Elizabeth A. Fenn is an assistant professor of
history at George Washington University. This essay received the
Louis Pelzer Memorial Award for 1999.
I am grateful to John Mack
Faragher for suggesting that I write this article and for commenting
on an early draft. Wayne Lee shared important references with me and
helped me locate the essay in the field of military history. Members
of the Michigan Colonial Studies Seminar and the Michigan History of
Medicine and Health Colloquium provided helpful critiques of an
earlier version, as did the Faculty and Graduate Student Seminar at
the University of South Florida department of history. Further
insights, references, and assistance came from Holly Brewer, Erika
Bsumek, John Dann, Pat Galloway, Don Higginbotham, Margaret
Humphreys, Paige Raibmon, Neal Salisbury, Mark Wheelis, and Peter
Wood, as well as the editors and anonymous reviewers of the
Journal of American History. Financial support came from the
Charlotte W. Newcombe Foundation.
1 William Trent, "William Trent's Journal at
Fort Pitt, 1763," ed. A. T. Volwiler, Mississippi Valley
Historical Review, 11 (Dec. 1924), 400. For an excellent
appraisal of the Fort Pitt episode that places it in the context of
the larger and more complicated struggle for control of the Ohio
Valley, see Michael N. McConnell, A Country Between: The Upper
Ohio Valley and Its Peoples, 1724-1774 (Lincoln, 1992), 194-96.
For an example of an Internet discussion devoted to biological
warfare and smallpox, see the h-oieahc discussion log for April
1995, available at http://www.h-net.msu.edu/logs/. For the
contention that the attempt at biological warfare was
"unquestionably effective at Fort Pitt," see Francis Jennings,
Empire of Fortune: Crowns, Colonies, & Tribes in the Seven
Years War in America (New York, 1990), 447-48, 447n26. On the
issue of timing, see Bernhard Knollenberg, "General Amherst and Germ
Warfare," Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 41 (Dec.
1954), 489-94; Bernhard Knollenberg to editor, "Communications,"
Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 41 (March 1955), 762;
and Donald H. Kent, to editor, ibid., 762-63. For a
cross-cultural analysis of the incident's place in a pantheon of
other such "legends," see Adrienne Mayor, "The Nessus Shirt in the
New World: Smallpox Blankets in History and Legend," Journal of
American Folklore, 108 (Winter 1995),
2 A thorough appraisal of the use of biological
warfare in the prescientific era can be found in Mark Wheelis,
"Biological Warfare before 1914," in Biological and Toxin
Weapons: Research, Development, and Use from the Middle Ages to
1945, ed. Erhard Geissler and John van Courtland Moon (Oxford,
3 For a summary of the documentation of this
incident, see Knollenberg, "General Amherst and Germ Warfare,"
489-94; and Kent to editor, "Communications," 762-63. While my
conclusions differ from Knollenberg's, much of the evidence
consulted is the same. Simeon Ecuyer to Henry Bouquet, June 16, 1763
[translation], in The Papers of Col. Henry Bouquet, ed.
Sylvester K. Stevens and Donald H. Kent (30 series, Harrisburg,
1940-1943), series 21649, part 1, p. 153. The series numbers cited
here correspond to the Additional Manuscripts classification of the
British Museum, London, where the original manuscripts are stored.
These numbers are also printed in the published version of the
papers. Because libraries holding the published Papers of Col.
Henry Bouquet have bound them in a variety of configurations, I
have cited the series number rather than the volume number to make
the precise location of each reference clear. Bouquet to Jeffery
Amherst, June 23, 1763, ibid., ser. 21634, p. 196.
4 Alexander McKee gives the name of the second
Delaware representative as "Maumaidtee." Alexander McKee, Report of
Speeches of the Delaware Indians [addressed to George Croghan], Fort
Pitt, June 24, 25, 1763, in Papers of Col. Henry Bouquet, ed.
