Native History: Inventor of Biological Warfare Against Indians Dies

Drawing by Terry R. Peters. A drawing of Lord Jeffrey Amherst gifting a smallpox-infected blanket to a Native American family.

Indian Country Today

Native History: Inventor of Biological Warfare Against Indians Dies

This Date in Native History: On August 3, 1797 Lord Jeffrey Amherst, the first military strategist to knowingly engage in biological warfare by giving smallpox-infected blankets to Native Americans, died.

The spring of 1763 began Pontiac’s Rebellion, a series of relatively successful frontier attacks. This was when the use of the blankets to slow the Indians down was first suggested by Colonel Henry Bouquet and Amherst.

Carl Waldman’s Atlas of the North American Indian has an account of the use of the infected blankets: “… Captain Simeon Ecuyer had bought time by sending smallpox-infected blankets and handkerchiefs to the Indians surrounding the fort—an early example of biological warfare—which started an epidemic among them. Amherst himself had encouraged this tactic in a letter to Ecuyer.”

It’s estimated that three-quarters of the Native American population died in smallpox outbreaks after

Amherst was a big shot among his British brethren. He was a commanding general of British forces during the final battles of the so-called French & Indian War (1754-1763) and he won victories against the French to acquire Canada for England, making England the world’s top colonizer at the end of the Seven Years War (1756-1763), says

The towns of Amherst, Massachusetts and Amherst, New York as well as Amherst College are named after him. Though, it’s said that those living in the town in Massachusetts wanted to name it after the Indians whose land they took—calling it Norwottuck, but they were overruled by the colonial governor.

Amherst returned to Britain in November 1763 and never returned to take the governorship of Virginia he was rewarded for his military success.