While the exact figures are still unconfirmed, historians estimate that about 18 million indigenous peoples lived on the North American continent before the 16th century. But within many years since Since the arrival of European immigrants, indigenous populations have been killed by wars with immigrants and also by diseases that colonists brought to the New World.
And when the Mayflower arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1620, 102 European immigrants (Pilgrims) on board after disembarking found nothing but empty villages. Tools were left in unused houses, and skeletons were strewn across the landscape. The reason was due to a disease that had swept through this place before.
Former colonists actually brought deadly diseases from the Old World to the New World, including smallpox, chickenpox, syphilis, malaria, influenza, measles, and bubonic plague. But in Massachusetts came another disease, this disease called leptospirosis, which killed countless natives. And after the Pilgrims arrived, 90 percent of the remaining natives were dead within a decade.
Christopher Columbus arrived on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola in 1492, to which a mysterious European disease was also brought. Within 25 years, the indigenous population here has decreased from 250,000 people by nearly 95%, to less than 14,000 people. This was because the native immune systems were unable to fight off Old World diseases. Mortality rates among Indigenous populations from Old World diseases were higher than those of the Black Death in medieval Europe.
In the years that followed, when Europeans arrived on the North American mainland, the natives on the mainland suffered similar sufferings, but for now the eastern seaboard appeared to be untouched. influences and is home to thriving indigenous communities.
When the French explorer Samuel de Champlain sailed to Patuxet (later renamed Plymouth) in 1605, he described it as full of large wooden houses and beautiful gardens. He even drew a map of prosperous villages surrounded by cornfields.
At that time, it was believed that the Wampanoag tribe had lived there for 10,000 years and had a population of 12,000. Even when Captain John Smith arrived in Massachusetts Bay in 1614, he described the tribal area as “Paradise of all around”. However, within a few years, everything changed.
In 1616, Captain Richard Vines of the British expedition noted that the local population on the Maine coast was “severely affected by a mysterious disease, and it gradually became uninhabited”. . The prevalence of Old World diseases skyrocketed between 1616 and 1619. The native survival rate is estimated at just 10 percent.
After that, the disease spread gradually to the south. The height of the plagues was in 1618, which saw thousands of Wampanoags wiped out along the coast of Massachusetts Bay. The highest rates of infection were in Boston Harbor and Plymouth Bay, with ancient plantations completely vacant. The surviving Wampanoags described it as “The Great Dying”, which Europeans called “Indian fever”.
Both Native Americans and Europeans were perplexed by the mysterious disease that moved along these coastal trade routes, and it was not until recently that the exact cause came to light.
Among the first Wampanoags to welcome the Pilgrims in 1620 was Tisquantum (indigenous name Squanto). He was kidnapped in 1614 and educated in London only to return to his hometown Patuxet in 1619 and find it devastated. Tisquantum himself died within a year of meeting the Pilgrims – while mysteriously bleeding from his nose.
That particular symptom was merely one of many attributed to leptospirosis, a zoonotic disease that experts now believe is responsible for the deaths of human populations. native to New England in the 17th century. The bacteria probably reached Americans through black rats (not native rats) transported on European ships.
The black rat (Rattusitzus) is the only animal that can survive a spirochete infection. With hundreds of thousands of bacteria in every drop of urine, it easily accumulates in the area’s fresh water when rodents arrive – and quickly spreads to native animals like muskrats and ferrets.
The disease is so dangerous that just 10 bacteria are enough to cause a guinea pig to bleed to death. Shaped like a corkscrew, this spirochete passes through red blood cells and survives by metabolizing iron.
Normally, a person’s strong natural immune response often causes it to multiply faster and increase the likelihood of death. This explains why people who often die from this disease are otherwise healthy.
Until now, it was not clear why the natives died at a higher rate than the Europeans. However, experts believe this is because the Wampanoags bathe in fresh water more often than European immigrants.
Symptoms of an infection include fever, aches, and other signs such as nosebleeds and bloodshot eyes. Ultimately, the researchers estimate that nine out of every 10 natives infected between 1616 and 1619 were killed by it.
However, not all researchers believe that leptospirosis is the primary disease to blame. But what is clear is that there was a staggering mortality rate for Native Americans, with symptoms including jaundice, fever, congestion, and hemorrhage.
Although some symptoms mirror those of bubonic plague, there are no documents detailing the swollen (or distended) lymph nodes associated with it. Some surmise that smallpox may have been the cause, but the disease was not introduced into the area until 1630.