george washington, mosquitos, and the american revolution -- 10/9/19
Today's selection -- from Mosquito by Timothy C. Winegard. Mosquitos won the America Revolution:
"A month after the opening salvos of the American Revolution at Lexington and Concord in April 1775, the newly appointed commander in chief of the Continental Army, George Washington, had a request for his political masters in the Continental Congress. He urged them to buy up as much cinchona bark and quinine powder as possible. Given the dire financial pressures of the squabbling colonial government, and the dearth of pretty much everything needed to fight a war, his total allotment was a paltry 300 pounds. General Washington was a frequent visitor to the quinine chest as he suffered from recurrent bouts (and reinfection) of malaria since first contracting the disease in 1749 at the age of seventeen.
"Luckily for the Americans, the British were also drastically short of Peruvian Spanish-supplied quinine throughout the war. In 1778, shortly before they entered the fray in support of the American cause, the Spanish cut off this supply completely. Any available stores were sent to British troops in India and the Caribbean. At the same time, the mosquito's merciless, unrelenting strikes on unseasoned British troops lacking quinine during the final British southern campaign -- launched in 1780 with the capture of Charleston, the strategic port city and mosquito sanctuary -- determined the fate of the United States of America.
|This engraving of Jan Swammerdam's drawing of his view of a mosquito as seen through his rudimentary microscope was the first close-up of the insect to be published—in Swammerdam's posthumous Bybel der Nature (1737-38; English translation as The Book of Nature, (1758).
"As J. R. McNeill colorfully contours, 'The argument here is straightforward: In the American Revolution the British southern campaigns ultimately led to defeat at Yorktown in October 1781 in part because their forces were much more susceptible to malaria than were the American. . . . [T]he balance tipped because Britain's grand strategy committed a larger proportion of the army to malarial (and yellow fever) zones.' A full 70% of the British Army that marched into this southern mosquito maelstrom in 1780 was recruited from the poorer, famished regions of Scotland and the northern counties of England, outside the malaria belt of Pip's Fenland marshes. Those who had already served some time in the colonies had done so in the northern zone of infection and had not yet been seasoned to American malaria.
"General Washington and the Continental Congress, on the other hand, had the advantage of commanding acclimated, malaria-seasoned colonial troops. American militiamen had been hardened to their surroundings during the Seven Years' War and the turbulent decades heading toward open hostilities against their king. Washington personally recognized, albeit short of scientific affirmation or medical endorsement, that with his recurrent malarial seasonings, 'I have been protected beyond all human probability or expectation.' While they did not know it at the time, this might well have been the Americans' only advantage over the British when, after twelve years of seething resentment and discontent since the passing of the Royal Proclamation [of 1763 that prohibited land sales to colonists], war suddenly and unexpectedly came."