October 04, 2014

Lord Amherst's genocidal intent

Historians aren't sure if the British actually gave smallpox-laden blankets to the Indians:

Jeffery Amherst, 1st Baron AmherstPontiac's War was a war that was launched in 1763 by a loose confederation of elements of Native American tribes primarily from the Great Lakes region, the Illinois Country, and Ohio Country who were dissatisfied with British postwar policies in the Great Lakes region after the British victory in the French and Indian War (1754–1763). During these hostilities, General Amherst is often criticized for his conduct. One of the most contentious and debated issues is the question over whether biological warfare was implemented by Colonel Henry Bouquet on orders from General Amherst. The suggestion was first posed by Amherst himself in a letter to Bouquet. Bouquet addressed this suggestion in a postscript and responded to Amherst (in the summer of 1763):

P.S. I will try to inocculate the Indians by means of Blankets that may fall in their hands, taking care however not to get the disease myself. As it is pity to oppose good men against them, I wish we could make use of the Spaniard's Method, and hunt them with English Dogs. Supported by Rangers, and some Light Horse, who would I think effectively extirpate or remove that Vermine.

In response, also in a postscript, Amherst replied:

P.S. You will Do well to try to Innoculate the Indians by means of Blankets, as well as to try Every other method that can serve to Extirpate this Execrable Race. I should be very glad your Scheme for Hunting them Down by Dogs could take Effect, but England is at too great a Distance to think of that at present.

There has been some debate as to whether this plan was actually enacted with no consensus among historians. The argument against the proposition that the plan was implemented on Bouquet's orders includes the fact that Bouquet had never had smallpox himself and was reluctant to enact the plan, as indicated by his postscript. In addition, there exists no communication by Bouquet to Fort Pitt's commander of this plan. However, as historians Elizabeth Fenn and Benedict Kiernan have shown, "Fort Pitt had anticipated these orders. Reporting on parleys with Delaware chiefs on June 24, a trader wrote: '[We] gave them two Blankets and an Handkerchief out of the Small Pox Hospital. I hope it will have the desired effect.' The military hospital records confirm that two blankets and handkerchiefs were 'taken from people in the Hospital to Convey the Smallpox to the Indians.' The fort commander paid for these items, which he certified 'were had for the uses above mentioned.' Historian Elizabeth Fenn has documented 'the eruption of epidemic smallpox' among Delaware and Shawnee Indians nearby, about the time the blankets were distributed."
But whether they did or not, it seems clear they wanted to. In other words, they wanted the Indians dead--exterminated as a people:

Jeffrey Amherst and Smallpox BlanketsThese are the pivotal letters:

  • Colonel Henry Bouquet to General Amherst, dated 13 July 1763, [262k] suggests in a postscript the distribution of blankets to "inocculate the Indians";

  • Amherst to Bouquet, dated 16 July 1763, [128k] approves this plan in a postscript and suggests as well as "to try Every other method that can serve to Extirpate this Execrable Race." (This postcript spans two pages.)

  • These letters also discuss the use of dogs to hunt the Indians, the so-called "Spaniard's Method," which Amherst approves in principle, but says he cannot implement because there are not enough dogs. In a letter dated 26 July 1763, Bouquet acknowledges Amherst's approval [125k] and writes, "all your Directions will be observed."
    And: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:

  • "...that Vermine ... have forfeited all claim to the rights of humanity" (Bouquet to Amherst, 25 June) [149k]

  • "I would rather chuse the liberty to kill any Savage...." (Bouquet to Amherst, 25 June) [121k]

  • "...Measures to be taken as would Bring about the Total Extirpation of those Indian Nations" (Amherst to Sir William Johnson, Superintendent of the Northern Indian Department, 9 July) [229k]

  • "...their Total Extirpation is scarce sufficient Attonement...." (Amherst to George Croghan, Deputy Agent for Indian Affairs, 7 August) [145k]

  • "...put a most Effectual Stop to their very Being" (Amherst to Johnson, 27 August [292k]; emphasis in original).

  • Amherst's correspondence during this time includes many letters on routine matters, such as officers who are sick or want to be relieved of duty; accounts of provisions on hand, costs for supplies, number of people garrisoned; negotiations with provincial governors (the army is upset with the Pennsylvania assembly, for example, for refusing to draft men for service); and so on. None of these other letters show a deranged mind or an obsession with cruelty. Amherst's venom was strictly reserved for Indians.
    Comment:  Whether the British carried out their genocidal urges or not, the point is that they had those urges. Whether they were responsible for the epidemics that swept America, they wanted the Indians dead.

    Whether it was relocation, allotment, or termination, US policies must be understood with that in mind. The goal was to eliminate the Indians--by transforming them into non-Indians or by killing them.

    For more on the subject, see The Facts About Blankets with Smallpox.

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