Bees have had a significance in history since biblical days. "...I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt...unto a land flowing with milk and honey."-- Exodus 3:17. But reading this book, I was amazed by how significant bees have been to American history alone. Bees shaped our nation alongside our founding fathers, and I'd like to share with you some of what I've learned.
Bees Before the New WorldEngland flourished under Queen Elizabeth I. During this time, the honey bee image was used as a symbol of stability, responsibility, and industry. But after the queen's death, the economy tanked. Weather disasters played a part, along with overpopulation and land transfers due to federal policies. The queen's beekeeper, Charles Butler, defined the male honey bee as a drone in 1609. Drones are male bees who wait around until summoned by the queen...
From then on, the poor people of England were labeled as drones and encouraged to "hive off" to the Americas by political leaders and ministers. They believed that if the poor migrated to The New World, England's economy would flourish again, so ministers began preaching of America being the poor and destitute's "land of milk and honey."
When colonist's arrived, they realized this to not be the case. If they wanted America to be the land of milk and honey, they were going to have to work for it. Luckily, the colonist's brought their beekeeping skills with them. Bees provided sweeteners, wax for candles and waterproofing and honey for bartering with the Indians. These "drones" from England soon became "busy as bees."
Images of beehives were printed on currency, certificates, and wax seals (to prevent counterfeiting) after the Revolutionary War to symbolize a commitment to order, moderation, and knowledge. The skeps (man made hives made with wicker, straw, wood, etc.) in these images had thirteen rings, symbolizing the thirteen colonies.
Civil War Bees
Many women became prominent beekeepers during the Civil War, taking over the duty while their men were fighting, wounded, or dead. Beekeeping was the only "respectable" outdoor job for women to do during that time and into the early 20th century, and the exposure to nature lessened many women's weak spells and ailments.
After both World Wars, beekeeping was used by the government to help soldiers transition back into normal everyday life. The job provided a wage, got the soldier outdoors, and provided their country with a needed commodity. Since beekeeping could be done alone, this gave the soldiers time to heal and ease themselves back into society.
Bees and honey have graced the advertising world for years. Hopalong Cassidy was very popular in promoting Spun Honey in the 1930's, and Brigham Bottling Works thrived with their Beehive Beverages--made with honey--promising energy, health, and mobility.
The 1970's brought the attacks of killer bees, along with Irwin Allen's The Swarm.
In 1980, a terrible mite epidemic plagued bees, the keepers, and bee farms.
Mites, federal quarantines, African honey bees, and even El Nino, brought threats to American beekeepers in the 1990's.
Though I write romantic fiction, and I generally only read fiction, my stories require non-fiction reading material. In reading about the wonderful world of bees, I've become fascinated by the winged creatures. They work hard, are extremely sanitary, produce a delicious golden liquid that holds many health benefits, as well as vital to crop production--they pollinate the blooms of fruit trees and vegetables. I now stop to watch them when I'm outside, especially when they're on our peach and apple trees. My kids now have a new found respect for them as well and have signed up for beekeeping through our local 4-H fairgrounds.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves history--the book is full of interesting historical facts I didn't mention!--is interested in beekeeping, or just loves bees!
Next time you cross paths with a bee, stop and watch them, listen to their song. God made an amazing insect.