Another Famous New York Beekeeping Family
by David Edwards
John Edwin Hetherington was born in 1840 in Cherry Valley, Otsego County, New York, and started beekeeping at age 13. At age 15 (1855) he met Moses Quinby, after Quinby moved to St. Johnsville in 1853. They could possibly have become acquainted through the Vandeusen & Sons manufacturing facility – bee equipment suppliers – who were located in Sprout Brook, halfway between Quinby in St. Johnsville and Hetherington in Cherry Valley. Hetherington’s aunt Nancy Judd married Justus van Rensselaer Van Deusen, and many of the products eventually manufactured by Van Deusen appear to have been developed by either Quinby, Hetherington or C.C.Van Deusen, the son of Justus vR.
James H. Hetherington, a native of Derbyshire, emigrated from England, and sometime prior to 1838 married Elizabeth Judd, a daughter of Oliver Judd. Oliver had moved from Connecticut to Cherry Valley about 1805. James appears on the membership returns of the Cherry Valley Masonic Lodge in 1825, 1826 and 1827.
James and Elizabeth Judd Hetherington had three sons – Oliver Judd (b. May 11, 1838), John Edwin (b. January 7, 1840,) and James Junior (b.1843). Father James, the Superintendent of Common Schools, also served as Supervisor of the Town of Cherry Valley in 1840 and 1841. He died in 1843 leaving his wife with three young boys.
Several years later John Hetherington began his beekeeping career. At age 11, just a year before Quinby arrived in the neighborhood, he received a challenge from his grandfather Oliver Judd. As Judd was paying Mr. Baxter the itinerant honey salesman for his annual delivery, the Hetherington boys were already digging into the new comb honey as a treat. Mr. Judd suggested that the boys learn how to keep bees, so John chased after Mr. Baxter, who explained how, starting with one swarm, an apiary could quickly multiply. John saved his money, and the following year bought his first swarm for five dollars. By age 17 (1857) he was selling honey by the ton, in large part due to the influence of Moses Quinby less than 15 miles away. His brothers joined in the effort.
Before the Civl War, Hetherington was regarded as the most extensive beekeeper in the country. After the Civil War he was acclaimed as the most extensive beekeeper in the world, at one time shipping more honey to England than had ever been shipped there before. By 1900 he was being acclaimed as the “Prince of American beekeepers”.
As the War to Preserve the Union commenced, Regiments were being recruited throughout the Northern states. In Otsego County, the 121st New York Volunteers as well as the 76th New York had many boys from Cherry Valley sign up – but not any Hetheringtons.
In late 1861 Colonel Hiram Berdan, the top rifle shot in the country, had agents recruiting all over the northeast for outstanding marksmen. Berdan had been commissioned to command the 1 st Regiment, U.S. Sharpshooters, a group that today would be called ‘snipers’. If recruits could prove their ability by putting 10 bullets in a five inch circle at 200 yards with the crude telescopic sights of the day, or at 100 yards with open sights, they were offered special benefits – extra pay, no picket duty, and a new Sharps repeating rifle, the most accurate rifle of the day. The breech-loading Christian Sharps Model 1859 rifle was a .58 caliber with a 44 inch over all length including a 28 inch barrel, and weighed 20 pounds. A monster in many ways.
In Cherry Valley Berdan’s recruiters found ‘beekeepers who could shoot’, and both John E. and older brother Oliver Hetherington joined Company D, First Regiment, USSS. Oliver, age 23 and a molder, enrolled on October 26, 1861 and John, a 21 year old farmer, signed on November 13. They both mustered in as Privates on November 23, 1861. John was a 21 year old, six-footer with a fair complexion, gray eyes and brown hair.
Younger brother James remained at home to continue the honey business. He enlisted in the Navy as a seaman in September, 1864, after John returned home. James was assigned to the steamer Valley City, and discharged on July 1, 1865. On the 1890 Civil War census James is listed as ‘disabled from varicose veins’ and as a ‘reenlisted veteran’.
