The town of Amherst, Massachusetts, was named for Lord Jeff even before he became a Lord. Amherst College was later named after the town. It is said the local inhabitants who formed the town preferred another name, Norwottuck, after the Indians whose land it had been; the colonial governor substituted his choice for theirs. Frank Prentice Rand, in his book, The Village of Amherst: A Landmark of Light [Amherst, MA: Amherst Historical Society, 1958], says that at the time of the naming, Amherst was "the most glamorous military hero in the New World. ... ...the name was so obvious in 1759 as to be almost inevitable." [p. 15]
... Captain Simeon Ecuyer had bought time by sending smallpox-infected blankets and handkerchiefs to the Indians surrounding the fort -- an early example of biological warfare -- which started an epidemic among them. Amherst himself had encouraged this tactic in a letter to Ecuyer. [p. 108]Some people have doubted these stories; other people, believing the stories, nevertheless assert that the infected blankets were not intentionally distributed to the Indians, or that Lord Jeff himself is not to blame for the germ warfare tactic.
Pontiac, an Ottawa chief who had sided with the French, led an uprising against the British after the French surrender in Canada. Indians were angered by Amherst's refusal to continue the French practice of providing supplies in exchange for Indian friendship and assistance, and by a generally imperious British attitude toward Indians and Indian land. As Waldman puts it:
... Lord Jeffrey Amherst, the British commander-in-chief for America, believed ... that the best way to control Indians was through a system of strict regulations and punishment when necessary, not "bribery," as he called the granting of provisions. [p. 106]
The microfilm is difficult to read, and paper copies even harder. Nonetheless, the images obtained by scanning the copies are sufficiently clear for online viewing. The images are of key excerpts from the letters. An index is provided to show by document number the location of these images in the microfilm set. Ascii text of the excerpts is also provided.
Historian Francis Parkman, in his book The Conspiracy of Pontiac and the Indian War after the Conquest of Canada [Boston: Little, Brown, 1886] refers to a postscript in an earlier letter from Amherst to Bouquet wondering whether smallpox could not be spread among the Indians:
Could it not be contrived to send the Small Pox among those disaffected tribes of Indians? We must on this occasion use every stratagem in our power to reduce them. [Vol. II, p. 39 (6th edition)]I have not found this letter, but there is a letter from Bouquet to Amherst, dated 23 June 1763, three weeks before the discussion of blankets to the Indians, stating that Captain Ecuyer at Fort Pitt (to which Bouquet would be heading with reinforcements) has reported smallpox in the Fort. This indicates at least that the writers knew the plan could be carried out.
It is curious that the specific plans to spread smallpox were relegated
to postscripts. I leave it to the reader to ponder the significance of
Several other letters from the summer of 1763 show the smallpox idea was not an anomaly. The letters are filled with comments that indicate a genocidal intent, with phrases such as:
Long describes Amherst's "kindliness to the French" and refers to Amherst's "intensity of feeling on these issues":
Amherst's kindliness to the French civilians was more than a military gesture. He had a warm sympathy for the countryside, an interest in people and the way they lived. "The Inhabitants live comfortably," he observed in his journal, "most have stone houses.... ....
This humane attitude was reflected in his rules for the governing of Canada. As its de facto military Governor-General he established a temporary code ... a program of tolerance and regard for colonial sensibilities....
Perhaps most statesmanlike of all was Amherst's recognition of the French law, ... a recognition which permitted change of national loyalty without social upheaval. [p. 137]In contrast to these kindly feelings, Long says that Pontiac's attacks on British forts at Detroit and Presqu'Isle "aroused Amherst to a frenzy, a frenzy almost hysterical in its impotence." Long then quotes from Amherst's letter to Sir William Johnson:
... it would be happy for the Provinces there was not an Indian settlement within a thousand Miles of them, and when they are properly punished, I care not how soon they move their Habitations, for the Inhabitants of the Woods are the fittest Companions for them, they being more nearly allied to the Brute than to the Human Creation. [p.186]Colonel Bouquet's poetic line, "... every Tree is become an Indian," [63k] quoted above, was his description of a contagion of fear among soldiers and settlers, for whom the Indians were a part of the wildness they perceived around themselves. These warriors would not stand in ordered ranks; they fell back into the forests only to emerge again in renewed attack; their leaders defied British logic and proved effective against a string of British forts; these were the enemy that nearly succeeded in driving the British out, and became the target for British genocide.
As to whether the plans actually were carried out, Parkman has this to say:
... in the following spring, Gershom Hicks, who had been among the Indians, reported at Fort Pitt that the small-pox had been raging for some time among them....An additional source of information on the matter is the Journal of William Trent, commander of the local militia of the townspeople of Pittsburgh during Pontiac's seige of the fort. This Journal has been described as "... the most detailed contemporary account of the anxious days and nights in the beleaguered stronghold." [Pen Pictures of Early Western Pennsylvania, John W. Harpster, ed. (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1938).]
Trent's entry for May 24, 1763, includes the following statement:
... we gave them two Blankets and an Handkerchief out of the Small Pox Hospital. I hope it will have the desired effect.
See Ann F. Ramenofsky, Vectors of Death: The Archaeology of European Contact (Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 1987):
Among Class I agents, Variola major holds a unique position. Although the virus is most frequently transmitted through droplet infection, it can survive for a number of years outside human hosts in a dried state (Downie 1967; Upham 1986). As a consequence, Variola major can be transmitted through contaminated articles such as clothing or blankets (Dixon 1962). In the nineteenth century, the U.S. Army sent contaminated blankets to Native Americans, especially Plains groups, to control the Indian problem (Stearn and Stearn 1945). [p. 148]See also Robert L. O'Connell, Of Arms and Men: A History of War, Weapons, and Aggression (NY and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989):
Marking a milestone of sorts, certain colonists during the French and Indian Wars resorted to trading smallpox-contaminated blankets to local tribes with immediate and devastating results. While infected carcasses had long been catapulted into besieged cities, this seems to be the first time a known weakness in the immunity structure of an adversary population was deliberately exploited with a weapons response. [p. 171]