Historians dubious about charge that British used germ warfare against American colonists
SOURCE: Newsletter of the New York American Revolution Round Table (9-28-07)
Using ground penetrating radar, Connecticut’s state archeologist, Nicholas Bellantoni, recently began searching for the mass grave of 46 prisoners of war who had been captured in the fighting in New York in 1776 and shipped back to Connecticut in 1777. They numbered about 200 and were all in various stages of smallpox. The sickest were put into a temporary hospital in Milford’s Town Hall, where 46 died. The rest apparently struggled to get home. Many died enroute. Mr. Bellantoni says sending the sick men back was a British attempt to start a smallpox epidemic. "It was an early form of germ warfare." This is a very dubious charge. The British had other strong motives to send the smallpox sufferers home –chiefly the fear of infecting their own troops, who were guarding them. It echoes a charge that the British tried to start a smallpox epidemic during Pontiac’s War in 1763 as a way of stopping the rampaging Indians. They supposedly sent smallpox infected blankets into the villages of various tribes. As several historians have pointed out, the flaw in that argument was the strong probability that the British might have ended up infecting their own troops. This disagreement aside, we wish Mr. Bellantoni the best of luck in his search for the grave. He wants to make sure the site does not fall into the hands of developers.
Newsletter of the New York American Revolution Round Table