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BMJ. 2003 Aug 2; 327(7409): 261.
PMCID: PMC1126655

British biological warfare

Jeremy Hugh Baron, honorary professorial lecturer

In 1763 Sir Jeffrey Amhurst, commander in chief of the British forces fighting a North American Indian uprising west of the Allegheny mountains, wrote to Colonel Bouquet: “Could it not be contrived to send the Smallpox among those disaffected tribes of Indians?”

Bouquet replied: “I shall try and inoculate them with some blankets, and take care not to get the disease myself. As it is a pity to expose good men against them, I wish we could use the Spanish method, to hunt them with English dogs who would, I think, effectively extirpate or remove that vermin.”

Amhurst answered: “You will do well to try to inoculate the Indians by means of blankets as well as to try every other method that can serve to extirpate this exorable race.”

Captain Simeon Ecuyer, commandant of Fort Pitt, noted in his journal on 24 June: “Out of regard for them [two Indian chiefs] we gave them two blankets and a handkerchief out of the Smallpox hospital. I hope it will have the required effect.”

However, in 1803 President Jefferson encouraged the Indians to be vaccinated so “that they would not only be secured by it from the smallpox but that it would finally extirpate that disease from the earth.”

Further reading and resources

  • Parkman F. The conspiracy of Pontiac. Vol 2. Boston: Little Brown, 1910: 44.
  • Stearn EW, Stearn AE. The effect of smallpox on the destiny of the Amerindian. Boston: B Humphries, 1945: 44-45, 56-57.
  • Sipe CH. The Indian wars of Pennsylvania. 2nd ed. Lewisberg, PA: Wennawoods, 1995: 423-4.

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