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Introduction of Syphilis from the New World

   Introduction of Syphilis from the New World

In 1825, when at Buenos Ayres, and observing that both gonorrhoea or blennorrhagia, and syphilis * were very common among the white and mixed portion of the population, I made inquiries as to whether these diseases were met with among the Indians of that country. I was informed, as far as was known on this point, the Indians were free from them.

In the autumn of the same year I was weather-bound in Nassau Bay, just behind Cape Horn. The Indians there were nearly naked, a few only having a little piece of seal-skin over the shoulders ; and although there were signs that foreign shipping (as sealers and whal­ers) had been thereabouts, I saw no indication of either disease.

The latter end of the year I arrived at the port of Valparaiso, where there are certain localities called "Tops," the residence of the prosti­tute population, frequented by sailors of all nations, and there could be no doubt that syphilis and gonorrhoea were rife. I then travelled about the central portion of Chile, but did not learn that the Peons, or labouring population (Mestizos) were afflicted with either disease. For some years I resided in Peru, and visited Bolivia, but heard of no cases amongst those Indians, who lived distant from the whites, mestizos, or mulattos. However, among the whites and mixed breeds the diseases were very common.

In coming from Peru to Chile by land, along the shores of the desert of Atacama in 1829-30, I met some Indian families known as Changos ; I did not notice the disease amongst them. I went then among the Araucano Indians, and neither saw nor heard that they were so afflicted.

In 1831, I was for some weeks in the Straits of Magellan, and had good opportunities of examining both sexes, when I observed what appeared to me to be syphilitic sores (chancres) among some of the women, and gonorrhoea among some of the men. I had no doubt that they had contracted these diseases from the crews of sealers and whalers who visited this portion of the continent; and it was a well known fact that Indian women had often been stolen away by said whalers and sealers, kept on board for a time, when doubtless the dis­eases had been communicated to them by Europeans.

In 1840-2, when in Texas, I visited many tribes of Indians of that country, as well as remnants of tribes which had fled from the United States, but observed neither disease among them. In 1854-5 I was again in South America, and neither saw nor heard of the dis­ease among the pure Indians. Whilst amongst the white people and mixed breeds, particularly in the cities and larger towns, syphilis and gonorrhoea were very common.

So far my own experience as regards South and a portion of North America.

I will now briefly allude to some historical accounts on this subject, particularly as regards the Old World. In the Aphorisms of Hippo­crates, 400 b.c., and in the Sentences of Celsus, 400 years after Hippocrates, as found in Sprengell's translations, in 1708. When Sprengell alludes to his own added Aphorisms " On the French dis-ease," he says, it was just known to former more temperate ages, and, in a note, how far it was known in former ages, he refers to Ecclesiasticus, c. 19, v. 2, 3. Hippocrates, in. ; Epidemics, ill., 41, 74, 59, and i. Be Morbus Mulierum, 127. Galen, lib. iv. ; Meth. c. 5, and lib. i. De Genet:, c. 23 ; lib. iii. Epidemics, sec. 3, com. 25. Pliny His. Nat., lib. 26, c. i. Avicen, lib. 2. Valesius; Rhodius ; Vigo-nius, Lib. de Morb. Gall., c. &c. And that it does not, according to the vulgar opinion, derive its origin from Naples, France, East or West Indies. Josephus, c. xi., p. 108, says, when on the subject of purification, that Moses ordered those who had gonorrhoea should not come into the city.

We hear of syphilis, or that it began to be very prevalent or made public in Europe in the latter years of the fifteenth century. The idea has been thrown out in our own time that it might have been long previously known in a milder form. It is said there was ground for believing that syphilis was brought into western Europe on the return of the crusaders. There were seven crusades to the Holy Land from 1099 to the reign of Edward I, about 1272.

In Dr. Simpson's valuable Memoir regarding the appearance of syphi­lis in Scotland, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centui-ies (see Trans. Epi-demiologicalSoc. London, 1862) he alludes to Peter Pinctor's assertion that syphilis was well known in 1483. Now, if this were so, added to what we know about a contagious disease known in very early times as the Morbus Mulierum, then the bringing of the disease from America on the return of Columbus in his first voyage, which was in March, 1493, Just ten years after the period mentioned by Peter Pinctor, must I think be given up by those who have merely supposed that syphilis was originally brought from the New World by the Spanish dis­coverers.

Fulgosi, in his Gruner's Aphrodisiacus, p. 115, gives 1492 as the date of its general appearance in Europe, which is a year before the discovery of the New World. It was, about 1493, generally thought that the diseases had sprung up spontaneously and endemically in Italy, France, and Spain. If, however, in 1494-5, it was distinctly recognised in Italy during the invasion of that country by Charles VIII of France, which was scarcely two years after Columbus returned from his first voyage from the West Indies. Charles VIII returned to France in May, 1495, and syphilis, it is mentioned, was generally dis­seminated on the march home by his troops, composed of his own people, Swiss, German, and Flemish auxiliaries.

I will now refer to Irving's Life of Columbus, composed from the very best materials. At vol. 1, p. 103, when describing the Indians of Hispanola in his first voyage, Columbus says, " they are contented with such simple diet, whereby health is preserved and disease avoided." Columbus brought six Indians with him to Europe, where he arrived in March, 1493, but nothing is mentioned as to their being in any way diseased. He left Spain on his second voyage in September, 1493, arriving at the fort of Navidad, where he had left a small party of Spaniards with orders to be kind to the Indiana and ingratiate them­selves with them. The reverse took place; many of the Spaniards were of the lowest sort and of most sensual character. They stole away Indian women, forcing them to live with them in the fort; this so irritated the Indians that the fort was besieged and attacked, and all the Spaniards were most probably got rid of.

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W.M. Bollaert, 1864

   Introduction of Syphilis from the New World
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Introduction of Syphilis from the New World