HONEYBEES AND BEE-KEEPING IN ALABAMA
(Transcribed from History of Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama Biography, Volume 1 By Thomas McAdory Owen, Marie Bankhead Owen 1921)
Bee-keeping is an important industry, although only indifferently developed in Alabama. However, the economic value of bee culture, wholly apart from the production of honey, is coming to be more and more recognized as of great importance in connection with fruit growing.
The earliest recorded notice of the appearance of the honey bee in the southern country is preserved in the DeSoto Chronicles.
At Chiaha, on the Coosa River, in the northeastern section of Alabama, it is noted that pots of honey were seen for the first time on the entire journey. Pickett says that he had often been informed by old bee-hunters and Indian countrymen that after the territory of Alabama became partially settled by an American population, wild bees were much more abundant than formerly. It appears that they were introduced from Georgia and the Carolinas, and became wild after escaping from their hives to the woods.
William Bartram, who journeyed through Alabama in 1777, relates a conversation with Dr. Grant, a physician of the garrison of Mobile, in which he says: “In the course of conversation with the doctor, I remarked that during my travels since leaving the Creek nation, and when there, I had not seen any honey bees; he replied that there were few or none West of the isthmus of Florida, and but one hive in Mobile, which was lately brought there from Europe; the English supposing that there were none in the country, not finding any when they took possession of it after the Spanish and French.
Bee story, storage, 10/11/1919
I had been assured by the traders that there were none in West Florida, which to me seemed extraordinary and almost incredible, since they are so numerous all along the Eastern continent from Nova Scotia to East Florida, even in the wild forests, as to be thought, by the generality of the inhabitants, aborigines of this continent.”
Bee hives, New Smyrna, Florida / J. S. Mitchell, photographer ca. 1890
A very interesting account is given by the great naturalist, Philip H. Gosse, of what he calls “a very interesting operation,—the taking of a wild bee’s nest.” The discovery of the “bee-tree,” the cutting of the tree, the capture of the swarm, the taking of the honey are all described. This incident could be duplicated hundreds of times over throughout the entire State, since many of the local colonies were recruited in this way.
Bee story, storage, [10/11/1919]
Records are wholly wanting of early bee culture in the State, although it is known that wild swarms were domesticated and that others were imported, so that within comparatively few years, almost every family had one or more hives.
Twelve-year old boy tending bees under the direction of his father, John Spargo. Bennington, Vermont, Aug. 1914 photographerLewis Wickes Hines
Among the pleasant and reminiscent pictures of the older people are the hives, sometimes called “bee gums,” usually placed in groups in the vegetable garden, the flower garden, or the orchard.
Statistics gathered by the United States Bureau of the Census show 205,369 colonies, valued at $287,598, in 1900, and 135,140 colonies, valued at $212,921, in 1910. The only other available statistics are as follows:
Honey Wax of honey
produced. produced. and wax.
1909 891,954 50,043 $ 99,977
1899 1,930,410 162,020 197,232
1880 841,535 66,876
1870 320,674 22,767
1860 …. 47,233 100,987
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