This fictional story was originally written for a publication called The Sunday School Advocate and was reprinted in the September, 1917 issue of the American Bee Journal.
It has since been reprinted by several authors in articles detailing the history of American beekeeping.
The brave patriots of the American Revolution were having a particularly hard time of it in the summer of 1780. General Washington and his ragged, half-starved soldiers were in camp just outside of Philadelphia, where it was certain that the enemy was getting ready to make an important move.
Man after man had risked his life trying to get their secret, but so far no one had been able to give Washington the important news without which he dared not risk his small force in battle.
But the great Washington, himself, scarcely took the independence of the colonists more seriously to heart than did little Mistress Charity Crabtree. Despite her prim Quaker ways, no eyes could spark with greater fire at the mention of freedom than those that smiled so demurely above her white neckerchief and plain gray, dress.
Charity was a soldier’s daughter, and though his patriotism made her and her brother John orphans, when the boy also left to fight for his flag, Charity did not shed a tear, but handed him his sword and waved him godspeed. Though she was all alone now and only twelve years old, the little maid kept a stout heart.
“If I hold myself ready to serve my country, I know the time will come,” she said, as she walked back from the gate through the fragrant lane, honeycombed with beehives. “Meanwhile, I must keep my bees in good order.”
Charity’s father had bee a bee farmer, and he kept all these hives at the entrance of his lane, so the bees could search the highway for wildflower sweets. One of his last acts was to send a beautiful comb of their honey to General Washington, where-upon the General had smacked his lips and said: “Those bees must be real patriots. They give the best that is in them to their country.”
Charity stopped now to notice how well the bees were swarming. They seemed particularly active this morning, but she was not afraid of these little creatures who do not sting unless they are frightened or attacked.
“I shall have a great many pots of honey to sell this fall,” she thought. “It is good Providence who inspires the bees to help me keep our little white house all by myself, until brother John returns.”
Then suddenly the little Quaker maid turned pale. She stopped for a second with her hand to her ear, and then she ran quickly to the highway. These were terrible times, when, at any moment, bullets might whizz about like hailstones, and every good colonist lived tensely, in fear the little American army would be captured and their brave fight for independence lost forever.
It was a man in citizen’s dress who galloped down the road. His hat was blown off and he pressed his left hand to his side. When he saw Charity he just was able to rein in his horse and, falling from his saddle, draw her close so she might catch the feeble words he muttered between groans.
“You are Patriot Crabtree’s daughter?” he murmured, and the girl nodded, as she raised his head on her arm.
“I am shot, I am wounded,” he gasped. “Leave me here, but fly on my horse yonder to General Washington’s camp. Give him this message: ‘Durwent says Cornwallis will attack Monday with large army.
’ Do not fail him!” cried the man. “Be off at once! The enemy is pursuing close.”
Poor Charity had just time to repeat the message and assist the fainting man to a grassy place under the elm tree’s shade, when the air thundered with a thudding of hoof beats, and before the terrified girl could gain her horse, a dozen soldiers leaped over the garden wall at the back of the house.
“For my country!” the plucky maid cried, and leaped to
the saddle. But even then she realized that if once the British saw her
they could easily remount their own horses, evidently left on the other
side of the wall, and so capture her and prevent her from reaching
Washington. As it was they discovered the unconscious soldier, whom they
quickly surrounded by a guard, then spied the fleeing girl and
immediately gave chase.
“Ho, there!” they cried. “Stop, girl, or by heaven we’ll make you!”
They crowded after her into the mouth of the lane, while Charity cast about hopelessly for some way of escape. Suddenly, with the entrance of the soldiers, the bees began to buzz with a cannon’s roar, as if to say, “Here we are, Charity! Didn’t Washington say we were patriots, too? Just give us a chance to defend our country!”
Like lightning, now, Charity bent from her saddle, and seizing a stout stick, she wheeled around to the outer side of the hedge that protected the hives like a low wall. Then, with a smart blow, she beat each hive until the bees clouded the air. Realizing from experience that bees always follow the thing that hits them rather than the person who directs it, she threw the stick full force at her pursuers.
As Charity galloped off at high speed she heard the shouts of fury from the soldiers, who fought madly against the bees. And, of course, the harder they fought, the harder they were stung. If they had been armed with swords the brave bees could not have kept the enemy more magnificently at bay.
While Charity was riding furiously miles away, down the pike, past the bridge, over the hill, right into Washington’s camp, her would-be pursuers lay limply in the dust—their noses swollen like powder horns. When the little maid finally gained admission to Washington’s tent, for to none other would she trust her secret, the great general stared at her gray dress torn to ribbons, her kerchief draggled with mud and her gold hair loosened by the wind. But Charity had no time for ceremony.
“I have a message for thee, sir,” she said, standing erect as a soldier beside the general’s table. “I have ridden these many miles while a dozen of the enemy have been kept at bay so I might bear it.”
When she gave Washington the message he sprang from his seat and laid his fatherly hand upon her shoulder.“
The little Quaker maid has saved us,” he said, and his voice rang while he looked deep into her gray eyes, lighted with honest loyalty.
“I brought the message only as I was directed, sir,” she said. “It was my bees that saved their country.” You can imagine Washington’s surprise and that of his officers who crowded in with warm praise for the girl, when Charity told them of the story of the patriot bees.Washington laughed.
“It is well done, Little Miss Crabtree,” he cried, warmly.
“Neither you nor your bees shall be forgotten when our country is at peace again. It was the cackling geese that saved Rome, but the bees save America.”
- Some interesting facts about bees (interflora.co.uk)
- Bee Curious (familyhypnosiscenter.wordpress.com)