E. Cobham Brewer 18101897. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898.
A social gathering for some useful work. The object generally precedes the word, as a spelling - bee (a gathering to compete in spelling). There are apple-bees, husking-bees, and half a dozen other sorts of bees or gatherings. It is an old Devonshire custom, which was carried across the Atlantic in Elizabethan times.