Sie sind auf Seite 1von 5

Exactly How New Englands Indian Population Was Nearly

Wiped Out /exactly-new-englands-indian-population-nearly-wiped/


Even before European colonists nearly wiped out the Indian population in New England, war and disease had
already begun their dirty work.

A team of anthropologists, economists and paleopathologists studied the health of the Indian population in the
Western Hemisphere over 7,000 years. Native American health had declined even before Columbus came to the
New World, they concluded in a book published in August 2017, The Backbone of History: Health and Nutrition in
the Western Hemisphere.

The researchers found Indians health got worse because they came to depend on corn and because they began to
live in denser communities, allowing infectious disease to spread quickly.

Still, the Indian population didnt begin its catastrophic demise until the Europeans arrived in the 16 th century.

Indians lament death by disease.

There were about 60,000 Indians living in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut at the
beginning of the 17th century, according to Sherburne Cook. Maine had a robust population of Abenaki tribes more
than 20,000 Penobscot, Micmac and Passamaquoddy Indians -- by some estimates.

A century later, New Englands Indians were disappearing. Some tribes were already extinct.

This is how the Europeans nearly wiped out the Indian population.

Indian Population Before the Pilgrims
The seeds of the Indians destruction were planted more than a century before the Pilgrims set foot on Plymouth

In what is now Canada and Maine, contact with Europeans began even before English and French explorers
showed up at the turn of the 17th century. In 1504, a French vessel was documented fishing the Grand Banks off
Newfoundland in 1504. Portuguese fishermen arrived two years later.

By 1519, a hundred European ships made round trips to the

Grand Banks. The first tourist cruise to North America sailed
from London in 1536, but food ran short and many died.

The European visitors brought with them diseases to which

the Indians had no immunity, including smallpox, measles,
tuberculosis, cholera and bubonic plague.

Maines Passamaquoddy Indians, among the first to make

contact with Europeans, were devastated by a typhus
epidemic in 1586. Other diseases brought the
Passamaquoddy population to 4,000 from 20,000.
Early map of the Grand Banks.
The 1616 Plague
In 1616, a terrible plaque swept along the Massachusetts coast, wreaking the most devastation north of Boston. Its
not clear what it was perhaps smallpox, perhaps yellow fever, perhaps bubonic plague.

Whatever it was, it was terrifying. So much of the Indian population died there werent enough left to bury the dead.
English colonist Thomas Morton described the heaps of dead Indians 'a new found Golgotha.'

As many as 90 percent of the 4,500 Indians of the Massachusetts tribe perished. The disease cleared the Boston
Harbor islands of inhabitants.

English explorer John Smith had visited New England before

the plague in 1614. He returned eight years later and was
shocked by what he saw.

God had laid this country open for us, he wrote. Where I
had seen 100 or 200 people, there is scarce ten to be found.

Disease persisted among the Massachusetts from 1620 to

1630, and there were only about 750 left when smallpox struck
in 1633, obliterating entire villages. The Massachusetts who
survived were herded into Christian villages of praying

Puritan minister Increase Mather wrote 'about this time [1631] John Smith
the Indians began to be quarrelsome touching the Bounds of
the Land which they had sold to the English, but God ended
the Controversy by sending the Smallpox amongst the Indians of Saugust, who were before that time exceeding

Along the Merrimack River in New Hampshire, raids by the Mohawks had already weakened the Pennacook Indians
when the 1616 plague arrived. It killed three out of four Pennacook Indians.

That same plague almost completely obliterated two other Pennacook tribes in Massachusetts, the Agawam in
Ipswich and the Naumkeag in Salem.

The plague of 1616-1618 cleared nearly all the Wampanoag along the coast from Plymouth to Boston, but was far
less severe south of Plymouth.

A year after the Pilgrims arrived, their Indian visitor Samoset told them,
'about foure yeares agoe, all the Inhabitants dyed of an extraordinary
plague, and there is neither man, woman, nor childe remaining, as indeed
we haue found none, so as there is none to hinder our possession, or to lay
claime unto it.'

"Thousands of them died," wrote William Bradford, Plymouth's governor.

"They not being able to bury one another, their skulls and bones were found
in many places lying still above the ground."

Enough Wampanoag Indians survived to become the backbone of Indian

resistance that led to King Philips War in 1675.