Stevens and Kent, ser. 21655, p. 210; Trent, "William Trent's
Journal at Fort Pitt," ed. Volwiler, 400.
5 Levy, Trent and Company: Account against the
Crown, Aug. 13, 1763, in Papers of Col. Henry Bouquet, ed.
Stevens and Kent, ser. 21654, pp. 218-19. While the account was
submitted for payment in August, the items in it are all listed
under the date "1763 June." As Mark Wheelis has pointed out, readers
should note that William Trent refers to a single handkerchief in
his journal, while the invoice is for two: one silk, one linen.
Wheelis, "Biological Warfare before 1914,"
6 Memorandum by Sir Jeffery Amherst, [July 7,
1763], in Papers of Col. Henry Bouquet, ed. Stevens and Kent,
ser. 21634, p. 161. (Stevens and Kent tentatively assign the undated
document the date of May 4, 1763, but this is apparently an error.)
Bouquet to Amherst, Aug. 11, 1763, ibid., 243; Bouquet to
Amherst, July 13, 1763, in Jeffery Amherst, Official Papers,
1740-1783 (microfilm, 202 reels, World Microfilms Publications,
1979), reel 32, frame 305. The published typescript of this last
document deviates in important ways from the original. See Bouquet
to Amherst, July 13, 1763, in Papers of Col. Henry Bouquet,
ed. Stevens and Kent, ser. 21634, p. 214. For the July 16 letter,
see Amherst to Bouquet, July 16, 1763, in Amherst, Official
Papers, reel 33, frame 114. Here the deviations in the published
typescript are insignificant. See Memorandum by Sir Jeffery Amherst,
[July 16, 1763], in Papers of Col. Henry Bouquet, ed. Stevens
and Kent, ser. 21634, p. 161. (Stevens and Kent tentatively assign
the date of May 4, 1763, to this document as well, but this is
7 Deposition of Gershom Hicks, April 14, 1764,
in Papers of Col. Henry Bouquet, ed. Stevens and Kent, ser.
21650, part 1, p. 102. Five days later, under pressure from Fort
Pitt officials, Hicks recanted much of his testimony and
de-emphasized the Indians' martial intentions. He apparently made no
reference to smallpox in his second deposition. William Grant,
Re-Examination of Gershom Hicks, in Papers of Col. Henry
Bouquet, ed. Stevens and Kent, ser. 21651, pp. 7-10. For more on
Hicks, see Edward Ward to Sir William Johnson, May 2, 1764, in
The Papers of Sir William Johnson, ed. Milton W. Hamilton (14
vols., Albany, 1921-1965), XI, 169-71. On the Virginia Indians, see
Andrew Lewis to Bouquet, Sept. 10, 1764, in Papers of Col. Henry
Bouquet, ed. Stevens and Kent, ser. 21650, part 2, p. 127. For
Killibuck's account, see William Johnson, Journal of Indian Affairs,
[Johnson Hall, March 1-3, 1765], in Papers of Sir William
Johnson, ed. Hamilton, XI, 618. On the possibility of multiple
sources of infection, see McConnell, Country Between, 195-96.
M'Cullough's report is in Archibald Loudon, ed., A Selection, of
Some of the Most Interesting Narratives, of Outrages, Committed by
the Indians, in Their Wars, with the White People (1808; 2
vols., New York, 1977), I, 331. Knollenberg has emphasized Gershom
Hicks's testimony that smallpox had ravaged the Indians "since last
spring." He believes this means the disease was present among nearby
tribes even before Fort Pitt personnel distributed the infected
blankets on June 24. While it is possible that Knollenberg is right,
he may also be investing too much precision into what Hicks intended
as a general statement. Hicks had only been captured in May, and
June might well be considered "spring" in the hills of western
Pennsylvania. Knollenberg, "General Amherst and Germ Warfare," 494.
8 Such a communication might have been either
written or oral in form. It is also possible that documents relating
to such a plan were deliberately destroyed.