Thanks to numerous advancements in pest control technology, humans are not at the mercy of insect pests to the degree that they were before the emergence of the modern insect pest control era. For example, humans living in developed parts of the world are no longer vulnerable to many formerly devastating and deadly insect-borne diseases, such as flea-borne typhus and malaria. However, early colonial settlers in Massachusetts did not have the luxury of being protected by government-run insect pest control programs and public health initiatives.

After British representatives of the Massachusetts Bay Company complained about a lack of agricultural production in their New World colonies, the Governor of the Plymouth Colony, William Bradford, responded by claiming that agricultural laborers were too “delicate” to endure the repeated bites of the mosquito. In fact, the lack of defense strategies against mosquito attacks caused many colonists to return to Britain, as some did not believe that new plantations and colonies could be established as long as they were vulnerable to mosquito attacks. Other colonial leaders at the time largely echoed these complaints and fears toward insects.

Another Colonial leader, Captain John Smith, discussed the unbearable presence of mosquitoes and flies in a book he wrote about the history of America’s colonies. However, Smith was most concerned with “an Indian bug” that he called the “cacarootch”. Of course, Smith was referring to cockroaches, as he described the insects accurately as creatures that not only fail to disregard feces, but also as insects that track feces into human dwellings. Smith had misspelled the common Spanish name for cockroaches that had been in use at the time, which was “cucaracha”. Another colonial figure, Dr. Thomas Muffet, described his disgust with the alien-looking American cockroaches, only he mistakenly referred to the insects as “moths”. Muffet’s interest in the arthropods of the New World earned him a place in the popular spider centered nursery rhyme known as “Little Miss Muffet”.

Do you find it surprising that early colonial settlers in the New World regarded mosquitoes and flies with fear?