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Working Paper No. 11-06

Mortality from Smallpox: The 1780s Epidemic in the Hudson Bay Region
Ann M. Carlos and Frank D. Lewis
October 2011


The smallpox epidemic of 1781-82 in the Hudson Bay region reportedly devastated the native population, causing mortality of at least 50 percent. We reassess this claim. We total smallpox deaths reported by two trading posts in the path of the epidemic. Next we review mortality from smallpox in other outbreaks. Then the volume of trade is analysed. Finally mortality is inferred from the pre-epidemic population, based on the region's carrying capacity, and the post-epidemic population, from later estimates. Our approaches imply a similar conclusion. Mortality from smallpox was much less than has previously been asserted, likely under 20 percent.