America's Oldest Breed of Livestock

The First Poultry Show

Have you ever wondered when and where the first poultry show was held in this country, and, more important, whether Domini­ques were shown there? Before an answer, a few words about the status of poultry in the United States in the mid-1800s are appropriate.

Many breeds of poultry had already been brought from other countries to the U.S. and, as we learn from early poultry books, were well known and recognized by their breed name and characteristics. There were, for example, the Java, Dorking, Black Spanish, etc., to name a few. Unquestionably, Dominiques, which had developed in America, were known and were being bred specifically as such by at least the early 1800s, for example, by George S. Peirce in Danvers, Massachusetts. He started breeding them in about 1820, according to The Poultry Book, by John C. Bennett, M.D., published in Boston in 1850. However, in the commercial poultry yards, on farms and in backyard flocks, there were many non-descript birds of mixed blood, some of which were referred to as Dunghill Fowl.

The classification of poultry and the standardiza­tion of the breeds were only starting to take hold, and the American Poultry Association’s American Standard of Excellence, the immediate predecessor of the Standard of Perfection, did not first appear until 1874. There is no indication that poultry shows as such were being held on any scale other than perhaps as a minor side issue at livestock shows or agricultural fairs, which featured cattle, horses, sheep and swine.

It was with this background, then, that on the fifteenth and sixteenth of November 1849 at the Public Garden in the City of Boston, what is recognized as the first poultry exhibition in the United States was held. A detailed description of the show itself is contained in A Report on the Committee of Supervision of the First Exhibition of Domestic Poultry, published in Boston in 1850 in its entirety by H. L. Dev­ereux and Company, Printers. The show was initiated by Dr. Ben­nett and was convened on comparatively short notice with a minimum of organiza­tion. The Committee of Supervision, consisting of poultry breeders and fanciers, that was appointed by Dr. Bennett to oversee this show, states in its report that “the result has been peculiarly gratifying, both as regards the number and variety, and quality of the different breeds of poultry, and the interest manifested in the display by the public.”

The report listed the many breeds shown and the exhibitors’ names. There were 1,423 birds shown, and the show attendance was at least 10,000. As in some of today’s poultry shows, there were other fowl besides chickens: ducks, geese, pheasants, pea fowl, pigeons, partridges, guineas and even swans. Interestingly, many chicken breeds and varieties were grouped in the report under the then-prevailing Latin names. The report remarks that the names of the varieties of the fowls were listed on the Secretary’s book just as given by the contributors. (Anyone who has been a show secretary will recognize the problems this created!) But in contrast to today’s shows, there was no judging and no awards were given.

In answer to the question – yes, Dominiques were shown at Boston in 1849. They were specifically listed as Dominiques (presumably large, not bantams) in the Committee’s report as published by Devereux. The four exhibitors were George C. Peirce and S. Osborne, Jr., Philip L. Osborne and John Chamberlain, Jr., all of Danvers, Massachusetts. A picture of Dominiques printed in the report was contributed by Dr. Bennett. (Note: In the condensed version of the Committee’s report as given in the Appendix to Bennett’s The Poultry Book mention of the Dominique entries was omitted, apparently as an oversight.)