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Question of the week #2: What was the Myth of White Innocence? Why was it a myth? What was the reality? How do we know?(The question of the week is one of the essay questions that may appear on the next exam.)This myth derived from the Seven Years’ War, which British colonists called the French and Indian War because they were fighting French forces and their Indian allies.Click on the first link to read a source from the Ottawa leader Pontiac, then read two other sources about war crimes that happened during the Seven Years’ War.Pontiac calls for war, 1763 (Links to an external site.)Peter D’Errico, The smallpox blankets question, 2010A historian dove into the primary and secondary sources to try to answer the age-old question: Did British forces actually use germ warfare during the Seven Years’ War by giving Indians smallpox-infected blankets? Or did they just write about maybe doing so?What did D’Errico mean by these words? Imperious, correspondence, anomaly, genocidal, extirpation, execrable Despite his fame, Jeffery Amherst’s name became tarnished by stories of smallpox-infected blankets used as germ warfare against American Indians. These stories are reported, for example, in Carl Waldman’s Atlas of the North American Indian (1985). Waldman writes, in reference to a siege of Fort Pitt (Pittsburgh) by Chief Pontiac’s forces during the summer of 1763:”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.” (p.108)Some people have doubted these stories; other people, believing the stories, nevertheless assert that the infected blankets were not intentionally distributed to the Indians, or that Lord Jeff himself is not to blame for the germ warfare tactic. … Pontiac, an Ottawa chief who had sided with the French, led an uprising against the British after the French surrender in Canada. Indians were angered by Amherst’s refusal to continue the French practice of providing supplies in exchange for Indian friendship and assistance, and by a generally imperious British attitude toward Indians and Indian land. As Waldman puts it:”Lord Jeffrey Amherst, the British commander-in-chief for America, believed … that the best way to control Indians was through a system of strict regulations and punishment when necessary, not ‘bribery,’ as he called the granting of provisions.” (p.106) … [In the 1940s, the British Manuscript Project preserved and microfilmed Amherst’s surviving correspondence.]These are the pivotal letters:These letters also discuss the use of dogs to hunt the Indians, the so-called “Spaniard’s Method,” which Amherst approves in principle, but says he cannot implement because there are not enough dogs. …Historian Francis Parkman, in his book The Conspiracy of Pontiac and the Indian War after the Conquest of Canada (1886) refers to a postscript in an earlier letter from Amherst to Bouquet wondering whether smallpox could not be spread among the Indians:”Could it not be contrived to send the Small Pox among those disaffected tribes of Indians? We must on this occasion use every stratagem in our power to reduce them.” [Vol. II, p. 39 (6th edition)] …Several other letters from the summer of 1763 show the smallpox idea was not an anomaly. The letters are filled with comments that indicate a genocidal intent, with phrases such as:Colonel Bouquet’s poetic line, “every Tree is become an Indian, (Links to an external site.)” … was his description of a contagion of fear among “the terrified Inhabitants,” for whom the Indians were a part of the wildness they perceived around themselves. Indian warriors would not stand in ordered ranks; they fell back into the forests only to emerge again in renewed attack; their leaders defied British logic and proved effective against a string of British forts; these were the enemy that nearly succeeded in driving the British out, and became the target for British genocide. …All in all, the letters provided here remove all doubt about the validity of the stories about Lord Jeff and germ warfare. The General’s own letters sustain the storiesAs to whether the plans actually were carried out, Parkman has this to say:”In the following spring, Gershom Hicks, who had been among the Indians, reported at Fort Pitt that the small-pox had been raging for some time among them.”An additional source of information on the matter is the Journal of William Trent (Links to an external site.), commander of the local militia of the townspeople of Pittsburgh during Pontiac’s siege of the fort. … Trent’s entry for May 24, 1763, includes the following statement:”We gave them two Blankets and a Handkerchief out of the Small Pox Hospital. I hope it will have the desired effect. …”The depiction of Indians as wild beasts was quite common among early American leaders, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. David E. Stannard writes: “As is so often the case, it was New England’s religious elite who made the point more graphically than anyone. Referring to some Indians who had given offense to the colonists, the Reverend Cotton Mather wrote: ‘Once you have but got the Track of those Ravenous howling Wolves, then pursue them vigorously; Turn not back till they are consumed … Beat them small as the Dust before the Wind.’ Lest this be regarded as mere rhetoric, empty of literal intent, consider that another of New England’s most esteemed religious leaders, the Reverend Solomon Stoddard, as late as 1703 formally proposed to the Massachusetts Governor that the colonists be given the financial wherewithal to purchase and train large packs of dogs ‘to hunt Indians as they do bears.’”Author’s statementMy motivation in undertaking this project was to make good on a promise I made to Floyd Red Crow Westerman (Dakota), who asked me to “find the proof” about the smallpox plans to counter the many commentators who denied anything like that had ever happened. Floyd told me he wanted to make a movie that would “put a knife into America’s heart and pull it out to heal America.” I think what he meant was that facing historical truths would heal America, though this would kill its illusions. Floyd passed on before he could complete this film project, but his inspiration lives in the material available to educate those who will learn.SOURCE: