Saturday, June 27, 2015


While visiting on the East Coast last week, we spent a day at Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson. The site details many references to chickens and other poultry in its archives.

I found the mentions of a broody bantam hen who hatched eight of 13 eggs in 1808 especially interesting. I wonder what kind they were. Could have been Old English Game bantams, or Rosecombs, which were popular in England then.
Old English Fame bantams by Schilling
Rosecomb bantams by Schilling
 Even Sebrights, which were developed about that time, although I'm not sure they had arrived in America then.
Silver and Golden Sebrights, from Lewis Wright
Jefferson had a variety of poultry at Monticello, including chickens, ducks, Guinea fowl, peacocks, pigeons, geese, and turkeys.

Primary Source References

1771. "Thin the trees...Keep in it deer, rabbits, Peacocks, Guinea poultry, pidgeons &c. Let it be an asylum for hares, squirrels, pheasants, partridges...court them to it by laying food for them in proper places..." [1]
1806 November 21. Jefferson to Martha Jefferson Randolph). "Davy arrived last night...He carries also a cage with a pair of Bantams for Ellen." [2]
1806 November 30. (Jefferson to Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge). "By Davy I send you a pair of Bantam fowls; quite young: so that I am in hopes you will now be enabled to raise some. I propose on their subject a question of natural history for your enquiry: that is whether this sis the Gallina Adrianica, or Adria, the Adsatck cock of Aristotle? For this you must examine Buffon etc." [3]
1806 December 12. (Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge to Jefferson). "I recieved [sic] the Bantams for which I am very much obliged to you. They seem to be larger, and younger, than the first and I think them handsomer." [4]
1807 February 17. (Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge to Jefferson). "As for the Bantam she laid one egg in the cold weathe rand eat it up. I am very much afraid she will do all the others so. If she does she will be as worthless as the others but in spite of that I am very fond of them and think them very handsome. The old ones are quite tame but the new much to the contrary." [5]
1807 June 29. (Jefferson to Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge). "How go on the Bantams? I rely on you for their care, as I do on Anne for the Algerine fowls, and on our arrangements at Monticello for the East Indians. These varieties are pleasant for the table and furnish an agreeable diversification in our domestic occupations." [6]
1807 November 1. (Jefferson to Ann Cary Randolph Bankhead). "I expect a pair of wildgeese of a family which have been natives for several generations, but they will hardley be here in time for Davy. They are entirely domesticated, beautiful have a very musical note, and are much superior to the tame for the table." [7]
1807 November 11. (Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge to Jefferson). "ONe of my poor little Bantams is dead and the one which I liked the best although it was the old one. He had got so tame that he could fly up in my lap and eat out of my hand. All the children were sorry at his death." [8]
1808 January 15. (Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge to Jefferson). "My Bantams are well but I am afraid I shall never raise any." [9]
1808 March 11. (Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge to Jefferson). "I am in a fair way to raise some Bantams as the hen is now setting. She has take up her residence in the cellar. Has laid 13 eggs and I hope will hatch some chickens." [10]
1808 March 14. (Jefferson to Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge). "I am glad to learn you are at length likely to succeed with your Bantams. They are worthy of your attention." [11]
1808 March 18. (Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge to Jefferson). "My bantam will hatch in 10 days and I hope I shall raise some of her chickens but they are so delicate. She hatched some last year. We took great care of them but they died." [12]
1808 March 25. (Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge to Jefferson). "My bantam will hatch next week." [13]
1808 March 29. (Jefferson to Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge). "I am glad to hear you expect a family of Bantams. Take good care of them. Is it not best to put the hen into a tobacco stick coop in and round which the chickens will always stay." [14]
1808 April 1. (Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge to Jefferson). "My bantam has hatched 8. pretty little chickens and I shall follow your advice about her treatment." [15]
1808 July 1. (Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge to Jefferson). "My bantams have grown prodigiously and are beautiful." [16]
1808 July 15. (Martha Jefferson Randolph to Jefferson). "I must beg the favor of bring me a little ivory memorandum book...I find my chicken accounts troublesome without some assistance of the kind." [17]
1808 June 4. "Gave for bringing home a pea-hen." [18]


1. Bear, James A. Jr., and Lucia C. Stanton, eds. Jefferson's Memorandum Books: Accounts, with Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767-1826. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997, 1:249.
2. Betts, Edwin M., and James Bear, Jr., eds. Family Letters of Thomas Jefferson. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1966. Reprinted Charlottesville: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, 1986, 290.
3. Ibid, 291.
4. Ibid, 292.
5. Ibid, 296.
6. Ibid, 309.
7. Ibid, 313.
8. Ibid, 314.
9. Ibid, 322.
10. Ibid, 332.
11. Ibid, 334.
12. Ibid, 336.
13. Ibid, 338.
14. Ibid.
15. Ibid, 339.
16. Ibid, 346.
17. Ibid, 349.
18. Bear, James A. Jr., and Lucia C. Stanton, eds. Jefferson's Memorandum Books: Accounts, with Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767-1826. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997, 2:1246.

Monday, June 15, 2015


I'm looking forward to the Association of Living History Farms and Agricultural Museums annual conference this week. This year it will be held at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. Among other things, I'll join with Elaine Shirley, Colonial Williamsburg's manager of rare breeds, and Jeannette Beranger, program manager for the Livestock Conservancy, to give a workshop in Using Heritage Chickens to Interpret Your Site. We'll cover:

What is heritage livestock, especially poultry? Adapt the meaning to your specific site. Locate resources to determine which one or more breeds to choose. The Livestock Conservancy, my books and poultry history library, breed clubs, site documents.

Dominiques are considered America's first chicken breed. Thanks to Alice Armen for this photo.
Getting started: Reach out to local poultry keepers for stock, advice and support. Every location has different climate, strengths and weaknesses. Set up the buildings and land that will be required. Get a realistic budget.

Staff: Make sure that there is at least one person who is passionate about poultry. Involve knowledgeable volunteers. Eggs can be a desirable perk. Feathers can be used in crafts.

Decide whether your site will keep birds year-round or only during spring, summer and fall. Some sites raise acquire mother hens and chicks in the spring and return them to permanent homes in the fall. This can make keeping a flock more realistic in cold climates or for sites that are not open all year.

Chicken tractors can be part of the program.
Decide whether your site will slaughter birds. Determine what other kinds of activities for visitors: broody hens, newly hatched chicks, keeping roosters.

Create interpretive materials. Signs at the flock pen, brochures, web materials. Special events, such as educational events for students. Incorporate the flock into existing events.  
Frank Reese's certified Heritage Chicken label