Medieval beehive

John Eales, Beehive Maker

From the History of Newbury:

In 1642 the Town of Newbury granted a commission to Mr. Thomas Parker, Mr. James Noyes, Mr John Woodbridge, Mr. Edward Rawson, Mr. John Cutting, Mr. John Lowle, Mr. Edward Woodman, and Mr. John Clark, for “removing, settling, and disposing of the inhabitants to such place as might in their judgements best tend to their enlargements.”

Hive or honey bees were brought to America by the early settlers of New England, but the making of beehives was evidently not a lucrative business in Newbury in 1644. Flowers were growing in abundance in the woods and fields, but skill and ability in the management of bees was necessary in order to turn them into a possible source of revenue.

Beekeeping, tacuinum sanitatis casanatensis (14th century)

The inhabitants of Newbury were evidently disposed to favor bee-keeping as a new and profitable industry, and John Eales, an elderly pauper, was engaged to assist them in their efforts to make the business a financial success, as appears from the following petition to the General Court:

“To the Honored Courte now assembled: The humble petition of John Lowle & Edward Woodman in the name & on the behalf of the Towne of Newbery,

Humbly Showeth That whereas one John Eales, aged upwards of 70 years on or about August last came to Newberry to one John Davis, a Renter of a farm there with ye expectation of his doing a service which the Towne was not acquainted with. Being found unable to get his living & going from us, he was stayed by ye constable of Ipswich. Ye Honored Courte thereupon sent him back to ye constable of Newbury, to be found at the Country’s charge until this Courte should determine the waye to dispose of him. Now our humble desire is that ye worships would be pleased to dispose of him where it may be least chargeable to ye country & most beneficial to himself. With what & where ye constable shall pay out, ye worships shall judge meete for his so long abiding with him, and your petitioners shall pray and consent.” — John Lowle and Edward Woodman”

In answer to this petition the General Court ordered, May 14, 1645 :

“It is conceived John Eales should be placed in some convenient place where he may be implied in his trade of beehive making, and ye towne of Neweberry is to make up what his work wanteth for defraying ye charge of his livelyhood.”

It would be assumed that John Eales instructed assistants in the art of bee-keeping before he died. One of the old English customs was “telling the bees” when their keeper died or there was a major change in his situation. In England it was customary for the wife to drape the hives with black while humming a tune softly. The male head of the household would knock gently upon the hive until “the bees attention was thus secured” and then inform them that the bee-keeper was dead. A section from John Greenleaf Whittier‘s poem “Home Ballads” describes the practice:

Before them, under the garden wall,
Forward and back
Went, drearily singing, the chore-girl small,
Draping each hive with a shred of black.

Trembling, I listened; the summer sun
Had the chill of snow;
For I knew she was telling the bees of one
Gone on the journey we all must go!

“Stay at home, pretty bees, fly not hence!
Mistress Mary is dead and gone!”

Sources and Further Reading:

1 thought on “John Eales, Beehive Maker”

  1. “Now our humble desire is that ye worships would be pleased to dispose of him [John Eales] where it may be least chargeable to ye country & most beneficial to himself.”
    Hopefully, this arrangement worked out for all parties.

    One of the signatories, John Lowle, must have been the progenitor of a later John Lowell of High Street, who departed Newburyport for the more prosperous climes of Boston when the Loyalists fled to Canada or London.

    The Lowell motto remains “Know your opportunity.”

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