Descendants of Charles Edwin Bessey

Submitted by Bruce E Sharpe <>.

1. Charles Edwin4 Bessey (Adnah3, Michael2, Jacob1) was born May 21, 1845 in Milton (Wayne County), OH, and died February 25, 1915 in Lincoln, NB. He married Lucy Athearn December 25, 1873 in Tisbury (Dukes County), MA, daughter of William Athearn and Sarah Chase.

Charles Edwin Bessey was born in a log cabin on his parent's farm in Milton Township, Wayne County, Ohio on May 21, 1845. Described as a broad-shouldered stocky man of about five feet six inches and one hundred sixty pounds, Charles had ample black hair that extended down onto his face in a heavy moustache and long full beard which he wore divided in the middle. After 1900, he changed the beard to an "immaculately trimmed uniapical vandyke". His early education was under the direction of his mother and father who doubled as a school teacher and farmer. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Charles volunteered for the Army but was rejected because of his age. The next year, at seventeen, he was certified to teach school but instead entered the Seville (Ohio) Academy to prepare for college. He was forced to withdraw because of his father's ill health but reentered following his father's death in 1863. He alternated his attendance at the Seville Academy with teaching in Wadsworth Ohio but became discouraged with the hardship of losing his father and his broken education attempts. His mother convinced him to continue and he returned to teaching and attended the fall 1864 and spring 1865 sessions at the Academy in Canaan, Ohio. Charles migrated to Michigan in the fall of 1865 and worked as a surveyor and timber cruiser in Midland, Grotiot, and Montcalm counties. During the winter he taught school at Salt River, Michigan and the following summer entered Michigan State Agricultural College at Lansing to study civil engineering. This would later change to botany upon the recommendation of his Professor Prentiss and President Abbott.

He first met Lucy Athearn in 1868 while he was a student at Michigan Agricultural College and she was teaching music at the Lansing Michigan Academy of Music. He graduated in 1869 with the degree of Bachelor of Science and was awarded a fellowship in horticulture and employment in the greenhouse at the college. He was then approached by Iowa State College and hired as an instructor of botany and horticulture in 1870 with a full professorship following in 1872. He introduced the first laboratory work in undergraduate botanical instruction in North America to his class of junior students in March 1871. He subsequently introduced laboratory work in botany into the universities of Minnesota and California in connection with courses that he gave at those institutions while he was on vacation from Iowa. Charles received an honorary Master of Science degree from Michigan Agricultural College in 1872 and studied under Dr. Asa Gray at Harvard during the winter vacations of 1872, 1873, and 1875.

Charles and Lucy maintained their relationship and were married at Martha's Vineyard on December 25, 1873 before returning to Iowa. The 1880 census for Ames, Iowa lists Charles and Lucy and their three sons. In addition Sarah Athearn, Charles' mother-in-law, and Jenny Johnson, a servant, are listed as members of the household. Charles was acting president in 1882 and remained a professor of botany at Iowa State College until 1884. He enjoyed national prominence as a researcher and was a leader in the "new botany movement" which shifted the study of plant life from static classification and form to evolutionary classification and function. He received an honorary Doctor of Philosophy degree from Iowa University in 1879 and an LL.D. from Grinnell College in 1898 for his service to Iowa and Nebraska in education, agriculture, and science. He wrote the textbook "Botany for High Schools and Colleges" in 1880 and published an enlarged version primarily for college use entitled "The Essentials of Botany" in 1884. The latter text had eight subsequent editions over the next thirty years and was revised with the collaboration of his son Ernst Bessey as "The Essentials of College Botany".

In 1884 Charles accepted the chair of botany and horticulture at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and became the first dean of the College of Agriculture. Charles was acting president of the University of Nebraska in 1888-1891, in 1899, and in 1909, and was dean of deans from 1909 until his death in 1915. In 1888 he went to Europe to study at the Royal Gardens at Kew and to visit the principal universities. He began a campaign to plant a forest of pine trees in the Sand Hills which eventually led to President Theodore Roosevelt's establishment of two national reserves in 1902, one in the heart of the Sand Hills west of Halsey and another southwest of Valentine south of the Niobrara River. Here horticulturists created the only man-made national forests in the United States and a large nursery that has produced millions of seedlings for reforestation.

Charles was a dedicated public servant and he felt that he had great wealth in the relationships that he had built with his students and friends. When he died, Charles was essentially penniless with his few accumulations being a house, a private library, and $2,500 worth of botanical equipment. The Nebraska legislature and some of his friends established the Charles E. Bessey Memorial Fund to provide support for Lucy Athearn Bessey until her death and after which to support the maintenance of two scholarships in the department of botany. The building housing the Department of Botany at Iowa State University was named in his honor in 1956 and the University of Nebraska has similarly named the campus botanical hall in his honor. Iowa State University currently hosts the annual Bessey Lecture series supported through a DuPont Science and Engineering Grant.

Charles Edwin Bessey's list of scientific honors includes: President of the Society for the Promotion of Agricultural Science (1889-1891) President of the Botanical Society of America (1895-1896) President of the Department of Natural Science of the National Education Association (1895-1896) President of the Microscopical Society (1901) President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1910-1912) President of the Nebraska Academy of Science State botanist for Nebraska (1893-1907) Botanical editor of Johnson's Encyclopedia (1893- ) Associate Editor of American Naturalist (1880-1897) and Science journals Recipient of medal for distinguished service in botany from the International Academy of Geographical Botany (1899)

[Sources include: Pool, Raymond J., A Brief Sketch of the Life and Work of Charles Edwin Bessey, American Journal of Botany, vol. II no. 10, December 1915, pp. 505-513 Mertins, Clarence T., The Life and Works of Charles Edwin Bessey, dissertation for Master's degree, 1979 Pammel, L.H., In Memoriam- Dr. Charles Edwin Bessey, Iowa Academy of Science, 1915, pp. 11-13 Iowa State College, The Alumnus, vol. XI no. 1, October 1915, pp. 6-7 Iowa State College, The Alumnus, vol. XXIX no. 3, October 1933, p. 43 Biographical synopsis on Bessey Lecture series announcement Luebke, Frederick C., Nebraska: An Illustrated History, University of Nebraska Press, 1995, p. 197]

Notes for Lucy Athearn: Lucy Athearn appears in the 1860 census (12yo) for Tisbury, Massachusetts (house 212/family 223).