The idea that the term ‘sharpshooters’ was related to new Sharps rifle is apparently incorrect, since the word was utilized prior to the Sharps coming on the scene, and may well have German etymology roots. In any case, the sharpshooters were engaged in a very dangerous undertaking, often finding themselves far out in front of their own troops, alone or in small numbers, clad in camouflage green rather than Army Blue, with rubber rather than brass buttons so as to eliminate any glare, and tasked with terminating the leadership of the Confederate forces and other targets of opportunity. In addition, Sharpshooters often formed the skirmish line in front of the main body of infantry and were designated to cover any retreats, being the last to leave the field of battle. Nearly 50% of the Sharpshooters were killed or wounded during the Civil War. Southern newspapers termed the Union Sharpshooters “Green Demons”.
John E. Hetherington was wounded three times, and finally discharged due to his wounds in September 1864.
Nine boys from Cherry Valley, all close friends, mustered in with Berdan’s Sharpshooters. Within a year four were dead, four were discharged with disabilities, and only John E. Herthington remained. His recorded actions were heroic. At the Second Battle of Bull Run, August 29, 1862 he received a gunshot wound to the shoulder. On May 12, 1864, at Spottsylvania, despite exhaustion, dehydration and a wound to the head, he remained in command of his Company. On June 18, 1864, along the Jerusalem Plank Road at Petersburg, weak and debilitated, he received the unique wound to his hand that resulted in a Disability Discharge on September 20, 1864.
June in Virginia was not the time to be carrying a rubberized blanket roll and haversack across the shoulders, so at Petersburg, now Captain Hetherington was carrying his blanket roll on the hilt of his sword, holding the sword blade in his left hand. The Confederate bullet hit him in the left hand, shattered the sword, and drove a piece of sword into his hand. Without the hand and sword in that precise position, the bullet would have gone right to his heart. His military portrait shows him in this unusual pose, unique, but understandable when the reason is known.
John E. Hetherington entered the Sharpshooters as a Private in 1861. Within months he had been promoted to Sergeant, then on November 1, 1862 he mustered into the Officer Corps as a Second Lieutenant. When the Company Captain – his cousin Charles McLean also of Cherry Valley – was killed during the Battle of Pitzer’s Woods at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863, Col. Berdan recommended that John Hetherington receive a battlefield promotion to Captain. At the close of the campaign at Gettysburg, Captain Hetherington’s name was on the list of officers sent to the Secretary of War for having distinguished themselves for bravery and meritorious conduct.
He had been under fire 114 days, 24 days longer than the service asked of any Union sharpshooter.
The commitment of John Hetherington and the stress he was under during his service to his country cannot be underestimated. He left both his widowed mother and his business (the most extensive bee business in the United States at the time) in the hands of his teen aged younger brother when he joined the Sharpshooters, probably unaware that snipers had over a 40 % chance of being killed or wounded. He thought he was enlisting for several months, and it turned into nearly three years. Of the nine friends he enlisted with, he was the only one still in service after the first year. He endured several bouts of dysentery, was wounded three times, carried his commander (who was also his cousin) off the field of battle only to have him captured by the enemy and die in enemy hands, despite heroic efforts by the Rebel surgeon. And with all this on his mind, he was continually promoted to greater responsibility and engaged in some of the most serious fighting of the War. The Sharpshooters undoubtedly killed more Confederates than any other regiment in the Army, so were always in danger of being killed themselves. Hetherington’s Company D played a major role in the Battle of the Wilderness, and were part of the reconnaissance into Pitzer’s Woods at Gettysburg.
On returning to Cherry Valley, now universally referred to as “Captain J.E. Hetherington”, he needed two years to recuperate before resuming his bee keeping and commercial honey business. Prior to the Civil War he had been known as the most extensive beekeeper in the country; within a few years of the war’s end he was probably the largest honey producer in the world. For over 20 years he managed around 3000 hives per year, may have had as many as 6000 hives at times, and had apiaries as far south as Virginia.
With the destruction of the sources of sugar in the south, as well as transportation facilities, during the War, honey became much in demand, allowing Hetherington & Brother to flourish.
