Caused by a virus, small pox has been around for thousands of years. A similar rash has been found on Egyptian mummies dating to the 3rd century BCE. It spread as humans travelled and traded their way around the globe. Smallpox appeared in the West Indies in 1507. It was first reported along the St. Lawrence River in 1616. Missionaries, travelling to assist indigenous victims, actually helped it to spread.
One of the most dreadful stories in the history of smallpox recounts the 1763 suggestion by Sir Jeffery Amherst to crush the Odawa people by ‘giving’ the disease to members of their resistance. “You will do well to try to inoculate the Indians by means of blankets as well as to try every other method that can serve to extirpate this exorable race.” It is not known whether he followed through on his idea. At Fort Pitt (Pittsburgh), the Delaware Nation was intentionally targeted by trader William Trent. He wrote in 1763, “we gave them two Blankets and a Handkerchief out of the Smallpox Hospital. I hope it will have the desired effect.”