Children of Charles Bessey and Lucy Athearn are:

2 i. Edward Athearn5 Bessey, born June 1875 in Ames (Story County), IA; died July 12, 1910 in Fort Collins (Larimer County), CO. He married Marion Black Trotter Abt. 1906 in Troy (Rensselaer County), NY. Notes for Edward Athearn Bessey: Edward Athearn Bessey graduated from the University of Nebraska and specialized in electrical engineering. His son, Charles Edward Bessey, reported that Edward was an engineer with a group which eventually became known as the General Electric company. Around 1900, he traveled extensively in Europe in support of the installation and operation of early electrical transformers. Returning to New York, he met Marion Trotter at Pontoosic Lake in Pittsfield and they were married in Troy around 1906. Shortly after their son Charles was born in 1908, Edward developed tuberculosis and he and his family moved from Troy, New York to Colorado for his health. Edward was assistant professor of electrical engineering in the Colorado Agricultural College at Fort Collins at the time of his death on July 12, 1910. [Source: Pool, Raymond J., A Brief Sketch of the Life and Work of Charles Edwin Bessey, American Journal of Botany, Vol. II No. 10, December, 1915]

Notes for Marion Black Trotter: Marion was one of eight children. She met her future husband in Pittsfield. Following Edward's death in Colorado, she returned with Charles to Troy, New York and was living with her brother, John Trotter, in September, 1910 based on records filed with the Surrogate Court of Rensselaer County. John Trotter helped to raise Charles and sponsor his education.

3 ii. Ernst Athearn Bessey, born February 20, 1877 in Ames (Story County), IA; died July 1957. He married Edith Carleton Higgins Abt. 1900 in Omaha, NB. Notes for Ernst Athearn Bessey: "Ernst Athearn Bessey, Ph.D., is the son of Charles E. Bessey '69, Michigan Agricultural College, of Mil, Ohio, and Lucy (Athearn) Bessey, West Tisbury, Massachusetts. He was born at Ames, Iowa, February 20, 1877; married Edith Carleton Higgins, Omaha, Nebraska. In 1896 he graduated from the University of Nebraska, with the degree of B.A.; 1897, B. Sc; 1898, M.A.; 1904, Ph. D., University of Halle, Germany. He is a Congregationalist and a Progressive. He was assistant pathologist of the division of vegetable physiology and pathology, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1899-1901; in charge of the office of seed and plant introduction, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1901-02; agricultural explorer for the same office in Russia, Caucasus and Turkestan, in the summer of 1902; in Russia and Caucasus, summer of 1903 and in Algeria during the spring of 1904; pathologist of the bureau of plant industry, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1904-08, being stationed at Washington until December, 1905, and there after in charge of the Sub-tropical Laboratory and Gardens at Miami, Florida; professor of botany and bacteriology, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 1908-10; professor of botany, Michigan Agricultural College, September, 1910-." [Source: Beal, W.J., History of the Michigan Agricultural College and biographical sketches, pp. 464-465.]

Ernst became a world authority on mushrooms. He was Dean of the Graduate School at Michigan State University and Chairman of the Botany Department.

"Children: Bertha Agnes, William Higgins, ..." [Source: Pool, Raymond J., A Brief Sketch of the Life and Work of Charles Edwin Bessey, American Journal of Botany, Vol. II No. 10, December, 1915] Ernst died in July of 1957 at the age of 80. It was reported that he had two sons that were also university faculty members, William was at Butler university, Robert John was at Wyoming university. Bessey Hall at Michigan State University was named after Ernst Athern Bessey.

4 iii. Karl Athearn Bessey, born August 18, 1878 in Ames (Story County), IA. He married Sarah Elizabeth Haines May 05, 1921 in Rockford, IL. Notes for Karl Athearn Bessey: Karl (Carl) Bessey graduated from the University of Nebraska and specialized in electrical engineering. His nephew, Charles Edward Bessey, reported that Karl was an engineer with General Electric and was noted for electrification of the Chicago and Milwaukee Railroad. In 1915 he was assistant chief engineer for the firm of Byllesby and Co., Chicago. [Source: Pool, Raymond J., A Brief Sketch of the Life and Work of Charles Edwin Bessey, American Journal of Botany, Vol. II No. 10, December, 1915]. The Alumnus of Iowa State College newsletter vol XXIX no. 3 article on his father reports that Karl was a member of the Oklahoma A&M faculty. He had no children. "

Still trying to discover her grandparents on her mother's side. Thought they might be Ebenezer Chase since the timing is right and they are from New Hampshire too but the 1880 census in Iowa has Sarah Athearn listing her father and mother as being from MA and NY respectively. Ebenezer and his wife are both listed at your site as being from NH. Please let me know if you gain any further info for me. Thanks - Bruce E Sharpe <>

Comments? Questions? Corrections? Suggestions? Contact Bruce E Sharpe about this family.

Return to Dukes County Genealogy.