by Rachel Felver
November 15, 2018
Wild turkeys call the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed home. Ranging from Virginia up to New York, you can spot that iridescent blackish and brownish plumage in open, wooded areas snacking on acorns, seeds, leaves, buds and sometimes even insects, spiders and salamanders.
But how did this bird become the main dish gracing our Thanksgiving dinner tables? Much of the credit should go to the “Godmother of Thanksgiving,” Sarah Josepha Hale.
Hale, a prominent author and editor in the mid-1800s, advocated state and federal officials to pass legislation to create a fixed, national day of thanks on the last Thursday in November for years. She believed this would help ease the growing tensions between the northern and southern portions of the country. Her efforts began to pay off in 1854 when 30 states and U.S. territories had the holiday on record, but it wasn’t until 1863 when Abraham Lincoln officially designated it as a national holiday.
Hale had a vision as to what should constitute a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Her novel, Northwood: A Tale of New England, devoted an entire chapter to the holiday, which included roast turkey, savory stuffing and gravy as the pièce de résistance. She also made sure to include turkey and pumpkin pie recipes in the popular colonial era women’s magazine, Godey’s Lady Book.
However, it is probably due to more logical reasons that turkeys make up our Thanksgiving feast. Cows and chickens were simply more valuable than turkeys to keep around since they could also produce milk and eggs. And one full-grown turkey was often large enough to feed an entire family.
Is turkey your Thanksgiving tradition? Check out some of the other Thanksgiving food traditions around the Bay.