Captain Hetherington’s father had purchased two pieces of property in the village of Cherry Valley prior to 1839. His mother Elizabeth had gradually added contiguous parcels between 1863 and 1869 after her husband died in 1843. By the time Captain Hetherington began purchasing property in 1869, the family owned probably the largest parcel inside the village, and it only became larger by the end of the century.
In the United States Census of 1870 both John and James were listed as ‘Apiarian’, James had recently (1869) married Helen, Dexter Ecker was a 14 year old laborer for them, and all, along with mother Elizabeth were living in the family homestead. The Census indicates virtually all the 200 or more farms in the surrounding town of Cherry Valley each had between 25 and 100 acres of buckwheat, most likely sites for the Hetherington’s out yards. The few farmers who themselves had bees produced only about 450 pounds of honey, so the Hetherington bees had plenty of sources. In 1874 the Hetherington Apiaries produced 58,000 pounds of honey. Ten years prior, as the Civil War was ending, the entire County of Otsego produced 34,251 pounds of honey.
In 1877, a Mr. T.B. Thurber, President of the New York City Board of Trade, contracted for the entire Hetherington honey crop which was estimated at from 100,000 to 150,000 pounds, and according to the August 1877 issue of The American Bee Journal would give Thurber “. . . control of the honey trade of America.”
Hetherington managed 22 out-yards from two to 12 miles from the village of Cherry Valley. He brought the bees back to his home in the village for the Winter to improve survival, and returned them to the out-yards in the Spring to utilize the varied bee pasture and to prevent any adverse experiences with the village population. He experimented with various indoor and outdoor methods of overwintering, settling on an expensive indoor wintering scheme.
Brother Oliver, who joined the Sharpshooters with John in the Fall of 1861, also was promoted quickly – to Sergeant in June of 1862 and First Lieutenant in October of 1862. He declined the officers commission and was discharged with a disability the following month, and shortly thereafter he moved to Michigan. He originally settled in Otsego County, Michigan. Oliver is listed in the 1883 Civil War Pensioners of Saginaw County with a $4.00 per month pension due to chronic diarrhea.
There is a connection here, since Oliver’s home town of Cherry Valley is in Otsego County, New York. Most likely friends or relatives had moved to this area of Michigan and he followed them. The first Postmaster of this area of Michigan, in 1835, was Horace H. Comstock, from Otsego, New York. Oliver moved to Saginaw in 1864, married Elmira Louise Wellington there on December 3, 1869, and died there on April 7, 1915. Elmira Louise was born in Michigan and died in Saginaw on October 19, 1928.
Oliver was apparently active in the bee business in Michigan however. He was elected Secretary of the Michigan State Beekeepers Association in 1880 and appointed to the committee on Resolutions. His death certificate indicates his occupation as “Apiarist, Beekeeper”, and the Bingham-Hetherington honey comb cutting knife is advertised for sale from 1879 to 1893 by Bingham & Hetherington, Abronia, Michigan which was located near Otsego Township (then County). Mr. Bingham, however, visited John Hetherington in Cherry Valley in 1879, discussed the knife, and took an order for knives and smokers from John. John Hetherington visited his brother in Michigan at least once (and met there with Professor A.J. Cook) and quite possibly met Bingham also. So was it Bingham/Oliver or Bingham/John who was developing and marketing the knife?
In 1889 brother Oliver, home from Michigan to visit, informed John of the advantages he had heard of bee keeping in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley – white honey, easy wintering, and brood rearing during Virginia’s Summer dearth. Within days John was in Virginia and decided to move one thousand of his colonies to that area from Cherry Valley. He put 29 men to work building and painting hives, bringing hives in from the out apiaries, transferring the bees and transporting them the 1000 miles to Virginia. All this in two weeks!
By 1903 Captain Hetherington had more bees in Virginia than New York, but that was due primarily to the emergence of Black Brood in New York. In the mid-1890‘s Black Brood disease, what the New York State Bee Inspector N.D. West called “the worst disease”, broke out in neighboring Schoharie County. Black Brood was later found to be European foulbrood, and the then state mandated cure was colony destruction via burning.
