Gobbling Up History

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It’s that time of year. How about a short history of turkey?

It all begins with the migration of Oghuz Turks into Anatolia in the context of the larger Turkic expansion, forming the Seljuq Empire in the 11th century. After the Seljuq victory over forces of the Byzantine Empire in 1071 at the Battle of Manzikert, the process was accelerated and the country was referred to as 'Turchia' in the Europe as early as the 12th century.

Oh, wrong Turkey …

“The turkey is much more respectable bird and withal a true original native of North America.”

So said respected statesman and forefather Benjamin Franklin, who wanted the turkey as the national bird rather than the bald eagle.

The wild turkey is native to North America and played a vital role in the diet of Native Americans. The bird does have a connection to the country of Turkey…the Spaniards introduced it to Europe via Turkey, where it was confused for Guinea fowl.  It was introduced to the Pilgrims by the Native American Wampanoag tribe.

The early years of the Pilgrims were rather grim as many died from the long journey across the ocean, if not from starvation after the failure of many of their crops. The Native Americans showed the new settlers how to plant corn and squash. They also demonstrated the finer points of fishing and hunting.

As a display of gratitude for all their assistance, Governor William Bradford formally invited the colonist’s new friends to the first Thanksgiving feast in 1621.

Did the Pilgrims really serve turkey at that first celebration? That depends on whom you ask. Some say there is no real evidence the bird ever made it to the feast. Other experts say roast turkey adorned the first Thanksgiving table. We do know this—William Bradford had turkey as a Thanksgiving tradition in his book, “History of Plymouth Plantation,” written just 22 years after the inaugural Thanksgiving celebration.

Over the years, wild turkey became so popular on dinner tables across America, the population was nearly wiped out. In the early 1900s, only around 30,000 turkeys remained. Since then, conservation efforts to stabilize and improve the turkey population have paid dividends. Today, over 4.5 million turkeys make their homes in 49 states (Alaska being the holdout).

Check out these fun facts:

  • The first “real” Thanksgiving––Thanksgiving became an official U.S. holiday in 1863 via a proclamation from President Abraham Lincoln.
  • Did You Know?––In 1935, the average American consumed just 1.7 pounds of turkey per year. Today, we gobble turkey to the tune of 20 pounds per person per year.
  • And finally––A wild turkey can fly up to 55 mph (for short distances) and run 15-30 mph!

From your friends at Vantage Credit Union...Happy Thanksgiving to all!