Great Mortality Among the Wampanoags due to Smallpox, Colonial Massachusetts. 1600s
"I am now to relate some strange & remarkable passages. There was a company of people [Indians] lived in the country up above in the River of Connecticut a great way from their trading house there…About a thousand of them had enclosed themselves in a fort which they had strongly palisadoed about. Three or four Dutchmen went up in the beginning of winter to live with them, to get their trade…But their enterprise failed. For it pleased God to visit these Indians with a great sickness & such a mortality that of a thousand, above nine & a half hundred of them died, & many of them did rot above ground for want of burial.
"This spring also, these Indians that lived about their trading house there, fell sick of the small pox & died most miserably; for a sorer disease cannot befall them, they fear it more than the plague. For usually they that have this disease have them in abundance, & for want of bedding & linen & other helps they fall into a lamentable condition as they lie on hard mats, the pox breaking & mattering & running one into another, their skin cleaving by reason thereof to the mats they lie on. When they turn them, a whole side will flay off at once as it were, & they will be all of a gore blood, most fearful to behold. And then being very sore, what with cold & other distempers, they die like rotten sheep. The condition of this people was so lamentable & they fell down so generally of this disease as they were in the end not able to help one another, no not to make a fire nor to fetch a little water to drink, nor any to bury the dead. But would strive as long as they could, & when they could procure no other means to make fire, they would burn the wooden trays & dishes they ate their meat in, & their very bows & arrows. & some would crawl out on all fours to get a little water, & sometimes die by the way & not be able to get in again.
"But those of the English house, though at first they were afraid of the infection, yet seeing their woeful & sad condition & hearing their pitiful cries & lamentations, they had compassion of them, & daily fetched them wood & water & made them fires, got them victuals whilst they lived; & buried them when they died. For very few of them escaped, notwithstanding they did what they could for them to the hazard of themselves. The chief sachem himself now died & almost all his friends & kindred. But by the marvelous goodness & providence of God, not one of the English was so much as sick or in the least measure tainted with this disease, though they daily did these offices for them for many weeks together. & this mercy which they showed them was kindly taken & thankfully acknowledged of all the Indians that knew or heard of the same. "
It is widely believed that early European soldiers & sailors introduced bubonic plague, typhus, chicken pox, diphtheria, typhus, cholera, cowpox, measles, whooping cough, & many other diseases to the Americas. Yellow fever & malaria also traveled, originating in Africa & finding their way to Europeans & Native Americans by way of mosquitoes. The tropical rain forests of the Americas became perfect breeding grounds for the mosquitoes that transmitted sickness from infected individuals to healthy ones. These diseases, previously unknown in the Americas, spread like wildfire in the New World.
Historians think that tuberculosis, dysentery, & parasitic diseases were common in the Americas before the arrival of the Europeans. Research on early skeletal remains has also given scientists intriguing clues to early New World diseases & treatments. In the 1970s, a pre-Columbian mummified child from Peru was examined, & the skeleton, as well as the preserved soft tissue, showed signs of tuberculosis with remnants of tuberculosis bacilli still in the tissue.