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Disease in the America’s

Since the arrival of the first Europeans in the 15th Century, Native American’s have seen a series of different factors that resulted in a huge decline of their race. A majority of these took place between the 16th and 19th Centuries and consist of things like violence, warfare, slavery, intermarriage and disease. In fact most mainstream scholars believe that disease is most overwhelming cause of this decline, due to the native people’s lack of immunities to new illnesses. As the new European settlers arrived they brought with them a variety of new and dangerous sickness’s that would change the ‘New World’ forever.

Truth be told we cannot be absolutely certain of what the population of Native Americans was in the United States before the arrival of the Europeans as there is no recorded evidence and it has been the subject of much debate over time. Several estimations have been made over the years ranging from 1 million to a much larger 18 million. Henry Farmer Dobyns, Jr., an anthropologist, author and researcher well known for his research in this area predicted that the population would have been somewhere between 10 and 12 million, later increasing his estimations to that higher 18 million. Though we can’t be sure of a definite number we do know that by the year 1800 the population had declined to approximately 600,000 and later in 1890 to a much lower 250,000.

Amongst Europeans diseases like chicken pox and measles, though endemic were not fatal. They had been introduced to them much earlier from expeditions and contact with Asia. The Americas however had never seen them before and they proved deadly the natives. Worse than that was the arrival of smallpox, a disease that often followed European explorers wherever they went. It was even known to wipe out entire village populations. Smallpox was a huge factor in the decline of the Native American population, historians believe it could have contributed somewhere between 30% and 70% of deaths throughout the time period stated earlier.

The smallpox virus tore through tribes and depopulated large portions of eastern USA’s Native Americans. Between the years of 1618 and 1619 an incredible 90% of their population in the Massachusetts Bay area were wiped out by the illness. Historians also believe that many of the Mohawk people that lived in the area that is now New York became infected after their interaction with the Dutch traders and their families in Albany in 1634. The disease managed to spread between the many Mohawk villages of the time all the way to Onondaga at Lake Ontario in 1636 and later on to the land occupied by the Iroquois in the west by the year 1679.

The following years saw further contact between Europeans and Native Americans on the west coast, spreading the disease further and further to a similar devastating effect. This continued to effect their population dramatically until the 1832 when the federal government finally established a smallpox vaccination program for Native Americans known as ‘The Indian Vaccination Act of 1832’. This was the first federal program ever to address health problems for Native Americans.

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