the Indians, who sided with their mortal enemies, the despised French.

In those days, smallpox was epidemic throughout Europe and North America. Contact between the two continents spread this and other diseases through the population. Just as the European continent had been ravaged by plague after contact with Asia, the Indian population had been decimated by smallpox and other diseases unintentionally brought from Europe. Pocahontas, for example, an Indian who was idolized by the British, died tragically in Britain from pulmonary disease.

In this era of frenetic Western civilization-bashing, however, the smallpox story has taken on a life of its own, with any document containing the word "blanket" being reinterpreted to generate a sort of conspiracy theory. For example, the diary of William Trent, who was a commander of the militia of the townspeople of Pittsburgh during Pontiac's siege of the fort, contains an entry from which the following line is often quoted: "We gave them two Blankets and an Handkerchief out of the Small Pox Hospital. I hope it will have the desired effect." (May 24, 1763). Taken out of context, this sounds quite sinister. But the entire diary entry shows that this was clearly intended as a gesture of friendship:

Indeed, in those days, the idea that microorganisms caused disease had not even been imagined. In 1796 Jenner performed the first vaccination against smallpox, with no clue about its actual nature. The concept that diseases were caused by living organisms was unknown. In fact, the theory of spontaneous generation was widely held until Louis Pasteur's famous experiment in 1859. Robert Koch was the first to prove that a bacterium caused disease, in this case anthrax, in 1876. Viruses were not conceptualized until the late 19th century.

Given today's knowledge of smallpox as a disease, we must also ask whether it is even possible to spread smallpox with blankets. Since American scientists led the drive to eradicate smallpox in the 1970s, the average person today has little intuition for how effective a blanket would be at spreading contagion.

The Poxviridae family of viruses, which includes the variola virus that causes smallpox, are DNA-containing viruses that are among the largest and most complex of all animal viruses. The virus particles consist of an outer coat consisting of proteins crosslinked by disulfide bonds. These particles, isolated from cells, are called intracellular naked virions or IMV. Virus particles isolated from tissue culture medium are called extracellular enveloped virions (EEV), and contain an additional lipoprotein envelope. Both types of particles are infectious. EEVs would be the particles that would be shed into the environment by infected patients.

According to the U.S. Government's book Medical Aspects of Chemical and Biological Warfare , the smallpox EEV is highly stable and can retain its infectivity for long periods outside the host however, sunlight and air greatly reduce the viability of virus particles. Smallpox is highly infectious when spread by aerosol, but infectivity from contaminated cotton bedding is infrequent (Bull. WHO 1957, 16:247-254), because the virus must enter through the nose to create infection. Thus, although it is certainly not impossible for a blanket to carry smallpox, transmission by blankets would be inefficient at best.

The Amherst letters suggest that Colonel Bouquet undoubtedly considered the possibility of infecting Indians with smallpox. In legal terms, this shows ``intent''. But continuing the analogy to a legal case, much more is needed to prove that a historical event occurred than intent. Even to indict someone for conspiracy, in which an actual crime need not be committed, a prosecutor still has to prove that some action took place in furtherance of the conspiracy. It's not too much to ask that historians, whose goal is (or should be) to determine whether an event occurred, be held to a similar standard. If the only evidence we had for World War II was a letter by some guy in Austria saying how nice it would be to start a war and kill off all the Jews, few would believe that WWII had actually occurred. Yet even without evidence, many are willing to believe this act of biological warfare took place.

It's important to maintain a skeptical attitude of the uncertainty surrounding events such as this. To this day, for example, many people still believe the politically-motivated stories, now known to be false, of J. Edgar Hoover being a transvestite, and of Nixon and Kissinger having overthrown Chilean president Salvador Allende. While we can recognize that our ancestors were often brutal, we must also guard against politically-inspired disinformation masquerading as historical fact.

How did Americans know to use smallpox infected blankets, before germ theory? - History

Lord Jeffery Amherst (Wikipedia)

Every year around Thanksgiving, many of the anti-western leftists start to pick up steam in their America-bashing. Thanksgiving, after all, is a celebration of evil genocidal white men brutally killing and torturing the peace-loving natives who enjoyed an earthly utopia of plenty and lived in perfect harmony with nature. The most dastardly example of all, of course, is the fact that white settlers actually handed over smallpox-infected blankets to the natives in order to kill them quickly and efficiently so they could steal their land.

This is a story that everyone takes as true, but is actually almost completely false. I was originally going to do a lot of research for this post, but why re-invent the wheel when someone else has already done it for me. Robert Lindsay has a pretty thorough post on this topic up on his blog, with plenty of links to his sources.

To make a long story short, there is a whopping one documented instance in all of colonial American history of such a thing having occurred, by British (not American, as this happened prior the revolutionary war) troops who were being besieged and were desperate for anything that might alleviate the situation. There is no concrete evidence that the stratagem actually worked (the tribes in question had already been exposed to smallpox generally), or was ever repeated.

As a side note: Germ theory proper was actually developed in the 19th century, so the idea that a low ranking British Officer could have engineered such an elaborate and dastardly scheme 50 years prior to the birth of Louis Pasteur while being certain of its results should seem incredibly suspicious. If it is true that Lord Amherst developed a comprehensive strategy of engaging in genocide through smallpox-infected blankets, than surely he deserves tremendous accolades for being one of the pioneers of modern medicine.

Watch the video: Germs, Genocide and Americas Indigenous Peoples