Early Colonial Era Newspaper Accounts of Conflicts, Disease, and Westward Expansion

The Early Colonial Era ps from 1690 to 1729, and in this time many things happened that would shape the way people lived and survived during these years. During the early colonial era, many events occurred. Such events caused pain, heartache, and a division amongst the residents in each of the settlements. A few of these are: The Salem witch trials, slavery, religious revitalization, and colonial expansion, but what I believe to be one of the most important things going on in the colonies, especially Boston, at this time was the fight against the outbreaks of small pox. Two newspapers from this era, Publick Occurrences, published on September 25, 1690 and the Boston Gazette, published on March 14, 1720 provide information on the ever-changing life in the Americas while dealing with disease, conflicts, and westward expansion.

In the pamphlet, Publick Occurrences, an article on page 1 stood out with the caption “Barbarous Indians.” In this article it speaks of a group of Indians who were staking out the area in a town called Chelmsford. The Indians had been hovering around the town for around a month and had their eyes set on a pair of children. These children belonged to a man who lived in Chelmsford and were the ages eleven and nine. The children had eventually gone missing and were assumed to be captured by the Indians. (Publick Occurrences, Article 1)

Apart from the previous article, two more articles spoke of the settlers’ dealings with the Indians. In one of them, it tells about a group of French Indians who had been enemies to some townspeople. These Indians had a fort up-river from where the settlers were and a group of “Maguas” who were on their way back to the fort from the eastern part of the country. The Indians in a way helped the settlers by pursuing a separate tribe who had been invading the settlers North-Eastern Plantations.

The French Indians in turn killed the Chief of the invading Indians. (Publick Occurrences, Article 5) Moving on the the other article, this one spoke about two English people who had been held captive by the French Indians escaping their imprisonment and arriving in a town called Portsmouth. This article describes a gruesome act that was carried out by a man named Captain Mason. The paper describes the acts as he “cut the faces” and “ripped the bellies” out of the Indians and also threw another one overboard. When the other Indians heard of this event, they killed forty of the English captives that they were holding. (Publick Occurrences, Article 4)

The last two articles that I have chosen from this newspaper are about a western Expedition and the outbreaks of small pox. This first article, talking about an expedition, gives knowledge of eastern forces consisting of a five hundred and seventy-man Army and a two hundred and thirty-man Navy under the command of Sir William. It also speaks of a western force consisting of five to six hundred men under the command of General Winthrop. Small discourses had taken place between various forces and cities, but nothing had gotten too out of hand. It states at the bottom of the article that the accounts made within the article are most likely not very accurate, but as accurate as they could have been from the many reports about the various discourses that the writer received. (Publick Occurrences, Article 3)

The final article from this newspaper tells about the small pox virus. It states “Epidemical fevers grow very common in some parts of the country…and proves mortal to many.” Small pox had taken many lives during this time and it is what I believe to be one of the greatest battles that the colonialists faced. The virus outbreaks would come and go and at this particular time it was starting to die off. The article says that while “small pox had been raging within Boston, it was starting to become “abared”” which in todays English I could not find a definition; however, I can only assume that from the context of the article it means that small pox was starting to become less common, that is until the next outbreak. (Publick Occurrence, Article 2)

The second newspaper I chose, was the issue of The Boston Gazette published on March 14, 1720. The first article, “Legislative Acts/Legal Proceedings” is a statement issued that the area will participate in a general fast. On this day, the public would fast and pray for the country and the individual towns. They would ask for things from God such as: guidance, a plentiful harvest, prosperity, and most of all health during the times of the small pox outbreaks. (The Boston Gazette, Article 1) This article shows that the townspeople believed that God was inflicting this disease upon them because of unholy acts and various other things that weren’t considered righteous. (The Boston Smallpox Epidemic, 1721)

Moving on to two more articles within the paper, one speaks about the newly obtained Louisiana Territory and how vast it was. The writer states that it is “Far greater extent than France itself.” The Louisiana Territory had the Mississippi river flowing through it and was deemed “fit for navigation” along with many medicinal herbs and plants that grew in the land. (The Boston Gazette, Article 2) The second article gives some information about the French Indian Company and how the British were jealous. It also goes on to say that the British and the French had some conflicts with the limits of Nova Scotia and Cape Breton. (The Boston Gazette, Article 3) Finally, in the last two articles they talk about some daily news in New York and in Philadelphia. One mentions the King’s movements and the Confederate fleet (The Boston Gazette, Article 4), while the other mentions some military movements but also speaks of the crew members that were lost to small pox. (The Boston Gazette, Article 5)

Focusing more on small pox, saying that times were tough in early colonial America would be an understatement. Many struggles were manifesting in the colonies. Men, women, and families were fleeing Europe to the Americas in hopes to gain a sense of freedom from the government. One man by the name of Benjamin Harris published a pamphlet called Publick Occurrences, Both Foreign and Domestick on September 25, 1690. (Benjamin Harris) This pamphlet was shut down by the authorities on September 29, 1690 soon after the first issue had been published. (Breig) One of many things covered in this pamphlet was the spread of disease (small pox).

During this time an outbreak of small pox was sweeping over Boston; however, this wasn’t the only time that small pox reigned terror among the settlers. In 1720- 1721, another outbreak occurred. Rev. Cotton Mather had heard of a procedure that was practiced in other parts of the world to prevent disease, inoculation. Mather chose to perform this treatment on his own son which proved to be successful.

During this outbreak, a man by the name of Zabdiel Boylston, the only physician to support Mather, chose to inoculate three members of his own house which included two slaves and his son. (The Boston Smallpox Epidemic, 1721) The process of inoculation requires a lesion to be opened on the skin of a healthy individual then, the pus from a blister of someone who has small pox is rubbed into the lesion. Although inoculation had been around for some time, it was one of the first times that anyone had tried it with the small pox virus.

In 1721, more than 5,000 people had contracted small pox naturally, and 844 people had died. (The Boston Smallpox Epidemic, 1721) The number of people who contracted the virus may not seem like a lot in todays world, but as Foner states “Colonial cities like Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston were quite small… When the population of Mexico City stood at 100,000, Boston had 6,000 residents and New York 4,500” (Foner, 96). It was because of this statistic and the overwhelming fear of the virus within Boston that Boylston chose to perform the inoculation.

Lastly, these two newspapers gave very similar coverage in the respect that they both told what was going on both foreign and domestic. The only difference in the two was the format of the newspapers themselves. By reading these articles, I have gained new knowledge of this time period. When one actually sits down and studies the daily lives of the people who built the great country we now live in, it becomes apparent that in todays society we have it easy. I feel that the textbook focusses more on the conflicts and battles of the past. The textbook doesn’t shed very much light on the issue of disease. In comparison to the articles, the representation of the time period is similar in some ways, that of which speak of conflicts, but also different in the aspect of scientific advances, disease outbreaks, and the the overall life during this era.

Works Cited: (Websites)

  1. “Benjamin Harris”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 27 Apr. 2016
  2. Breig, James. “History.org: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s Official History and Citizenship Website.” Early American Newspapering: The Colonial Williamsburg Official History & Citizenship Site. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 2003. Web. 27 Apr. 2016.
  3. “The Boston Smallpox Epidemic, 1721.” Open Collections Program: Contagion,. The Harvard Library, n.d. Web. 27 Apr. 2016.

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