Native American populations in New England, with no immunity to European diseases, were nearly eradicated by a mysterious epidemic—likely smallpox. Between 1616 and 1619, the population of the Massachusett and other Algonquin tribes was reduced by as much as 90 percent by disease.
A virgin soil epidemic occurs when bacteria or viruses are introduced into an area where no similar diseases have ever occurred before. Lacking even partial immunity, populations are devastated by such epidemics. Many scholars believe that the severity of Native American loss of life during the first decades of European colonization was due to the fact that these were virgin soil epidemics.
In this lecture Elliott West, a professor of history at the University of Arkansas, describes how the introduction of Old World phenomena such as guns, horses, and new diseases affected the Native peoples of the New World.