What was the population of America before it was ‘discovered’ by Europeans?

I am currently reading “A Little History Of The United States” by James West Davidson. At my age, I prefer to read short books so that there is a reasonable chance that I’ll finish them.

Davidson explains that, when in 1492, Christopher Columbus ‘discovered’ America, around 8 million Indians lived in North America. At the time, there were 2-3 million living in the British Isles. Today 8 million is around the population of New York.

Until the arrival of the Pilgrims in 1620, North America was left largely unexplored by Europeans and so at first the local population was relatively unaffected but, in Central and South America, European diseases such as measles, typhoid fever, influenza diphtheria and mumps, together with the wars of the Spanish conquistadors, killed somewhere between 50-90 million.

Davidson writes: “Never in history have so many died of disease in a single century”.


  • Nick

    Davidson writes: “Never in history have so many died of disease in a single century”.

    By comparison, in the 14th century the Black Death killed an estimated 75 to 200 million people in Eurasia, according to Wikipedia.

    And in the 20th century the Spanish flu killed an estimate 50 to 100 million.

    In all three cases, the absolute numbers killed were comparable, but the number of indigenous people killed in the Americas was larger as a percentage of the affected population.

  • Calvin Allen

    You know, I once had a great aunt who refused to iron any of her clothes on the grounds that, should she die before she had a chance to wear them again, the waste of time involved would be an incredible shame.

    I think that’s entirely admirable.

  • Roger Darlington

    I like it, Calvin.


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