It’s Fourth of July weekend, and our pullets are now 14 weeks old.

Curbstone Valley has Festive Fowl for the Fourth

While everyone is hitting the road travelling to their long-weekend destinations, in anticipation of festive summer barbeques and fireworks,  the Independence Day festivities got us thinking about some ‘olde tyme’ fowl.

What breeds of chicken were common when the Declaration was signed? (Public Domain Image)

When the Declaration of Independence was signed, what breeds of poultry were common on the average American homestead in 1776?

None of the breeds currently at Curbstone Valley existed when the Declaration of Independence was adopted

The breeds we selected for the farm this year, although generally considered heritage breeds, are actually fairly recently developed breeds.  The Plymouth Rocks were originally developed almost a century after the Declaration was written.  Our Buff Orpingtons, Wyandottes, and Black Australorps weren’t developed until the late 19th to early 20th Century.  The youngest of our breeds, the Delawares, were created by George Ellis in 1940!  None of the breeds currently at Curbstone Valley even existed when Thomas Jefferson was busy drafting The Declaration.

It's fair to say that neither Jefferson, nor Washington, ever saw a Golden Laced Wyandotte

Thomas Jefferson himself is known to have experimented with breeding and rearing poultry, including bantams, and a number of references exist regarding this endeavor, although specifics as to breeds aren’t clear.

Perhaps the most common fowl in Jefferson’s day was the Dunghill fowl, also known as the Barn-door fowl.  This breed is occasionally seen listed in probate documents dating to the early-mid 18th Century, although technically it was produced from crosses of many common breeds of the day, which included the Dorking, and Dutch Hamburgs.  The Dunghill was a mutt.  It had no standard of appearance, and as a common barnyard mix, would occur in a wide array of colors.  It was a small bird, and generally a poor layer, and was reported to be ‘the only fowl the poor man can obtain’, but it needed minimal care, so was cheap to buy, and virtually free to keep.

However, at the time The Declaration was written, the Dominique, also known in New England as the Pilgrim Fowl, from which the Plymouth Rock reportedly originated, was also becoming very popular. It was one of the first true poultry ‘breeds’ developed in North America from birds originally brought by the Colonists to New England, including the Dorking, Old English Fowl and Sussex. Dutch Hamburgs may also have contributed to the Dominique’s origin. In Frank Platt’s 1921 The American Breeds of Poultry he refers to the Dominique as ‘…nothing more or less than a hawk-colored dunghill bird, improved by cultivation’.


Illustration of a Dominique Rooster published in 1876, 100 years after the Declaration was signed (Public Domain Image)

Regardless of the Dominique’s murky origins, the Dominique was clearly displacing the Dunghill as the most popular chicken on the farmstead.  Apparently even Abraham Lincoln owned Dominique fowl.  Their popularity endured for more than a century, and in Miner’s Domestic Poultry in 1853 it is stated in regards to the Dominique ‘It will hardly be necessary to give a detailed description of this breed, so well known in almost every farm-yard in the country.

Dominique Fowl (1853) (Public Domain Image)

In 1871 these birds were so common, The American Poulterer’s Companion referred to Dominiques as ‘mere farm-yard fowl’, but many articles from the 19th Century support that this breed was very much a work-horse of the American farmstead.  Dominiques were excellent all-purpose fowl, regarded highly for their feathers for stuffing pillows and mattresses, their good quality meat, and for being modest egg layers, with calm dispositions.  However, as more fanciful breeds were imported from Europe, the Dominique fell out of favor, and within thirty years of being proclaimed ‘mere farm-yard fowl’, they were bordering on extinction at the turn of the 20th Century.

Dominique Rooster (left) and hen (right) - 1919

So although we know that Thomas Jefferson never saw a Golden Laced Wyandotte, it’s quite likely that he was at least familiar with the Dominique.  If you’re interested in truly historic breeds of chicken, the Dominique, still on the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy watch-list, would be an excellent choice.

In the meantime, we return you to the festivities of the Fourth.  We’ve decided to stay close to home this long weekend, so we can avoid the holiday traffic…

This way we can enjoy the gorgeous weekend weather, relax, and not have to worry about entertaining house guests…

Curbstone Valley Farm wishes everyone safe travels, and a happy holiday weekend!

“I know of no pursuit in which more real and important services can be rendered to any country than by improving its agriculture, its breed of useful animals, and other branches of a husbandman’s cares.” – George Washington