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Smallpox and Native American mortality: The 1780s epidemic in the Hudson Bay region

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  • Carlos, Ann M.
  • Lewis, Frank D.

Abstract

The smallpox epidemic of 1781–82 in the Hudson Bay region is said to have devastated the native population, causing mortality of at least 50%. We reassess this claim using a four-pronged approach. First, we total smallpox deaths reported by two fur trading posts that were in the midst of the epidemic. Second, we review case fatality rates in other smallpox outbreaks, and discuss the likely incidence of the disease among Native Americans. Third, we analyse trade during the period of the epidemic. Fourth, we estimate the native population prior to the epidemic based on the carrying capacity of the region. All four approaches lead to a similar conclusion. Mortality from smallpox was likely under 20%, which is much less than previously asserted.

Suggested Citation

  • Carlos, Ann M. & Lewis, Frank D., 2012. "Smallpox and Native American mortality: The 1780s epidemic in the Hudson Bay region," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 49(3), pages 277-290.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:exehis:v:49:y:2012:i:3:p:277-290
    DOI: 10.1016/j.eeh.2012.04.003
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Carlos, Ann M. & Lewis, Frank D., 1993. "Indians, the Beaver, and the Bay: The Economics of Depletion in the Lands of the Hudson's Bay Company, 1700–1763," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 53(3), pages 465-494, September.
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    Cited by:

    1. La Croix, Sumner, 2018. "The Khohkoi Population: A Review of Evidence and Two New Estimates," African Economic History Working Paper 39/2018, African Economic History Network.
    2. Donna Feir & Rob Gillezeau & Maggie Jones, 2017. "The Slaughter of the North American Bison and Reversal of Fortunes on the Great Plains," Department Discussion Papers 1701, Department of Economics, University of Victoria.
    3. Justin R. Bucciferro, 2017. "The economic geography of race in the New World: Brazil, 1500–2000," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 70(4), pages 1103-1130, November.
    4. Sumner La Croix, 2016. "The Decline of the Khoikhoi Population, 1652-1780: A Review and a New Estimate," Working Papers 201622, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Department of Economics.
    5. Sumner La Croix, 2018. "The Khoikhoi Population, 1652-1780: A Review of the Evidence and Two New Estimates," Working Papers 201802, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Department of Economics.
    6. Jones, Maggie E.C. & Donna Feir & Rob Gillezeau, 2019. "The Slaughter of the Bison and Reversal of Fortunes on the Great Plains," Center for Indian Country Development series 1-2019, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Smallpox; Native Americans; Fur trade; Population; Health;

    JEL classification:

    • N31 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913
    • I13 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Insurance, Public and Private
    • J11 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Demographic Trends, Macroeconomic Effects, and Forecasts
    • O15 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Economic Development: Human Resources; Human Development; Income Distribution; Migration
    • Z10 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - General
    • N30 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - General, International, or Comparative

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