Amherst Students Seek Condemnation for Colonial Mascot Lord Jeff, Who Deals in Smallpox Blankets

What's worse? Native American mascots or Native American killing mascots?

Nov 13 2015, 9:50pm

Ah, the old college days. Never will you be better at demanding things and writing letters. Think about it: love letters, fake sick letters from your "doctor" to your "professor," protest letters against large-headed mascots named after colonial lords, you name it.

Amherst students tallied up their own college colonial mascot complaint today, with a list of fairly understandable demands concerning a history of racism and continued microagressions at the college—all following the current movement of college protests against racist practices. Amherst students want Amherst's mascot, Lord Jeff, to be taken out of the school's visual and verbal lexicon by 5 PM sharp.

7. President Martin must release a statement by Friday, November 13th, 2015 by 5:00pm that condemns the inherent racist nature of the unofficial mascot, the Lord Jeff, and circulate it to the student body, faculty, alumni, and Board of Trustees. This will be followed up by the encouraged removal of all imagery including but not limited to apparel, memorabilia, facilities, etc. for Amherst College and all of its affiliates via a phasing out process within the next year.

While you could find a bit of humor in the whole situation (particularly the time stamp), it turns out that Jeffrey Amherst, the namesake of Amherst College, was kind of a bastard. Like, a pretty certifiable A-hole. The man appears to have been all about the idea of doling out smallpox blankets to Native Americans, and, in fact, there's evidence some people under Amherst's command actually did engage in this bit of biological warfare.

Take a look at how Amherst College's website responds to the "frequently asked" question, "I've heard that Lord Jeffery Amherst distributed smallpox-infected blankets to the Indians during the French and Indian War. True?"

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.

The whole description comes off as some kind of apologist bullshit, from opening with "Whoa whoa whoa, let's put this in context: these Native Americans were seriously challenging the British military here..." to then capping it off with a "it also probably didn't even get anyone sick, so what's the big deal?"

If you think that this kind of colonialist history and microagression exists only in the past, take a look at the school that still seems pretty content on "contextualizing" the small pox blankets by sweeping them under the rug with a few caveats.

Lord Jeff should be rightly dethroned indeed.

[h/t Slate]