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‘The Epidemical Disease of the Country’
Microbes and Indians as Threats to European Settlement


From the Journal of Jasper Danckaerts, December 29, 1679

“The water which comes over the falls is pure and clear, and is quite blue, but running lower down, it gradually becomes muddy, but is entirely clear again at Takany, and reasonably so at Wikakoe; further on it becomes thick, but it is always good. As to the salubrity of the climate of which we did not say anything when we spoke of Maryland, it is certain that Virginia being the lowest on the sea, is the most unhealthy where they [die] by thousands sometimes of the epidemical disease of the country. In Maryland, which lies higher up from the sea than Virginia, it is more healthy, although it is subject to the epidemic. Therefore, all those who come into the country, must undergo this sickness without escape. Even the children who are born there are not excepted, as those who live there and have experienced it told us when we were there. And although their manner of life is the cause of much irregularity in their health, there is nevertheless something in the atmosphere which produces disease: but this will become gradually better, as the country is measurably populated, and thereby becomes more cleared, as experience shows is true of all the lands in America which have been unhealthy.

“The uppermost parts of Maryland are more healthy than those lowest down. The South River is more salubrious than Maryland, as it lies higher. It partakes however somewhat of the nature of Maryland, especially below, but with great difference, which every year increases. The higher the more healthy; although at the Hoerekil, which is near the sea, it is as healthy as anywhere, because it is well populated. In the upper part of the river it is as healthy as it can be anywhere, and for myself, I believe that New Netherland has not a place in it which is not healthier than any part of old Netherlands in the United Provinces, and is becoming every day more salubrious, especially if they have here as they do in Holland. The North River is entirely healthy, for it lies much higher up than the South River, that is further to the north, and although it is nearer the sea than where they have in Maryland and on the South River, it is nevertheless more wholesome, which shows that it is not the air of the sea which causes the insalubrity, but other reasons which I will not consider at present.”

The microbiological cause of diseases, such as malaria, which plagued Virginia and Maryland and points south in English North America, was not understood until after the construction of the Panama Canal. In fact, the chief engineer of that great work, in the early 1900s did not believe his chief medical officer, who blamed mosquito borne microbes for malaria and scarlet fever. The way the human mind works is to associate swamps with illness and therefore the vapors coming up off the swamps as unhealthy. Moving away from such places does reduce illness. Prior to English Settlement in The Carolinas and points north there was no malaria. The cause for this was the mosquito laden water cakes coming from Africa with slaves, bringing malaria to the Caribbean 100 or so years before the Atlantic coast of North America. Did it take from 1521 to the 1620s for the mosquitos to migrate around the gulf coast and up through the Carolinas, or were they brought directly in the hulls of African slave ships manned by the English and Dutch. Possibly, it was both.

The result was that Indians were driven inland and sold off their coastal lands not just by European invaders, but by the mosquitos and disease they brought with them. Those Indians who intermarried with African immigrants had a better chance of survival in coastal regions, such as the Turner Station waterfront town of Maryland. Most Indians intermarried and adopted Europeans earlier and to a greater extent and fled from the high mountains away from the coast with its death ghosts brought by the English ships.

Below is another cause of European woe, which again, was a source of Indian woe as well, the rape of Indian women by the womanless European slaves brought to America by their wifed masters, once again pitting the lower class European soldier [slave], sailor [slave] and servant [slave] against his master’s ally, the Indian who had the freedom and them women that he desired.

“As the Hollanders were the first discoverers of this river, they were also the first residents, settling themselves down in small numbers at the Hoerekil and thereabouts, and at Santhoeck, though the most people and the capital of the country were at the Manhatans, under the rule and authority of the West India Company.^ The Indians killed many of them because they did not live well with them, especially with their women, from which circumstance this kill derives its name. Others fled to the Manhatans, but afterwards returned, and have since continued in possession of the river, although in small numbers and with little strength.”

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