Colonial American Epidemics

Colonial American Epidemics




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Colonial American Epidemics


The Spanish invasion of America went remarkably fast. By the year 1508, 45 vessels had made their way from Spain to the Caribbean islands. During this time period Hispaniola and other islands underwent dramatic changes. These changes included the introduction of new crops and farm animals that had never been seen before. Before long the Spanish discovered that sugar cane was especially well suited for the Caribbean climate. At the same time, the Spaniards introduced pigs, sheep, horses, cattle, and mules to Hispaniola.

Unfortunately, the very first emigrants to Hispaniola failed to grow enough food and they became vulnerable to sickness, disease and malnutrition. Consequently, almost 2/3rds of the first settlers were dead in the first 10 years. The native Taino people suffered even more because their people would be devastated by exposure formally unknown European diseases. The diseases which included small pox, typhoid, diphtheria, malaria, cholera, bubonic plague, and influenza were unknown in the New World. The Europeans had been exposed to the diseases for centuries and they had built up a resistance to their effects. However, the Native Americans had no such resistance. The diseases had a horrible effect, scaring and killing huge amounts of population. The Taino would suffer even further when the Spaniards, using armed force, made the Taino work in their silver and gold mines, on ranches, and on plantations under horrible conditions. As a result, the Taino population quickly fell from more than 300,000 in 1492, to just 500 in 1548.

Shortly after, the Spanish explorers began arriving in Central America and Mexico they infected those areas. Then when, Francisco Pizarro and his men invaded Peru in 1532, they found that the Inca had already been devastated by European small pox. During the early 1600's, the natives of New England and eastern Canada were exposed to several lethal disease epidemics. In 1793, English explorers in the Pacific northwest reported that they had found beaches littered in the bones of small pox victims. They also stated that the victims had been left badly scarred by the outbreak. In 1837, a smallpox outbreak was so bad in the Missouri Valley that the Mandan tribe was quickly reduced from a tribe of 2,000 to a tribe of 40 in a little more than a month. Because the outbreaks were often repeated, the Native American population could not recover. The result was that most tribes were reduced to 10 percent of their original populations. The staggering losses made it almost impossible to compute how many Native Americans were alive at the time of Columbus's first crossing in 1492. Historians' estimates ranged wildly, they stated that from 20 million to 100 million people were living at that time in the Western Hemisphere. However, the broad majority say the entire population was closer to 50 million.

The epidemics spread for several reasons. First, long distance trade and invasions had in Asia and Europe had become common. Also, crowded living conditions created an excellent environment for the diseases to spread. Especially, because European cities were famous for their filthy living conditions. Making things even worse, at the time, people in Europe, Asia, and Africa lived with their cattle, sheep, pigs, horses, and mules. These living conditions made it easy for diseases to jump from animals to humans. By the year 1800, only 600,000 Native Americans were still alive. At the time there were over 1 million African slaves living here.