The Children of Aataentsic: A History of the Huron People to 1660

By Bruce G. Trigger | Go to book overview

Chapter 8 The Deadly Harvest

The New Beginning

By an unlucky coincidence, the return of the Jesuits to the Huron country coincided with the beginning of a series of virulent epidemics that were to reduce the Huron population by approximately fifty percent within six years. These same diseases infected all the tribes who had dealings with the French and penetrated along the trade routes into areas no European had yet visited.

Prior to the arrival of the Europeans, the American Indians had never been exposed to many infectious diseases common in the Old World and had little natural immunity against them; hence when these diseases were transmitted to the Indians, they died in great numbers. The most dangerous killer was smallpox although various respiratory illnesses accounted for many deaths. Even childhood diseases that had a low mortality rate in Europe, such as measles, chickenpox, and whooping cough, killed many people of all ages when they broke out in Indian communities. As these diseases gradually spread westward across North America, aboriginal populations were cut drastically. Entire peoples lost their identity through depopulation (Dobyns 1966:410–12; Stearn and Stearn 1945).

Epidemics of this sort may explain the marked decline that took place in the population of the southeastern United States and in the level of cultural development in that area in the sixteenth century (Sauer 1971: 302–3). It has also been suggested though without evidence that epidemics played an important role in the dispersal of the St. Lawrence Iroquoians (Fenton 1940:175). In the summer of 1611 numerous Algonkin died of a fever (Bìggar 1932–36, 2:207) and in the winter of 1623–24 many Weskarini perished of disease and hunger in the Ottawa Valley (Wrong 1939:263). It is impossible because of inadequate reports to determine whether or not these were epidemics of European diseases. Although there were such epidemics along the east coast of the United States prior to 1620, there is no evidence of a major epidemic in eastern Canada prior to 1634. Nor is there evidence that the Huron had been affected by European diseases prior to that time. The reason for the swift succession of epidemics beginning in 1634 is unknown, but it may be connected with the rapid

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The Children of Aataentsic: A History of the Huron People to 1660
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations xi
  • Illustrations xvi
  • Maps xxi
  • Preface to the 1987 Reprinting xxiv
  • Preface to the First Edition xxxviii
  • To Barbara, Isabel, and Rosalyn xliv
  • Chapter 1- Introduction 1
  • Chapter 2- The Huron and Their Neighbours 27
  • Chapter 3- The Birth of the Huron 105
  • Chapter 4- Alien Shadows 177
  • Chapter 5- Forging an Alliance 246
  • Chapter 6- The Quiet Years 331
  • Chapter 7- The Interregnum and - The New Alliance 455
  • Chapter 8- The Deadly Harvest 499
  • Chapter 9- The Storm 603
  • Chapter 10- The Storm within 665
  • Chapter 11- The End of the Confederacy 725
  • Chapter 12- Betrayal and Salvation 789
  • Chapter 13- Conclusions 841
  • Notes 851
  • References 857
  • Index 885
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