Unconquered lands offered riches beyond compare.
You set out to subdue these New Worlds, a small group of adventurers. You imagined vast virgin territories, unlimited gold for the taking; you would claim it all.
You had right on your side; you were Christians. You had might on your side; guns and horses and fighting dogs to unleash in battle. But it was another, deadlier weapon you carried that gave victory in the end. Your Old World diseases were a lethal threat to people with no immunity.
Mostly it was accidental: Francisco de Baguia, an African slave, took smallpox to Mexico. The disease killed up to half the inhabitants of the Aztec capital in a year, then swept through the country. Over the next fifty years ‘the great dying’ reduced the population from twenty million to three million.
But sometimes it was deliberate: in 1763 Jeffrey Amherst, the British Commander-in- Chief, passed blankets from infected corpses to Native Americans. Mortality rates were high: Piegan, Huron, Catwaba, Cherokee and Iroquois - 50%, Omaha and Blackfoot - 66%, Mandan - 90%, Taino - 100%. Those who survived were more often than not maimed or blind or infertile.
If you ever looked back, you would have seen your conquering dream realised with a greater annihilating fury than you could ever have dreamed possible.
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