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1493: Tobacco and malaria and the South

Damn, I read 30 more pages and now I have to stop and take notes.

Tobacco: "the first time people in every continent simultaneously became enraptured by a novelty." By 1607, when Jamestown was founded, tobacco was in Delhi (first smoker: the Mughal emperor), Nagasaki, Istanbul, and Sierra Leone. In 1635 khan Hongtaiji's soldiers were selling their weapons to buy tobacco.

We hear a lot about smallpox and measles in the Americas, but Europeans (and Africans) brought malaria and yellow fever too, endemic instead of epidemic, which overturned the population distribution, turning centers like lowland Mesoamerica and SE North America into killing zones. The effects might have been more subtle too, as below.

Two main varieties of note: Plasmodium vivax and P. falciparum. Vivax is tougher, needing a temperature above 59 F, less deadly in its own right (though it'll still weaken you; lazy Jamestown colonists being sick?), and totally blocked by being negative for Duffy red blood cell antigen. Falciparum needs 66 F, is able to kill you itself through organ failure caused by blocked blood vessels, and partially stopped by sickle cell anemia. European malaria is mostly vivax, especially in the north. It took off in England in the late 16th century when Elizabeth encouraged landlords to drain wetlands. Those had been flooded by the North Sea tides, washing away larvae; drainage (until superior Victorian techniques) left lots of pockets of water, while farms provided warm refuges through the winter. Suddenly, SE England was full of "bad air", with babies seldom living to be 21. In the 1570s baptisms exceeded burials by 20%; 20 years later, burials outnumbered baptism 2 to 1. A man could go through five wives, or fifteen, by importing new ones from inland. That's the *less* deadly version. (Also recall that possible Little Ice Age effect, of cooler temps meaning longer lasting pools.)

And the Jamestown settlers were from this region, or passed through it to board the ships.

Why slavery? While it wasn't illegal as such yet, England was one of the most hostile European societies to it, partly due to Barbary raiding of coastal villages. Indentured servants should be cheaper, because more voluntary, as Adam Smith would later rant, and classical slavery, while not so formal, often offered paths to freedom. So why chattel slavery? In fact England turned to servants first, but, well, they died of malaria. And post 1640 conflict reduced England's population, making laborers more expensive to contract.

(Scotland's Darien failure gets mentioned, as demonstrating how deadly disease could be.)

Slavery and the Indians: Jamestown started on the edge of a single Algonquian-speaking empire. The Carolina colony was in a whole bunch of Muskogean native groups, Creek and Cherokee et al., the remains of what had been "Mississippian" civilization. Most native societies had slavery, but the type varied; among the Algonquians like the Powhatan and in New England, the Iroquois, it was usually temporary, POWs serving as servants until killed, ransomed back, or inducted. But in the Mississippian zone, it was longer lasting, including field work, being given as gifts, or used sexually. (Those stories about an Indian "offering his wife" to a visitor? Not a wife. Slave.)

They were happy to sell slaves for European tools, especially the new flintlocks. In a prelude to what would happen in Africa later, tribes would sell slaves for guns to use to raid other tribes for more slaves, and of course defend themselves from other tribes raiding them to get slaves to sell for guns to... And these slaves were half the price of an indentured servant from Britain. For 40 years Carolina was an *exporter* of slaves, Indian slaves, to other colonies. Did differences in native slave attitudes help determine later American differences?

(Caveat: I just hope Mann's sources know what they were doing, and didn't let *later* Indian attitudes, picked up from the colonists, get read back into their earlier history. Because it almost seems too pat a coincidence as is.)

Of course, Indians died of malaria just as well as Europeans, and groups of Indian slaves had rebellious and runaway power individuals might not, what with knowing the land and sharing languages and such. Enter Africans! 97% of west Africans are Duffy negative and are thus immune to vivax, and many have falciparum resistance from sickle cell, or else from having survived it in childhood. Of course bringing many Africans together introduced them to strains they hadn't had before, but still they had a big advantage. Genetic superiority... just gets you enslaved as useful labor.

Not to blame everything on malaria: Massachusetts was the first US colony to explicitly legalize slavery, and had a fair bit, as did Argentina. Still, the places where African slavery really took off long term was the falciparum zone, from DC down through most of Brazil. The Mason-Dixon line is roughly the falciparum border.

"Argentina was a society with slaves; Brazil was culturally and economically defined by slavery." One could say the same of the US North/South division.

Villa Plasmodia

And some other effects in the South: when your workers have a better than 10% chance of dying, small farms bear a high risk. Big plantations are somewhat self-insured just from size. Rich planters had the money to escape to resorts in the deadliest season. The idealized Southern plantation home is well-designed to avoid Anopheles mosquitoes: high on a treeless hill, surrounded by lawns with open breezy windows... vs. mosquitoes that like low wet shady ground and still air. So malaria might have pushed not just toward African labor but toward large plantations, economic polarization, and the architectural styles.

There's also speculation about high death rates leading to a insouciant culture putting a low value on life, though Mann just passes that on briefly without pushing it himself. Certainly the source populations of the Scots-Irish weren't known for their pacific natures.

Of course, none of this explains why colonists resorted to extreme chattel slavery, rather than trying to extend indentured servitude to Africans. Though I suppose the difficulty of convincing people in a stable society to go to an unknown land with strange people speaking unknown tongues speaks for itself, especially if you had to return early risk-takers to prove that it was safe. Easier to grab and run and whip.

See the comment count unavailable DW comments at http://mindstalk.dreamwidth.org/299837.html#comments



( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 23rd, 2011 12:50 pm (UTC)
Fascinating. Van Den Brug's Malaria en Malaise makes the point that extended (10 year) periods of malaria caxexe (a chronic condition of fatigue and weakness) made the population of the Netherlands East Indies colonies appear indolent to new arrivals from Europe. The main point of his book is that the Dutch East India Company depot-city of Batavia fell victim to a sharp uptick in malaria after 1733: from then to the closure of the Company in 1795 the disease killed more than half of all new arrivals within 6 months of their landing. The knock-on effects, for recruitment in Europe, the changing social conditions of Company servants, employment of Indies "natives" and so on, were complex and far-reaching.
Nov. 23rd, 2011 02:32 pm (UTC)
Interesting. Thanks for sharing!
Nov. 23rd, 2011 06:30 pm (UTC)
I've seen the high violence rates connected to the high death rates in other ways as well; e.g., high death rates leading to lack of stable family structures.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )


Damien Sullivan

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