Native American populations in New England, with no immunity to European diseases, were nearly eradicated by a mysterious epidemic—likely smallpox. Between 1616 and 1619, the population of the Massachusett and other Algonquin tribes was reduced by as much as 90 percent by disease.
A virgin soil epidemic occurs when bacteria or viruses are introduced into an area where no similar diseases have ever occurred before. Lacking even partial immunity, populations are devastated by such epidemics. Many scholars believe that the severity of Native American loss of life during the first decades of European colonization was due to the fact that these were virgin soil epidemics.
The Columbian Exchange refers to the flow of people, animals, plants, and microorganisms between Europe and Africa, and the Americas. For American Indians, disease was the most significant effect of the exchange with as much as 90 percent of the Native population dying during the first century of interaction. For Africans and Europeans, the most important effect was the arrival of new American crops that increased food supplies significantly. This led to population explosions in Africa and parts of Europe, which fed migration from those...
In this lecture Elliott West, a professor of history at the University of Arkansas, describes how the introduction of Old World phenomena such as guns, horses, and new diseases affected the Native peoples of the New World.