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Rumors of Apocalypse: The Epidemics that Shaped (and Didn't Shape) British America, 1600s-1776

Jason Opal
McGill University
Stauffer Room 014 (Lower Level)

As soon as English settlers landed in the Americas, they heard and spread reports of various "plagues" among indigenous people. Many of the mysteries surrounding these outbreaks have never been resolved. What pathogen, for example, killed the majority of Wampanoags near Cape Cod just before the Mayflower landed in 1620? Why was the case fatality rate for smallpox so much higher among indigenous peoples than it was for either West Africans or Europeans in America? Close-grained and multi-disciplinary research can get us betters answers to these and other questions, but the history of epidemics in colonial America is shrouded in myth and rumor—and tangled up with a broad ideology of North American healthfulness that developed around 1700. That ideology was built on the absence of one disease in the Americas and on the diverging demographic profiles of the West Indian islands and the North American mainland. 

Jason M. Opal is an associate professor of history at McGill University, where he teaches a range of courses on early American history. He is currently working on a project with his father, Dr. Steven Opal (Brown University), on the history of epidemic diseases in American life.

Department of History, Queen's University

49 Bader Lane, Watson Hall 212
Kingston ON K7L 3N6




Queen's University is situated on traditional Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe territory.