Bee historian, retired USDA Apiculturist Everett Oertel summarized available information about the introduction of honey bees in North America in his article, History of Beekeeping in the United States, Agriculture Handbook, No. 335 (1971):
Information available indicates that colonies of honey bees were shipped from England and landed in the Colony of Virginia early in 1622. One or more shipments were made to Massachusetts between 1630 and 1633, others probably between 1633 and 1638. The author was not able to find any records of importing honey bees into other Colonies, but it is reasonable to assume that they were brought by the colonists to New York, Pennsylvania, Carolina, and Georgia.Brenda Kellar, Oregon State Beekeeper's Association, assembled additional information from multiple early sources for her paper, Honey Bees Across America. At least two ships arrived in Virginia during March and April, 1622, at least one of them carried beehives, most likely the second identified only as "this Shipp", likely the Bona Nova:
The only evidence we have of the initial importation of honey bees to North America is a letter written December 5, 1621 by the Council of the Virginia Company in London and addressed to the Governor and Council in Virginia, "Wee haue by this Shipp and the Discouerie sent you diurs [divers] sortes of seedes, and fruit trees, as also Pidgeons, Connies, Peacockes, Maistiues [Mastiffs], and Beehives, as you shall by the invoice pceiue [perceive]; the preservation & encrease whereof we respond vnto you..."
Kingsbury, Susan Myra. The Records of the Virginia Company of London The Court Book, From the Manuscript in the Library of Congress 1691 -- 1622 Vol 1 and 2. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1906.Thomas Jefferson penned copious notes about agriculture and all aspects of frontier wilderness, including comments about honey bees, the "white man's fly". Accounts by Jefferson and Zeisberger (see the next blog post, 3/29/2013), together, suggest that pioneer honey bees swarmed westward ahead of pioneer settlers, first occupying broad open landscapes long managed by Native Americans, and presumably, natural prairie openings and pigeon balds--swaths of collapsed forest where vast numbers of Passenger Pigeons had nested or roosted, wherever sunshine reached the ground and abundant warm season flowering plants could be found. Honey bees became increasingly abundant and widespread with the opening of the temperate deciduous forests for European agriculture.
Thomas Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia c1781.
The honey-bee is not a native of our continent. Marcgrave indeed mentions a species of honey-bee in Brasil. But this has no sting, and is therefore different from the one we have, which resembles perfectly that of Europe. The Indians concur with us in the tradition that it was brought from Europe; but when, and by whom, we know not. The bees have generally extended themselves into the country, a little in advance of the white settlers. The Indians therefore call them the white man's fly...How far northwardly have these insects been found? That they are unkown in Lapland I infer from Schefer's information...Kalm tells us the honey bee cannot live through the winter in Canada.Monticello.org accessed 03/07/2013.