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41  Bees and the Revolution  Chapter 2 BEES AND THE REVOLUTION The bees have generally extended themselves into the country , a little in advance of the white settlers. The Indians therefore call them the white man’s fly, and consider their approach as indicating the approach of the settlements of the whites. —Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, 1785 Eighteenth-century America is noted for three interrelated but complex processes: European immigration, frontier migration, and political independence from England. Just as eighteenth-century American society was an intersection of ethnicities, so too was the honey bee a symbol for intersecting, and at times conflicting, values. European immigration had continued unabated since 1683. Anxious to throw off the yoke of statesponsored religions, many Protestant groups—Moravians, Quakers, Lutherans, Separatists—continued to arrive from Germany and England. These European immigrants brought beekeeping skills. As they continued westward from Pennsylvania into Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois , they took their skeps and bee gums with them. Although many immigrants kept bees in straw skeps, many frontiersmen were honey hunters. North America offered vast, healthy forests with few government restraints. Even Native Americans incorporated 42  Bees in America  beeswax and honey into the frontier barter system that existed between slaves, French traders, and English, German, and Dutch settlers . Two writers of diverse backgrounds—Moravian missionary David Zeisberger and Louisiana plantation owner Antoine Le Page du Pratz—wrote journals documenting the existence of bee trees and white-Indian exchanges. Although these trade patterns were interrupted during the Revolutionary period, the honey bee was an important symbol for moderation in the emerging American society. The Poet of the American Revolution, Philip Morin Freneau, wrote a poem in which a honey bee needs to learn restraint, offering a veiled lesson to the Americans just acquiring freedom from England. Frenchman John Crèvecoeur wrote a pastoral in which America, “the most perfect society,” closely resembles an industrious hive. Other documents featuring a hive symbol, such as money or calling cards, were widely distributed throughout the colonies both before and after the American Revolution. “Image makers used the visual media for numerous political purposes,” explains Lester Olson, “many of which had little to do with overtly picturing the nation as a body politic but nonetheless contributed to the creation of a body politic by inculcating a revolutionary mentality.”1 The 1779 Philadelphia Continental Congress adopted the bee skep on its currency, and after the war, social clubs used the beehive image to promote order and organization. In general, eighteenth-century America depended on a variety of inextricable and intertwined networks, and from the colonists’ perspective, the bee was a benign symbol connecting them. Although bees had already begun swarming west, pioneers carried hives and social customs involving bees into new territory, primarily along established water routes. Colonel James Harrod was one of the first people to bring honey bees into Kentucky in 1780, but bees had already existed in the Appalachians before his arrival. According to noted beekeeper George W. Demaree, “Kentucky in her early history was famous on account of her wonderful forests. In those days many persons kept bees in tall log gums and boxes, and the bees succeeded in propagating the species and bearing up under the disadvantages imposed on them by their ignorant keepers in a manner which would put the best of the races to blush under like treatment at the present day.”2 Frontier people embraced the bee skep image nonetheless. A cabinet 43  Bees and the Revolution  made during this time period in Kentucky features a bee skep in its center.3 Named in honor of King George III, a new English colony was established in 1733 by Perceval, Oglethorpe, and Associates. Georgia had a twofold purpose, according to historian William Sachs: “The colony was to serve as an armed buffer zone against the Spanish in Florida and as a place where debtors could be given a fresh start.”4 By the time the Moravians moved to Savannah, they found that bee trees were already there. By 1770, honey bees had spread to Natchez, Mississippi.5 According to historian Everett Oertel, wild honey bees were already established in Alabama by 1773.6 Furthermore, records suggest that bees had been established in Florida at least as early as 1764. The Spanish Governor of Louisiana Antonio de Ulloa kept extensive journals of his tenure from 1766 to 1768. When Spain ceded Florida to England in 1763, many Spanish inhabitants moved to Havana, Cuba...


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