Was Disease A Key Factor In The Depopulation Of Native Americans In The Americas? Hist 170 Essay

1069 words - 5 pages

It continues to be an ongoing mystery on whether or not Europeans purposely used
disease to wipe out the Native American population. The truth may never be clear as to the
intent of the Europeans but what is clear, is the fact that new diseases was brought over to the
Native Americans. But the issue at hand is if disease was a key factor in the depopulation of
Native Americans in the Americas. The debate between Colin Calloway and David S. Jones
provides two different perspectives on this issue. While Colin Calloway believes that disease
was the major key factor in the depopulation of the natives, David S. Jones would believe
otherwise. My position on the matter is that the depopulation of the Native Americans were due
mostly the spread of new European diseases.
During European contact, the spread of disease was the most important factor in the
decline of Native Americans. Native Americans were struck with a great deal of diseases most
of which originated from Europe during the period of American colonization. These diseases
that spread through native populations include smallpox, mumps, syphilis, measles, and even
the bubonic plague. Although Native Americans had already been exposed to other illnesses
such as malnutrition, anemia, respiratory infections, and parasites, they suffered greatly at the
hands of disease with European origin. The Native Americans had little to no immunity against
these diseases due to the fact that these diseases were nonexistent in the Americas prior to
European contact.
Colin Calloway was able to provide documented evidence of the effects of disease on
Native American populations where a particular population was dropped to a mere quarter of its
original population. “According to one scholar… Apalachee Indians of Northern Florida
numbered 25,000-30,000 in the early seventeenth century; by the end of the century, less than
8,000 survived.”(26) This type of scenario would soon spread throughout the continent
1
continuing to spread to different populations of natives from Chile, Mexico, and Peru all the way
up to the New England Coast, Virginia, Canada, and many other places.
Since Native Americans had only experienced illnesses native to the Americas, their lack
of exposure to European illnesses rendered them vulnerable to the new diseases that would
soon sweep native populations. The natives only practiced herbal remedies, sweat boxes, and
worship to try and cure their ailments but these practices stood no chance against the new
diseases. The natives turned to European medicine eventually but by the time they decided to
do so, the diseases had already taken far too many lives of Native Americans. “In 1796, many
Indian people overcame their suspicion of the white man’s medicine to accept the protection it
could offer against the white man’s diseases. Nevertheless, the protection was too little and too
late to stop demographic disaster” (Calloway 30). The Native Americans were left helpless due
to the...

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