The History of the Turkey

This article was written by Samuel Phineas Upham

The turkey is a mysterious animal, as it turns out. There are a number of theories as to how the turkey became such a widespread fowl, and even more theories about what the ancients meant when they referred to the bird in writing. We know that corn, in the Biblical sense, meant barley. It’s possible that similar mistranslations and misunderstandings have led food historians to incorrectly identify the bird.

The New World contained many large birds that roamed wild through the land. Two of those, the turkey and the mucovy duck, were domesticated. The turkey that we know today seems to have originated in Mexico. People living at the time described turkeys as aggressive, but crafty. They are both cautious and stupid birds, which made them quite difficult to domesticate.

The earliest evidence of the domesticated turkey comes from Tehuacan from 200 B.C.

What we do know is that by the time the Europeans went exploring in the Americas, the turkey was already widely consumed for food. Columbus encountered the birds, though it’s not clear whether he brought them back on his return voyage or made contact with them when he landed in Honduras.

What is clear is that the king of Spain put out an order in 1511 that decreed all ships exploring the New World to return with a total of at least ten turkeys, five males and five females. By 1570, English farmers were including turkeys commonly at Christmas, a tradition that continues today.

About the Author: Samuel Phineas Upham is an investor at a family office/hedgefund, where he focuses on special situation illiquid investing. Before this position, Samuel Phineas Upham was working at Morgan Stanley in the Media & Technology group. You may contact Samuel Phineas Upham on his Samuel Phineas Upham website.