Both the disease and the cure resulted in a loss of colonies. This caused Captain Hetherington to introduce Carniolan queens from his Virginia operation to his New York hives. He had surmised that the more prolific Carniolans would compensate for the relatively low survival rate of his yellow bees. He was apparently correct.
Captain Hetherington, whether inherently an introvert, simply overwhelmed with work, or suffering from his war injuries apparently made minimal contribution to the beekeeping literature or organizations of his time. He did, however, along with Moses Quinby, speak to local farmers groups about beekeeping, and participated routinely in meetings of beekeepers.
He was one of the founders of the Northeastern Beekeepers’ Association, one of the oldest bee keeping organization in the United States. In 1871, at the second annual meeting, he was elected Treasurer and named to the committee to draft By-Laws for the fledging organization. Upon the death of Moses Quinby, Captain Hetherington took over the Presidency of the Association, but only for one year, emphatically refusing to serve another term during the annual meeting in Syracuse, New York, in 1876. He was also President of the National Beekeepers Association for one term. As noted previously, he also wrote an eloquent ‘Memorial to M. Quinby’ that was published in subsequent editions of L.C. Root’s “Quinby’s New Bee-Keeping”.
John Hetherington was well known on the international stage also. In 1876 he won First Place at the World’s Fair Centennial Celebration in Philadelphia for his 3500 pound Honey Exhibit. In 1893 he won First Prize for Honey Production and Marketing at the World’s Fair Columbian Exhibition in Chicago. In 1900, at the Pan American Exhibition in Buffalo, he won the Award for Best Comb Honey.
Hetherington did make significant contributions to the growth and improvement of beekeeping.
While still a teenager he developed a double-walled hive with a chamber of confined air in between, and had applied for a patent on it. He seems to have shared his knowledge with aspiring beekeepers. He tinkered with equipment, developing a spring device for use in supers that produced a yielding pressure on comb sections, as well as improving Quinby’s closed end frames so as to make them truly practical and leading to the development of the widely used Hetherington-Quinby frame and hive. His work with foundation was impressive. He developed the first transparent foundation, and appears to have developed what was known as ‘tall comb sections’. He recognized the importance of cell size in foundation. Hetherington developed a method of reducing the amount of wax in the base of comb honey, a problem known as ‘fishbone’. He is also generally credited with originating the use of wire supports in foundation. Like all good inventors, he had as many failures (wax coated tin frames and double glass hives for example) as successes.
Despite his access to local manufacturing operations that sold bee equipment, until well into the 1890s Captain Hetherington and his employees made all their own equipment – hives, sections, packing cases, box making machines and extractors. They even made the wheel barrows used in his yards.
According to the published meeting notes he participated actively in those beekeeping meetings that he did attend, asking and answering questions and occasionally presenting a paper, or having one read for him. Other than the Memorial to Quinby, his only published work in the American Bee Journal appears to be an article on comb foundation.
The well known J. Van Deusen & Sons Manufacturing facility made wired flat-bottom foundation under royalty to Mr. Hetherington, and in 1893 Van Deusen advertised “Patent Wired and Thin Flat Bottom Foundation – has no sag in brood frames and no fish bone in surplus honey, Patent 8962, dated Nov 11, 1879”. This was made under royalty to John Hetherington.
It was about 1879 that J.E. Van Deusen, an experienced watchmaker, developed the machine to make the flat bottom foundation. The younger C.C. Van Deusen , worked with Hetherington to develop the flat bottom foundation, and also had patents on the Atmospheric Feeders. They also sold hive clamps, smokers, bee veils and books. Van Deusen was conveniently located inside the Hetherington-Quinby-Elwood geographical triangle!
But Captain Hetherington’s most useful discovery was most likely his method of preventing swarms. He apparently was able to carry entire apiaries (remember he usually managed about 3000 hives) through a season with no swarms. His technique apparently was to remove or cage queens at the appropriate time so as to interrupt egg laying, provide a hiatus in brood development, and prevent hive congestion. When one is a commercial honey producer, swarm prevention is cash in your pocket.
