New modern discoveries point to Leptospirosis as the decimating disease that killed off the Pawtuxet and paved the way for the Pilgrims.
With Thanksgiving approaching I often think of Squanto, the last Pawtuxet Indian.
His story begins with his capture by the ruthless slave trader Thomas Hunt, a Lieutenant of John Smith. Captured and slammed into the ships dark hold, they were sent to Spain to be sold into bondage. Saved by compassionate Frairs, and with his freedom purchased for twenty pounds, those same Frairs gave Squanto the chance to attempt a return to his homeland. Little did he know that what Thomas Hunt had left behind, in what is now New England, was far more important than what he had taken away.
The Pawtuxet were a thriving tribe, and every year they had jubilant celebrations in the area of what became Plymouth, Massachusetts. But when Thomas Hunt came to trade, and to pillage slaves, he left behind rats. Rats that killed the Pawtuxet, and rats that killed Squanto.
For those rats urinated in the water supply of those Native Americans. That urine was infected with leptospira, and it resulted in Leptospirosis, a deadly bacterial infection. The Native Americans became sick, and when they did, they were treated with sweat lodges. And when they died, the tribe mourned their losses with community ritual sweats. When they came from their stifling lodges they plunged their bodies with water, water tainted with leptospira, and continued to perpetuate the deadly poison throughout the tribe all over again.
Squanto made it back to North America, and he strode into the community of Plymouth the day after Samoset had first met them. In no small way, Squanto was thankful to have company to occupy the land that his people had formally inhabited. A people that Leptospirosis had completely decimated, except for Squanto. And Squanto became a great help to the people of Plymouth, teaching them how to fertilize their crops, where to fish and where to scavenge for shellfish. And he worked hard as an emissary between the colonists and the Native American tribes.
It was in that capacity, as an ambassador of sorts, that Squanto too was finally knocked down by the “Indian disease”. The first sign, a nosebleed, which happened shortly after a visit to the Wampanoag on behalf of the colonists. No doubt, he had taken a sweat with the Wampanoag, probably had an open cut, and dosed himself with the infected water that was still killing the Native Americans of the area.
It was not overwhelming military strength. It was not superior intelligence. Nope, the reason the colonist of New England were able to settle the area with so little Native American resistence, and in some respects, with substantial Native American assistance, was due to decimation accomplished by tainted rat urine