New England Epidemiology

Cristobal Silva

in Miraculous Plagues

Published in print August 2011 | ISBN: 9780199743476
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199896868 | DOI:
New England Epidemiology

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This chapter focuses on the epidemics that devastated Native American populations between 1616 and 1619—those same epidemics that John Winthrop called a “miraculous plague” sent by God to depopulate the American continent prior to the Puritan migration. Winthrop’s is but one of many texts that blend medical, legal, and theological discourses to help justify the colonial project in New England by reorganizing the civil-law rhetoric of property rights around immunity and susceptibility to disease. Although such representations are not biological in the modern sense of the word, they map immunological distinctions between Native American and English bodies by relying on Christian/heathen and civilized/savage tropes. Thus, colonial epidemiology seizes on ideological and cultural difference to articulate strategies for appropriating the American landscape into an historical European colonial framework. The balance of this chapter investigates the ways in which epidemiological rhetoric circulated in New England as a means of appropriating and consolidating power during Anglo/Native American encounters. Such narratives would include what the chapter calls the “counter-epidemiologies” attributed to Native Americans like Tisquantum of Patuxet, which were nevertheless ventriloquized through English texts, and therefore operated within a highly inflected colonial setting.

Keywords: justification narratives; Massachusetts Bay; John Winthrop; Robert Cushman; William Bradford; Tisquantum; epidemics; Colonial New England; counter-epidemiology; virgin soil epidemic

Chapter.  16857 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas

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