Amherst College gives Lord Jeff the boot

Amherst College, the ultra-liberal school in Massachusetts, has decided to drop its unofficial mascot because it honors the commander of British forces in North America who advocated wiping out Native Americans by giving them blankets laced with smallpox.

But the school hasn’t completely disassociated itself with the Brit because his name was Lord Jeffrey Amherst, also the name of the city in which the school is located.

“Amherst College finds itself in a position where a mascot—which, when you think about it, has only one real job, which is to unify—is driving people apart because of what it symbolizes to many in our community,” the trustees of the college said in a statement this morning.

In making today’s announcement, the college said it will consider an official mascot.

The Boston Globe, setting the record straight, noted that Amherst’s idea wasn’t new. But by the time he suggested it, the British army was already spreading smallpox.

In a frequently asked question page (FAQ) on its website, the school hasn’t shied away from Lord Jeff’s biological warfare plan.

In the summer of 1763, attacks by Native Americans against colonists on the western frontier seriously challenged British military control.

In a letter to Colonel Henry Bouquet dated July 7, 1763, Amherst writes “Could it not be contrived to send the Small Pox among those disaffected tribes of Indians?” In a later letter to Bouquet Amherst repeats the idea: “You will do well to try to inoculate the Indians by means of blankets, as well as to try every other method that can serve to extirpate this execrable race.”

There is evidence that the Captain at Fort Pitt (outside Pittsburgh, PA — then the western frontier) did give two infected blankets and one infected handkerchief to Indians in June of 1763. This action happened before Amherst mentioned the idea in his correspondence. It is also highly unlikely that the tactic caused any infection.

It is accurate to say that Lord Jeffery Amherst advocated biological warfare against Indians, but there is no evidence that any infected blankets were distributed at his command.

For more about Lord Jeffery Amherst’s military career, see Professor Kevin Sweeney’s article “The Very Model of a Modern Major General.” For a detailed examination of Amherst’s role in the Fort Pitt smallpox episode, see “The British, the Indians, and Smallpox: What Actually Happened at Fort Pitt in 1763?” by Philip Ranlet.

Writing in the student newspaper a year ago, Amherst senior Michael Johnson said the school can’t stop at just changing the mascot and nickname of the school.

If the mascot must be changed because it is offensive to the Native American community for us to be called the Lord Jeffs, then the name of the college must be changed as well if we are to have any semblance of ideological consistency.

Why stop at the mascot? This seems like a pathetic and superficial response. We are called Amherst College because of Jeffery Amherst. Changing the mascot doesn’t rid us of the association with Lord Jeff, which a few people think is a problem.

Far more meaningful activities are things like the Admissions Office inviting Native Americans to the Diversity Open House and spending extra time with them, in an effort to increase the amount of Native American applications sent to the college.

Students staged a sit-in at Amherst last fall demanding the ouster of Lord Jeff.