What are the bad things that happened during the Columbian Exchange?

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The Columbian Exchange refers to the material aspects of the contact between Indigenous peoples of the Americas and the Europeans who began to arrive in the late 15th century. Although many negative experiences occurred during the first century of exploration, conquest, and colonization, Alfred Crosby, in his 1972 book, largely...

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The Columbian Exchange refers to the material aspects of the contact between Indigenous peoples of the Americas and the Europeans who began to arrive in the late 15th century. Although many negative experiences occurred during the first century of exploration, conquest, and colonization, Alfred Crosby, in his 1972 book, largely confined himself to the natural resources, both positive and negative, that were physically exchanged, rather than warfare or abstract things such as religion and ideology.

The primary negative effect was death. The Old World had far more potentially fatal, communicable diseases than the Americas. The Indigenous peoples's low resistance to the diseases was compounded by the relative lack of domesticated animals that carry similar diseases. The same disease was much more likely to prove lethal to a population with no resistance, a process repeated throughout the Americas in the first few decades. In addition to smallpox, which spread quickly, these included cholera, typhoid, and even bubonic plague.

The negative environmental impact included the introduction of draft animals, which enabled the colonists to plow deeper and plant newly introduced crops, such as wheat, in shallow soils. Not only were indigenous crops displaced, but the soil also degraded rapidly. As a consequence, new tracts of land were brought into cultivation, a process that often involved clear-cutting and led to deforestation.

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From the perspective of Native Americans, a number of very bad things happened as a result of the Columbian Exchange. The worst, by far, was that Native peoples were exposed to diseases of European origin for which they had no immunity. These included smallpox, typhus, measles, and various forms of plague. The result was what some historians call a "virgin soil epidemic" that wiped out millions of people. European accounts are full of horrific descriptions of the effects of these diseases. Here is English trader John Lawson, who traveled throughout North Carolina in the early eighteenth century, describing the effects of smallpox on the Sewee Indians:

the Small-Pox has destroy’d many thousands of these Natives, who no sooner than they are attack’d with the violent Fevers, and the Burning which attends that Distemper, sling themselves over Head in the Water, in the very Extremity of the Disease...

Estimates of death tolls vary, but all agree that European diseases were devastating and destabilizing to Native populations and culture. 

Another negative effect of the Columbian Exchange for Natives was the introduction of pigs and other livestock that destroyed Indian crops. The effect of these animals was compounded by European weeds that flourished in the New World, also causing problems for Native agriculturalists. 

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