Yellow fever is a virus that is transmitted by the aedes aegypti mosquito. Yellow fever originated in Africa and it was brought to the new world in the 1500s during the slave trade. Symptoms of yellow fever normally appear a week after contracting the virus from a mosquito. The typical symptoms of yellow fever include headaches, fever, muscular pains, and nausea. However, the symptoms of yellow fever experienced by early European colonists were far more serious. For example, during the Haitian Expedition, several French soldiers became comatose and eventually died after contracting yellow fever.
Long before Napoleon’s troops occupied Haiti, European colonists were dying in large numbers after contracting yellow fever. Mosquitoes spreading yellow fever in the West Indies prevented the European advance into South and Central America. In 1741 the British set out to capture Peru and and Mexico, but they were halted by mosquitoes. The British expedition started out with twenty seven thousand troops, but yellow fever reduced this amount to seven thousand. This group of British invaders referred to yellow fever as “black vomit” for reasons that should be obvious. Even coastal towns within the United States were vulnerable to yellow fever. Yellow fever continued to plague European colonists well into the 1800s. One particular yellow fever epidemic wiped out twenty thousand colonists in over one hundred American towns in 1878.
The French expedition in Haiti was doomed from the start due to yellow fever. At one point thirty to fifty Frenchmen were dying every day as a result of yellow fever infection. Even the commander of the French forces in Haiti succumbed to yellow fever, as did his successor. It is estimated that over fifty thousand French soldiers, doctors and sailors died from yellow fever during the Haitian campaign. These yellow fever outbreaks prevented Napoleon from successfully ruling over Haiti. If it had not been for yellow fever, Napoleon may never have sold his portion of the new world to America.
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