Collection on Benjamin Bussey
The Collection on Bejamin Bussey is comprised of personal papers, articles, correspondence, and photographs. Bussey was an entrepreneur, pursuing businesses in several industries, including silversmithing, overseas trading, and farming. Bussey also gave to a variety of philanthropic causes, including a bequest in his will to Harvard that would allow for the creation of the Bussey Institution and ultimately provide the land for the Arnold Arboretum.
General Physical Description note
(3 boxes and one small artifact box)
Terms of Access
Researchers seeking to examine archival materials are strongly encouraged to make an appointment. The Director, or an office of origin, may place restrictions on the use of some or all of its records. The extent and length of the restriction will be determined by the Director, office of origin, and the Archivist and will be enforced equally for all researchers.
The copyright is held by The President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Arnold Arboretum Archives of Harvard University. The copyright on some materials in the collection may be held by the original author or the author's heirs or assigns. Researchers are responsible for obtaining written permission from the holder(s) of copyright and the Arnold Arboretum Archives prior to publishing any quotations or images from materials in this collection.
Photocopies may be made at the discretion of the Arnold Arboretum Archives staff. Permission to make photocopies does not constitute permission to reproduce or publish materials outside the bounds of the fair use guidelines.
Extent1 linear feet
The Collection on Benjamin Bussey contains biographical and autobiographical materials, personal papers, articles, general histories, correspondence, and photographs. Print materials include personal papers of Bussey, such as a copy of his will and a unique autobiographical sketch, as well as institutional records, such as correspondence and photographs regarding the fundraising and purchase of the 1839 painting of the Bussey Mansion. The collection also includes approximately 30 images of Bussey and his estate.
Benjamin Bussey II (1757-1842) was born to Benjamin and Ruth Hartwell Bussey on March 1, 1757 in Stoughton (in the area which later became Canton), Massachusetts. In 1775, at age 18, Bussey joined with many of his fellow townsmen and enlisted as a private to serve in the American Revolution. Rising to the rank of Quartermaster, Bussey served at Ticonderoga and saw action at Saratoga, and Bemis Heights. Following the war, he partnered with the silversmith Jacob Vend, a former Prussian soldier, and in 1778 they opened a business in Dedham, Massachusetts. The business prospered and Bussey married Judith Gay (1763-1849) in 1780. The Bussey’s had two children: Benjamin III (1781-1808) and Eliza (Betsey) (1783-1841). In 1792, Bussey formed a new partnership with his brother Jaazaniah opened an office for B & J Bussey on State Street in Boston and entered the merchant trade expanding his business into shipping and overseas trading in a variety of goods. After the death of his brother, Bussey reformed the business with another family member, David Ingalls and in 1879 renamed the business Bussey & Ingalls. A year earlier, Bussey had purchased an estate for his family, also in Boston, at 5 Summer Street, which included a mansion with grounds and gardens and a carriage house for the family’s horses and vehicles. He continued to purchase land and properties in both Dedham and Boston, and later in the District of Maine where he acquired parcels in Dixmont and Augusta, quarries in Newburg and Frankfort, and large forested tracts around Thomaston, on the outskirts of Bangor.
Having built his fortune, beginning as a silversmith and then as a merchant, Bussey next turned his interest to farming and manufacturing. He joined the Massachusetts Society for Promoting Agri¬culture in 1803. Its members were his contemporaries: gentlemen farmers investigating new experimental meth¬ods in the development of their country estates. In 1806, he purchased his first parcel of land in the Jamaica Plain/Forest Hills section of West Roxbury from Mary Weld, heir to the estate of Eleazer Weld. By 1837, through the acquisition and consolidation of five additional parcels some from the Weld estate others from adjoining tracts, portions of which can be traced to colonial grants in the 17th century, Bussey’s landholdings grew to a homestead of over 300 acres. Bussey retained his Summer Street home, but after 1816 “Woodland Hill,” his country estate, became his primary residence where he would live until his death on January 13, 1842 at age eighty-five.
