The Coming of the Spirit of Pestilence
Introduced Infectious Diseases and Population Decline among Northwest Coast Indians, 1774-1874
- PUBLISHED: April 2021
- SUBJECT LISTING: Native American and Indigenous Studies, Pacific Northwest / History, Health
- BIBLIOGRAPHIC INFORMATION: 428 Pages, 6 x 9 in, 23 illus.
- ISBN: 9780295749181
- Publisher: University of Washington Press
In the late 1700s when European colonizers arrived on the Northwest Coast, they reported the presence of vigorous, diverse cultures—Tlingit, Haida, Kwakwaka’wakw (Kwakiutl), Nuu-chah-nulth (Nootka), Coast Salish, and Chinookan—with a population conservatively estimated at more than 180,000. Just a century later the population had plummeted to only 35,000—a devastating loss of Indigenous lives caused by the introduction of diseases brought by settlers and colonizers.
The Coming of the Spirit of Pestilence examines the first century of contact and the effects of introduced diseases such as smallpox, malaria, measles, and influenza on Native American population size, structure, interactions, and viability. Whereas in most parts of the Americas disease transfer and depopulation occurred early and were poorly documented, the later date of Euro-American contact in the Pacific Northwest means that records are relatively complete. Through doctors’ records, ships’ logs, diaries, censuses, and Native American oral traditions and testimonies, Robert Boyd reconstructs the process of disease transfer and the profound demographic and cultural impact of specific epidemics. This definitive study of introduced diseases in the Pacific Northwest illuminates the magnitude of human suffering and traces connections between these processes and cultural change.
Authors & Contributors
Robert T. Boyd is a research anthropologist at Portland State University and coeditor of Chinookan Peoples of the Lower Columbia.
[A] valuable and very welcome addition to the literature. For anyone doubting the impact of settler society on Native worlds of the Northwest Coast, it should be required reading.- BC Studies
[T]he most comprehensive, detailed monograph on the impact of imported diseases within a single region of North America. Boyd makes an important contribution in having so meticulously documented the medical, demographic, and cultural responses to catastrophic epidemic disease and high mortality…- Ethnohistory
A data-rich, well-written, authoritative work.- Choice