Peter D-Errico, “Jeffrey Amherst and Smallpox Blankets,” University of Massachusetts, https://people.umass.edu/derrico/amherst/lord_jeff… (Links to an external site.), (2010), 16-Dec 2020.James Fenimore Cooper’s novelistic account of the Fort William Henry Massacre, 1826Cooper published his version of the massacre 69 years after 1757, the year in which the novel takes place. In the 19th century, The Last of the Mohicans was read widely and shaped the way generations of Americans understood the history of the frontier and the Seven Years’ War.After a long siege, the British soldiers surrendered the fort to the French and Indian forces. Both sides agreed the 2,300 British soldiers and civilians would evacuate peacefully, but some of the Indian warriors tried to seize their weapons and clothing, which caused a battle to break out. As many as 200 British were killed in the fighting, which colonists later commemorated as a massacre. What did Cooper mean by? Grenadiers, standard, throng, vanquished, stipulated, gaudy, HuronBy this time the signal of departure had been given, and the head of the English column was in motion. The sisters started at the sound, and glancing their eyes around, they saw the white uniforms of the French grenadiers, who had already taken possession of the gates of the fort. At that moment, an enormous cloud seemed to pass suddenly above their heads, and looking upward, they discovered that they stood beneath the folds of the standard of France.“Let us go,” said Cora. “This is no longer a fit place for the children of an English officer.”Alice clung to the arm of her sister, and together they left the parade, accompanied by the moving throng that surrounded them.As they passed the gates, the French officers, who had learned their rank, bowed often and low. …As the confused and timid throng left the protecting mounds of the fort, and issued on the open plain, the whole scene was at once presented to their eyes. At a little distance on the right, and somewhat in the rear, the French army stood to their arms, Montcalm having collected his parties so soon as his guards had possession of the works. They were attentive but silent observers of the proceedings of the vanquished, failing in none of the stipulated military honors, and offering no taunt or insult, in their success, to their less fortunate foes. Living masses of the English, to the amount in the whole of near three thousand, were moving slowly across the plain. …Along the sweeping borders of the woods hung a dark cloud of savages, eyeing the passage of their enemies, and hovering at a distance like vultures, who were only kept from stooping on their prey by the presence and restraint of a superior army. …The savages now fell back, and seemed content to let their enemies advance without further molestation. But as the female crowd approached them, the gaudy colors of a shawl attracted the eyes of a wild and untutored Huron. He advanced to seize it, without the least hesitation. The woman, more in terror than through love of the ornament, wrapped her child in the coveted article. … The savage relinquished his hold of the shawl, and tore the screaming infant from her arms. … The mother darted … to reclaim her child. The Indian smiled grimly, and extended one hand in sign of a willingness to exchange, while, with the other, he flourished the babe over his head, holding it by the feet as if to enhance the value of the ransom.“Here — here — there — all — any — everything,” exclaimed the breathless woman, tearing the lighter articles of dress from her person, with ill-directed, trembling fingers: “Take all, but give me my babe!”The savage spurned the worthless rags, and perceiving that the shawl had already become a prize to another, his bantering but sullen smile changing to a gleam of ferocity, he dashed the head of the infant against a rock, and cast its quivering remains to her very feet. For an instant, the mother stood like a statue of despair, looking wildly down at an unseemly object, which has so lately nestled at her bosom and smiled in her face; and then she had raised her eyes in countenance toward heaven, as if calling on God to curse the perpetrator of the foul deed. She was spared the sin of such a prayer; for, maddened at his disappointment, and excited at the sight of blood, the Huron mercifully drove his tomahawk into her own brain. The mother sank under the blow, and fell, grasping at her child, in death, with the same engrossing love that had caused her to cherish it when living.At that dangerous moment Magua placed his hands to his mouth, and raised the fatal and appalling whoop. The scattered Indians started the well-known cry, … and, directly, there arose such a yell along the plain, and through the arches of the wood, as seldom burst from human lips before. They who heard it listened with a curdling horror at the heart, little inferior to that dread which may be expected to attend the blasts of the final summons.More than two thousand raving savages broke from the forest at the signal, and threw themselves across the fatal plain with instinctive alacrity. We shall not dwell on the revolting horrors that succeeded. Death was everywhere, and in his most terrific and disgusting aspects. Resistance only served to inflame the murderers, who inflicted their furious blows long after their victims were beyond the power of their resentment. The flow of blood might be likened to the outbreaking of a torrent; and as natives became heated and maddened by the sight, many among them even kneeled to earth, and drank freely, exultingly, hellishly, of the crimson tide.SOURCE: James Fenimore Cooper, The Last of the Mohicans: A Narrative of 1757 (New York: Signet Classic, 1962), pp.204-208.Discussion questionsWhen Pontiac said “there let them remain,” what did he mean? What was his goal in fighting the Seven Years’ War?Did British officers commit germ warfare? How? Or did they just discuss it? In this case, how close to the truth can historians get?Cooper wrote his novel over fifty years after the war was over. How did his American audience seem to want to remember the war? What did some of their grandparents suffer? How was this an example of the Myth of White Innocence?
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