Smallpox in New England
Smallpox was introduced to the New World by Europeans who brought it over by sea.
: The 1600s North America was a lightly inhabited land by Native Americans. There was little disease because the Native American tribes were spread far apart from each other so there were no "crowd diseases." Also, the Native Americans did not have domesticated animals such as pigs to transmit unknown diseases to them as Euorpeans did. Exploration of North America by Europeans brought devastation among the Native Americans or "Indians" as they liked to call them; when Europeans began to colonize North America they brought the disease of smallpox over with them on their ships. Most Europeans had become immune to the affects of smallpox due to being around so many bacterial viruses in a crowded Europe whereas the disease was very contagious and deadly to Indians who had never experienced it before. In 1617 the first epidemic of smallpox swept through the native tribes living along Massachusetts, when it ended in 1619 nine-tenths of those who had caught the disease were dead from infection. It soon got to a point where European diseases were killing more Native Americans than firearms. Native Americans tried to use traditional remedies and rituals to cure the sick; tribes tried to continue to function with a failing economy and "government," some tribes even attempted to form alliances with English colonists thinking it might stop infection. However, most New England authorities welcomed the deaths of the Natives as "God's work."

A microscopic view of the Variola virus that causes Smallpox.
Background on Smallpox:
Smallpox is contagious and in untreated cases, an often fatal disease. Smallpox is caused by the Variola virus which emerged in human populations thousands of years ago, it can be trasmitted through direct facial contact as well as direct contact with bodily fluids or contaminated objects such as bedding or clothing. It is very rare for smallpox to be an air-borne vector; also, unlike the plague which is transmitted through insects and animals such as the flea and rat, smallpox has never had an insect or animal host, humans have been the only known vector of the Variola virus.

There are two clinical types of smallpox, the first is called variola major which is the most common and unfortnately most severe form of the disease consisting of a higher fever and more prominent rash. Variola major can be categorized into four different groups according to the Rao classification system: ordinary, modified, flat, and hemorrhagic. The ordinary type can account for about 90% of the infected population, and the modified version can be a re-emerging infection in previously cured patients. Flat and hemorrhagic tend to be a lot more severe and fatal than ordinary and modified, hence these types of the smallpox disease are very rare.

Little boy with a severe case of Smallpox.
Once a person has caught the disease there is an incubation period that can range anywhere from 7-17 days, at this point in time no symptoms of the disease will be visible and the infected person is not yet contagious. Once in the system the variola virus will invade the mouth, throat, lymph nodes, and the rest of the respiratory system, soon it will infect the bloodstream. During the next 2-4 days after the incubation period the infected person will begin to feel weak, vomit, and obtain a fever, this phase is called prodome. In the next few days red spots will begin to appear on the tongue and in and around the mouth, this phase is called the early rash and this is when the person is the most contagious and most likely to transmit the disease to anyone near. The spots in the mouth soon turn into sores and break open and spread the disease in significant amounts in the mouth. The sores in the mouth breaking act almost as a signal for spots to start appearing on the body, these red spots will begin on the upper body and work it's way down to the legs and feet until the entire body is covered. Soon the rash will become raised bumps and start filling with a liquid that surrounds an indented center. Over the next 10 days the bumps will turn into hard and raised pustules until they eventually begin to crust and scab over, as the pitted scars form the person is found to no longer be contagious.

People and Beliefs/Affect of Smallpox on Natives: Smallpox devastated the Indians' numbers and their morale, one colonist said, "Their countenance is dejected, and they seem as a people afrighted."
Increase Mather in 1688.
Both the colonists and the Native Americans thought that smallpox came from some supernatural power. The Native Americans had so many victims of the smallpox they could barely help each other, a New England colonist in 1630 said of the Native Americans, "They fell down so generally of this disease as they were in the end not able to help one another, not to make a fire, nor to fetch a little water to drink, nor any to bury the dead..."
Despite the mortality that the smallpox brought, the 1633 epidemic was seen as a gift from God by some Puritans. One of the Puritans that strongly believed this was Increase Mathers, an outspoken clergyman and one of the first presidents of Harvard College. He wrote this of the outbreak:
"The Indians began to be quarrelsome concerning the bounds of the land they had sold to the English; but God ended the controversy by sending the smallpox amongst the Indians at Saugust, who were before that time exceeding numerous. Whole towns of them were swept away, in some of them not so much as one Soul escaping the destruction."
Mather was not alone in his belief that smallpox was a beneficent act of God; European settlers also praised God for the disease.

By wiping out the Indians, smallpox helped the colonists help themselves to land and resources formerly controlled by unfriendly native people. The Europeans could and did colonize virtually unchallenged in some areas. For example in 1920 Plymouth colonists of New England had their pick of cleared land, one colonist said, "Thousands of men have lived there, which died in a great plague not long since: and pity it was and is to see so many goodly fields, and so well seated, without men to dress and manure the same." The new colonists took advantage of the situation they were in and prospered well from it.

"Boy with Smallpox." Photo. 16 January 2010. <>
Conforti, Joseph A. Saints and Strangers: New England in British North America. Baltimore: Johns' Hopkins University Press, 2006.
Dunan, Bod. "Commercial ship." Photo. 16 January 2010.
Hopkins, Donald R. The Greatest Killer: Smallpox in History. The University of Chicago Press, 1983.
Peters, Stephanie True. Smallpox in the New World. Benchmark Books, 2004.
"Smallpox." Photo. 2 March 2003. 15 Janurary 2010. <>
Taylor, Alan. American Colonies: The Settling of North America. New York: Penguin Books, 2001.