Education | Opinion

Peter d'Errico: Time for college to dump the Smallpox General






A portrayal of British soldiers offering smallpox-infected blankets during Pontiac's War in the late 1700s. Photo from The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

Retired professor Peter d'Errico explains why Amherst College in Massachusetts should get rid of its unofficial mascot, a British military commander who advocated the use of biological warfare against Native people:
The controversy at Amherst College offers yet another opportunity to understand that though a name change doesn't change the past, it ends a celebration of that past.

At the time the town of Amherst was named, Lord Jeff was "the most glamorous military hero in the New World." He might have been famous to the invaders of this "new world," but for the indigenous peoples whom he was attacking, he was infamous.

Pontiac and his fellow Indians were resisting the British invasion of their homelands, and they were doing pretty well. In fact, Colonel Henry Bouquet, the officer whose exchange of letters with Amherst formulates the smallpox plan, described an atmosphere of terror among the colonizing settlers. On June 29, 1763, about two weeks before broaching the infected blanket scheme, Bouquet wrote Amherst that the settlers were so afraid of the Indians that "every tree is become an Indian."

The invader settlers saw Indians as part of the "wilderness" they perceived around themselves: Indian warriors didn't follow English rules. They didn't stand in ordered ranks. They fell back into the forests to emerge again in renewed attack. They defied British logic and proved effective against a string of British forts. They nearly succeeded in driving the British out. They became the target for British genocide.

Get the Story:
Peter d'Errico: Amherst College: Time to Dump the Smallpox General (Indian Country Today 11/18)

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