Sited on the south side of Weld Hill (now known as Bussey Hill) the mansion at Woodland Hill was built in the fashionable neoclassic style and overlooked Bussey’s woods, brooks, fields, and meadows.
"The view from the Mansion House was very pleasing. To the south on the horizon line stretched the Blue Hills in Milton; in the immediate foreground was an oval of grass, decorated with marble statues and marble vases on which were carved masks; these came from Italy. Behind the house there were stone steps leading to a path winding round a hill for three quarters of a mile; … On the summit of the hill was an octagonal room called the Observatory, for the extended view which spread out before one’s eyes—to the south the Blue Hills, the Hemlock Hill, the undulating country, pasture land, and to the east the State House and Boston Harbor." From An Address Delivered Before The Garden Club of Alameda County June 11, 1922 by Mrs. Edward Gilchrist Low, a great- granddaughter of Benjamin and Judith Bussey.
While living at Woodland Hill Bussey and conducting experiments in farming and agriculture, Bussey joined the Massachusetts Society for the Encouragement of American Manufacturing. He purchased the failed, Norfolk Cotton Company in Dedham in 1819 and promptly tour down the old mills and erected the Dedham Woolen Mills. In 1843, a year after his death, the Dedham Woolen Mills Company and its real estate sold over $75,000.00.
Bussey counted many of Boston’s leading members among his friends and associates and belonged to a number of civic associations including the Broad Street Association, which played an important role in the development of the Boston waterfront, the Society for the Study of Natural Philosophy, the Association of Charitable Mechanics, and the Society for Propagating the Gospel among the Indians, and the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. He contributed generously to charitable organizations such as the Boston Public Library, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Boston Athenaeum, and the Massachusetts General Hospital Corporation which helped establish the hospital.
In his 1835 will, Bussey directed a large portion of his estate to Harvard’s schools of law and theology, the two branches of education he considered most important in advancing “the prosperity and happiness of our common country.” In addition, he gave his Roxbury property, and an additional portion of his estate, to Harvard for the “instruction in practical agriculture, in useful and ornamental gardening, in botany, and in such other branches of natural science as may tend to promote a knowledge of practical agriculture, and the various arts subservient thereto and connected therewith,” anticipating by more than 25 years the Morrill Act of Congress that established the State Agricultural Colleges. A number of years would elapse before Harvard could act upon the bequest. The obligations of the Bussey Trust were not liquidated until 1862, and the intervening Civil War delayed Harvard’s creation of the Bussey Institution until 1871. When the Arnold Arboretum was established in 1872 the Bussey Institution provided most of the land for the new organization. In 1930 the Bussey faculty was merged with the faculty of Arts and Sciences, and in 1936 the Bussey Institution closed and its staff transferred to the Biological Laboratories in Cambridge.
Biographical note written by Lisa Pearson.
This collection was assembled by Archives staff beginning in 1984 when the Archives was established. Series II: Personal Papers, and Series III: Research Notes, deposited by Mary Jane McClintock Wilson, author of the biography "Master of Woodland Hill: Benjamin Bussey of Boston" published by the Arnold Arboretum, 2006. Further accruals expected.
Processing Information note
May 2001, Lisa Pearson. Updated June 2009, Sheila Connor. Revised September 2013, Liz Francis.
- I B-1 BB
- Finding aid prepared by Liz Francis
- Language of description
- EAD ID
Part of the Arnold Arboretum Archives Repository
The Arnold Arboretum Horticultural Library is a specialized collection devoted to the study of temperate woody plants. We collect works on botany, horticulture, floras, urban forestry and taxonomy. The library contains more than 25,000 volumes and 40,000 photographs, and includes an archive that both documents the Arboretum's history and is a repository for 19th, 20th, and 21st century horticultural and botanical collections.
Jamaica Plain MA 02130 USA