Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 3.djvu/41

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31
THE BLACK DEATH IN NEW ENGLAND.

These are old facts, and are generally well known to the readers of old histories. But it may not be as well known to our readers that the black death, or at least a most malignant form of the true plague, prevailed in North America during the first part of the seventeenth century, sweeping off the Indian tribes on the Atlantic coast, and especially the tribes of New England. In the charter of New England, granted by James I., and bearing date of November 3, 1620, the king states "that he had been given certainly to know, that, within these late years, there hath, by God's visitation, reigned a wonderful plague, etc., to the depopulation of that whole territory, so that there is not left, for many leagues together in a manner, any that do claim or challenge any kind of interest therein."

"These late years" seem to have been 1617, 1618, and 1619. Its ravages from the Narragansett Bay to the Penobscot were of the most fearful character, constantly destroying one-fourth, and, according to some authorities, one-thirtieth of the natives. The old Indians gave a frightful account of it to the Pilgrims, saying that the victims had "died in heaps," and that the disease swept them off so rapidly that "the living were not able to bury the dead."

It is stated that, of the Indians inhabiting Patuxet, Squanto only remained. Norton, in his "New England Canaan" (Amsterdam, 1637), says: "They died in heaps, as they lay in their houses, and the living that were able to shift for themselves would run away and let them dy, and let their carkases ly above the ground without burill. For, in the place where many inhabited, there hath been but one left alive to tell what became of the rest, the living being, it seems, not able to bury the dead. They were left for crowes, kites, and vermine, to pray upon. And the bones and skulls, upon the several places of their habitation, made such a spectacle after my coming into these parts that, as I travelled in that forest near the Massachusetts, it seemed to me a new-found Golgotha." We should add that Mr. Norton came to this country in 1622.

Sir Fernando Gorges, who sent a ship to the East Atlantic coast at this period, tells us that, according to the reports given to him, those of the savages who had escaped the wars had been sore afflicted with the plague: "Notwithstanding, Vines" (his navigator), "and the rest with him that lay in the cabins with those people who died, did not so much as feel their heads ache while they stayed there."

It has been stated that the tribe of the Wampanoags was reduced from thirty thousand to a few hundred people, which will account for the small number of braves who appeared with Massasoit during his early visits to Plymouth. The Massachusetts, a tribe about as large as the Wampanoags, according to an early authority, were reduced in like proportion.

Some have supposed that this disease was the yellow fever, because an old Indian had told one of the early historians that the bodies of