The process of colonizing the land that would become the United States of America was riddled with violence, deceit, and oppression. However, one of the darkest moments in the ongoing conflict between European settlers and Native Americans was the usage of smallpox blankets on the part of the British, and this dastardly form of biological warfare was masterminded by one sick individual: Lord Jeffrey Amherst.
By the time the French and Indian War (also known as the Seven Years' War) had been settled in 1763, a new war had already begun between British colonists and indigenous peoples. During what became known as Pontiac's Rebellion, the British suffered huge losses and soon realized that their typical methods of warfare were no longer sufficient. So, thanks to the depraved imagination of Lord Jeffrey Amherst, a new method of biological warfare was employed that would devastate an entire population of Native Americans.
Within a series of letters sent to Colonel Henry Bouquet, Amherst changed the course of history by putting forth the idea of eradicating their enemy with germs, disguising small-pox-infected blankets as tokens of generosity and good will in an act that would turn out to be the Trojan Horse of colonial warfare.
The British Found Themselves Trapped In A Battle Against Chief Pontiac's Warriors – They Needed A 'Creative' Solution
After the French and Indian War had come to a close in 1763, the Native American tribes living in what is today the midwestern United States came up against a new enemy – the British. In an effort to defend their territories, numerous tribes in the area banded together to fight against the imposing British Army, under the guidance of Chief Pontiac.
Their plan was to simultaneously attack and overtake various British forts, forcing the British to abandon their colonial efforts. Pontiac's Rebellion, or so it is known, resulted in many bloody battles and the seizing of the area around Fort Pitt in Pennsylvania. It was at this point that the captain of Fort Pitt reached out to Colonel Henry Bouquet, noting "that he feared the crowded conditions would result in disease," including smallpox. It was around this time that Bouquet had also received an interesting letter from General Jeffrey Amherst on the same subject.
General Amherst's Letter Calls For The Eradication Of Native Peoples
Apparently, the idea of using smallpox as a biological weapon to eliminate large populations of indigenous peoples was not unique to any one battle being waged in the colonies. During the attack at Fort Pitt, a local trader by the name of William Trent had written in his notes that, "out of our regard for them, we gave them two Blankets and an Handkerchief out of the Smallpox Hospital. I hope it will have the desired effect."
However, the letter that was sent to Colonel Henry Bouquet by Lord Jeffrey Amherst remains the greatest piece of evidence indicating the intentions held by the British to introduce methods of biological warfare to the already devastating battlefront. In the letter, he states, "Could it not be contrived to send the smallpox among those disaffected tribes of Indians? We must, on this occasion, use every stratagem in our power to reduce them." In a subsequent letter, also to Bouquet, he continued his sentiment by saying: "You will do well to try to inoculate the Indians by means of blanketts as well as to try every other method that can serve to extirpate this execrable race."
Amherst's Vile Plan Worked – The Smallpox Epidemic Spread Like Wildfire Through The Tribes
The most notable instance of smallpox-infected blankets being distributed to indigenous tribes occurred at Fort Pitt, after which the disease spread rapidly throughout the Ohio Valley and into the Great Lakes region over the next year. The use of such a deviant method of biological warfare went against the code of conduct followed by British soldiers at the time, indicating to many historians just how bad tensions had gotten between the feuding groups.