But disease persisted among the tribe, weakening them further. By the wars
outbreak, the Wampanoag population fell to 2,500 from as many as 5,500.
Those who werent killed in the war were sold into slavery, moved to praying
towns or migrated west. King Philips War virtually obliterated the
King Philip

Nauset and Narragansett

The Narragansett were the biggest tribe in New England, with
7,800 members including 300 on Block Island. Protected by
Narragansett Bay, they didnt come into contact with the white
invaders as early or as frequently as northern tribes. They
were unaffected by the great plague of 1616.

Because the Narragansetts were so much larger, Wampanoag

leader Massasoit made peace with the Plymouth colonists to
ally them against his Narragansett rivals.

The Narragansetts first epidemic was smallpox in 1633, which

killed 700 of them. Chronic ailments further reduced their
numbers to 5,000 by the outbreak of King Philips War. Wrote
Roger Williams in 1643,

Roger Williams with Narragansett Indians

They commonly abound with children, and increase
mightily; except the plague fall amongst them, or other
lesser sicknesses, and then having no means of recovery, they perish wonderfully.

Infectious disease terrified the Narragansetts. I have often seene a poore House left alone in the wild Woods, all
being fled, the living not being able to bury the dead, so terrible is the apprehension of an infectious disease, that not
only persons, but Houses and the whole Towne take flight, wrote Williams.

The Narragansetts tried to stay out of King Philips War, but after English colonists massacred as many as 1,100 of
them at the Great Swamp Fight in 1675, they had no choice but to fight. After King Philips War fewer than 500
Narragansetts remained. They were allowed to settle with the Eastern Niantic on a reservation at Charlestown, R.I. ,
where they frequently intermarried with African-Americans and Indians from other tribes.

The Nauset, a tribe of about 8,000 on Cape Cod and the islands, were also apparently unaffected by the plague of
1616. But other diseases gradually reduced their numbers. The 2,100 Nausets on Cape Cod were down to 1,250 by
1700, and all had been converted to Christianity. By 1660, they had been driven into the Mashpee Reservation; the
population of 2,100 Nausets fell to 1,250 by 1700.

Disease had also reduced the Indian population of 6,000 on Marthas Vineyard and Nantucket by more than half, to

Connecticut's Indian Population

Before the English arrived, an Algonkian tribe that became the Pequots moved into Connecticut from the
Connecticut River to the Rhode Island border, displacing the people who lived there. There were about 3,000 of
them, and the population remained stable with little European contact and in the absence of war and severe
epidemic disease.

Then they were attacked by English colonists and Mohegan

warriers in the Pequot War of 1637. Hundreds were killed or
captured and hundreds more fled to southwestern
Connecticut and Long Island. Only 200 were left by wars
end, and they were absorbed into the Mohegan tribe.

Shortly after the Pequot War in 1643, there were about

2,200 Pequot-Mohegans. Smallpox, flu, diphtheria and
measles reduced their numbers to 750 by 1705. By then,
they had already been herded into Connecticut reservations
at Ledyard and Groton.

One Connecticut tribe tried to protect itself by building a

fort. A thousand Mattabesic Indians sealed their fate when The Peqquot War
they enclosed themselves in a palisade fort in Hartford
County. By 1634, smallpox and plague killed all but 50 of
them with terrifying swiftness.

Of the 3,000 other Connecticut Indians in the vicinity Podunk, Mattabesic, Hammonasset and Wongunk most
who survived sold their land and moved away.


During the 17th century, life was short for the English colonists as well as the Indian population. By 1700, life
expectancy in New England rose to 45-50 years, 15 years higher than in old England.

The Europeans had large families, and the colonist population grew 3 percent a year, doubling every 23 years. The
land-hungry colonists pushed the remaining Indian population into warfare, and then into reservations and to parts

Before the Europeans arrived, there were about 10,000 Penobscot Indians in what is now Maine. The population
collapsed from infectious diseases and fighting between the Mohawk over the fur trade. The Penobscot sided with
the French during the French and Indian War, which the French lost decisively.

Both the Penobscot and the Passamaquoddy ceded their land to Massachusetts (which later became Maine); they
were left only a reservation on Indian Island in Old Town, Maine. By 1800, there were only 500 Penobscot left.

Many Indians were converted to Christianity and moved to one of 14 praying towns. Indians were moved to
reservations in Gay Head on Marthas Vineyard and Fall River in Massachusetts.

During the 20th century, New Englands Indian population made a comeback. But that is a story for another day.

With thanks to The Indian Population of New England in the Seventeenth Century by S.F. Cook and to The
Backbone of History: Health and Nutrition in the Western Hemisphere, edited by Richard H. Steckel, Jerome C.