Benjamin Bussey

Historical Biographies

Gilbert Stuart, “Benjamin Bussey (1757-1842)”, 1809. Oil on wood panel. Harvard University Portrait Collection, Bequest of Benjamin Bussey, 1894, H91. Image © President and Fellows of Harvard College.

Benjamin Bussey (1757-1842)

Born in 1757 in Stoughton (later Canton), Massachusetts, Benjamin Bussey served in the American Revolution and achieved the rank of Quartermaster. About 1779 he went into business as a silversmith in Dedham, Massachusetts and he married Judith Bussey in 1780.

By 1792, when he moved to Summer Street in Boston, his business had expanded into trading in a variety of goods. Bussey also established woolen mills in Dedham and bought extensive properties in Maine. He retired from business in 1806 and in turning his interests to farming and manufacturing began buying small farmsteads and part of the Weld family holdings. In 1815 he built a mansion on his Roxbury property where he resided until his death in 1842.

In his will, Bussey created an endowment at Harvard for the establishment of an undergraduate school of agriculture and horticulture to be called the Bussey Institution 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.” Also included in his 1835 will was the grant of his estate “Woodland Hill” in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts to the President and Fellows of Harvard College which would be the site of the school. A number of years would elapse before Harvard could act upon the bequest.

In 1870, his granddaughter, Mrs. Maria Bussey Motley, released seven acres of the property for the establishment of the school and work began on the Bussey Institution building. By 1871 the Bussey Institution had been established to carry out the terms of the will. At the same time her husband, Thomas Motley, Jr., was appointed instructor of farming, a post he held until his death in 1895. Francis Storer was named professor of agricultural chemistry, and in 1871 Francis Parkman was named professor of horticulture.

Wilson, Mary Jane McClintock. Master of Woodland Hill : Benjamin Bussey of Boston (1757-1842).

Wilson, Mary Jane.”Benjamin Bussey, Woodland Hill, and the Creation of the Arnold Arboretum.” Arnoldia 64(1) [pdf].

“The Bussey Institution.” Arnoldia 7(3) [pdf].

Archives of the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University. Bussey Institution records, 1872-2007 [pdf].

Gray, Thomas, 1772-1847. A tribute to the memory of Benjamin Bussey, esq., who died at Roxbury January 13, 1842.