And finally, another Hetherington invention, suitable for the largest honey shipper of the era, was the ‘no-drip shipping case’ which by the late 1800s was “used almost universally throughout all civilized beedom”.
On November 20, 1879, John Hetherington married Eva W. Booth in South Norwalk, Connecticut. They had three children, Hubert (b. 1882), Helen (b. 1883) and Edwin, born 1884 and died 1888.
Captain Hetherington had been a contributing member of Cherry Valley institutions including his Presbyterian Church and Sunday School, the Grand army of the Republic Lodge, the Masonic Lodge and the Good Templar Order, a local temperance society.
Captain John E. Hetherington was Secretary of the Cherry Valley Masonic Lodge in 1868 and 1871, then served several years as Junior Warden before becoming Master of the Lodge for 1890, 1891, 1892, 1895 and 1896.
He was a prominent member of Emery Upton Post Number 224, New York Department, Grand Army of the Republic, was a delegate to the State Convention on several occasions, was well known for his entertaining conversations around the Post camp fires, but there is no record of his service as an officer of the Post.
He organized the Cherry Valley Board of Trade that brought important industries to the town, procured a site for a summer park on Otsego Lake, and worked diligently to help develop the village water supply.
As was the century, the Hetherington honey empire was coming to an end.
Oliver returned infrequently from Michigan but only to visit. The youngest brother James Hetherington, Junior worked in the Hetherington enterprise. He and his wife Helen G. appear to have left the area sometime after 1910. There is a reference to him in the History of the Grand Army of the Republic where he is listed as the Junior Vice-Commander of the Emory Upton Post 224 in Cherry Valley in 1893. They also appear on the 1910 U.S. Census in Cherry Valley. They may have realized that the centers of beekeeping were moving west, and through a series of real estate transactions sorted out the family property after the death of mother Elizabeth in the mid-1890s and brother John in 1903, and moved on. Or, they may simply have moved to California in their old age, along with their spinster daughter Eva, to live with their other daughter Louise and her husband Albert Butler, a dentist. In 1919 James and Helen were living in Pasadena, California, and appear on both the 1920 and 1930 US Census there with the extended family.
Captain John Edwin Hetherington left this world on December 31, 1903 in Cherry Valley. In his lifetime he had harvested more honey than any beekeeper who had ever lived. In 1889, the Editor of the British Bee Journal, after traveling through all the beekeeping countries, wrote that in Cherry Valley he “. . . met the most extensive beekeeper in the world”.
In 1906 his widow Eva B., living with her daughter Helen in Williston/Norwalk, Connecticut, conveyed all the remaining Cherry Valley property to their son Hubert who was still living on the property. However, on the 1920 US Census Eva is back in Cherry Valley living with son Hubert and his wife Daisy. Eva died in 1940, in the Wilton/Norwalk area of Connecticut.
The Hetheringtons are gone from the beekeeping scene, but their impact continues. If nothing else, whenever we see a wired foundation frame, we are reminded of how seemingly small improvements can influence generations.
The author of this series on beekeeping in central New York State would like to thank the following institutions and individuals for assistance with this project:
The Town of Middlefield Historical Association, Middlefield, New York The St. Johnsville Public Library, St. Johnsville, New York The Cherry Valley Historical Association, Cherry Valley New York, especially Sue Miller.
The Cornell University Albert R. Mann Library, Special Collections and Kroch Rare Manuscripts Collection, especially Jeff Diver and Frank Brown.
The New York State Historical Association Research Library, Cooperstown, New York, especially Wayne Wright and JoAnn VanVranken.
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…Vol 74, No 7, July, 1934, p. 314, Invention of Foundation
…Vol 75, No 4, April, 1935, Lives of Famous Beekeepers, Capt. J. E. Hetherington, 1840-1903, p. 174
…January, 1882, Vol 2, No. 1
…March, 1882, Vol 2, No. 3
…September, 1882, Vol 4, No. 9
…March, 1883, Vol 5, No.3
Gleanings in Bee Culture
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Cherry Valley Historical Association, Cherry Valley, New York