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New hypothesis for cause of epidemic among native Americans, New England, 1616-1619.

Marr JS, Cathey JT - Emerging Infect. Dis. (2010)

Bottom Line: Local ecology and high-risk quotidian practices of the native population favored exposure and were not shared by Europeans.Reduction of the population may have been incremental, episodic, and continuous; local customs continuously exposed this population to hyperendemic leptospiral infection over months or years, and only a fraction survived.Previous proposals do not adequately account for signature signs (epistaxis, jaundice) and do not consider customs that may have been instrumental to the near annihilation of Native Americans, which facilitated successful colonization of the Massachusetts Bay area.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, Richmond, Virginia, USA. jsmarr4@earthlink.net

ABSTRACT
In the years before English settlers established the Plymouth colony (1616-1619), most Native Americans living on the southeastern coast of present-day Massachusetts died from a mysterious disease. Classic explanations have included yellow fever, smallpox, and plague. Chickenpox and trichinosis are among more recent proposals. We suggest an additional candidate: leptospirosis complicated by Weil syndrome. Rodent reservoirs from European ships infected indigenous reservoirs and contaminated land and fresh water. Local ecology and high-risk quotidian practices of the native population favored exposure and were not shared by Europeans. Reduction of the population may have been incremental, episodic, and continuous; local customs continuously exposed this population to hyperendemic leptospiral infection over months or years, and only a fraction survived. Previous proposals do not adequately account for signature signs (epistaxis, jaundice) and do not consider customs that may have been instrumental to the near annihilation of Native Americans, which facilitated successful colonization of the Massachusetts Bay area.

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Plymouth, Massachusetts, harbor showing extensive Native American settlement (a sketch by Samuel de Champlain from his voyage of 1606).
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Figure 2: Plymouth, Massachusetts, harbor showing extensive Native American settlement (a sketch by Samuel de Champlain from his voyage of 1606).

Mentions: By 1616, several subtribes of the Wampanoag (Pokanoket) Nation were living between the present-day borders of eastern Rhode Island and southeastern Maine (Figure 1). The Patuxet village was localized to an area in and around Plymouth harbor (Figure 2). Demographers and historians disagree about the total size of the Wampanoag Nation, but Salisbury considers an estimate of 21,000–24,000 as “not unrealistic for this region” (13). Gookin also estimated 3,000 men living in Massachusetts before the epidemic (18), which when extrapolated for family size is consistent with Salisbury’s overall estimate. Salisbury estimated that the size of the Patuxet tribe before the epidemic was 2,000.


New hypothesis for cause of epidemic among native Americans, New England, 1616-1619.

Marr JS, Cathey JT - Emerging Infect. Dis. (2010)

Plymouth, Massachusetts, harbor showing extensive Native American settlement (a sketch by Samuel de Champlain from his voyage of 1606).
© Copyright Policy
Related In: Results  -  Collection

Show All Figures
getmorefigures.php?uid=PMC2957993&req=5

Figure 2: Plymouth, Massachusetts, harbor showing extensive Native American settlement (a sketch by Samuel de Champlain from his voyage of 1606).
Mentions: By 1616, several subtribes of the Wampanoag (Pokanoket) Nation were living between the present-day borders of eastern Rhode Island and southeastern Maine (Figure 1). The Patuxet village was localized to an area in and around Plymouth harbor (Figure 2). Demographers and historians disagree about the total size of the Wampanoag Nation, but Salisbury considers an estimate of 21,000–24,000 as “not unrealistic for this region” (13). Gookin also estimated 3,000 men living in Massachusetts before the epidemic (18), which when extrapolated for family size is consistent with Salisbury’s overall estimate. Salisbury estimated that the size of the Patuxet tribe before the epidemic was 2,000.

Bottom Line: Local ecology and high-risk quotidian practices of the native population favored exposure and were not shared by Europeans.Reduction of the population may have been incremental, episodic, and continuous; local customs continuously exposed this population to hyperendemic leptospiral infection over months or years, and only a fraction survived.Previous proposals do not adequately account for signature signs (epistaxis, jaundice) and do not consider customs that may have been instrumental to the near annihilation of Native Americans, which facilitated successful colonization of the Massachusetts Bay area.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, Richmond, Virginia, USA. jsmarr4@earthlink.net

ABSTRACT
In the years before English settlers established the Plymouth colony (1616-1619), most Native Americans living on the southeastern coast of present-day Massachusetts died from a mysterious disease. Classic explanations have included yellow fever, smallpox, and plague. Chickenpox and trichinosis are among more recent proposals. We suggest an additional candidate: leptospirosis complicated by Weil syndrome. Rodent reservoirs from European ships infected indigenous reservoirs and contaminated land and fresh water. Local ecology and high-risk quotidian practices of the native population favored exposure and were not shared by Europeans. Reduction of the population may have been incremental, episodic, and continuous; local customs continuously exposed this population to hyperendemic leptospiral infection over months or years, and only a fraction survived. Previous proposals do not adequately account for signature signs (epistaxis, jaundice) and do not consider customs that may have been instrumental to the near annihilation of Native Americans, which facilitated successful colonization of the Massachusetts Bay area.

Show MeSH
Related in: MedlinePlus