Illustrations: Period illustrations of the Dominique rooster and the markings in a single feather.
While the Dominique chicken is universally recognized as perhaps the oldest breed in America there are few written references using the name “Dominique” that can be found in the usual pre-19th century sources. The reason being, the name Dominique wasn’t applied until later and the breed was just considered a typical barnyard fowl until it reproduced so many generations that its characteristics prompted some to recognize it as a distinct breed deserving of a name. Dominiques were exhibited by four breeders at the first American poultry show held in Boston in Nov. 1849. It was already considered an old breed. Below are a few tidbits regarding the breed and the naming process.
“The Dominique is the best fowl of common stock that we have, and is the only fowl in the country that has enough distinct characteristics to entitle it to a name…They are frequently known by the name ‘Hawk-coloured fowls’…The Black Spanish are most beautiful fowls, but a winter like the past one is very disastrous to them. Undoubtedly, with extra care in winter, they are the best layers in the world; but we would not recommend them for the general fowl of the farm by the side of the Dominique. The Spanish for a village or city are best.” – “The Journal of Horticulture and Cottage Gardener” as quoted from the “Prairie Farmer”. July 12, 1864.
“This well-known variety of our domestic fowl, there is good reason to believe, is old and distinct, though it is generally looked upon as mere ‘farm-yard fowl;’ that is, the accidental result of promiscuous crossing; but there are several forms among the farm-yard fowls, so called, that are seen to be repeated generation after generation, the counterparts of which are to be met with, scattered here and there, over this country. So constant repetition of corresponding features would seem to declare that there are several unnoticed and undistinguished varieties of fowls which deserve to be regarded and treated as we do other distinct varieties.
The Dominique fowl, well selected and carefully bred, is a fine and useful bird. They are distinguished as Dominique by their markings and their color, which is generally considered an indication of hardiness and fecundity…In England they are usually called ‘Cuckoo fowls,’ from the fancied resemblance of their plumage to the feathers on the Cuckoo’s breast. “ – “The American Poulterer’s Companion”. Harper & Brothers Publishers. New York. 1856.
Next, one might wonder where the name “Dominique” came from. “Dr. Bennett, in his “Poultry Book”, says, “I know of no fowls which have stood the test of mixing without deteriorating better than the Dominiques. They are said to be from the island of Dominica, but I very much doubt it. I should incline to the opinion that they took their name from being, ‘tenants at will’ of some feudal sovereignty. Why it is that so perfect bloods should have escaped description of poulterers, I am unable to divine…They were introduced by the French, and not a Dutch fowl, as some suppose”. – “The American Poulterer’s Companion”.
It is uncertain just when the name Dominique came into use, however, this writer documented it as early as 1831 in “The Southern Agriculturist”, Dec. 1831. In 1835 the “Minnesota Farmer’s Institute Annual Report” noted that a Plymouth Rock was a cross between the older Dominique and Black Javas. An account published in the “Genessee Farmer” in 1851 referred to the “old-fashioned speckled Dominique”. – January 1851.
In 1915 it was noted that the Dominique was known “half a century ago” (1855) as the “Little Speckled Hen”, the memory of which is still cherished by older folk.”… That writer went on to note that the Dominique had fallen in popularity, not because it wasn’t worthy of a place of distinction, but because 20th century farmers were led to believe new breeds were better. Thankfully through the efforts of individuals and the Dominique Specialty Club this fine heirloom breed enjoyed resurgence in popularity. – “American Poultry Advocate”. March 1916.
Postell claimed that prior to the Civil War planters often did not allow any other breed on their places because the Dominiques were such good foragers and were considered a top notch all-purpose breed. The writer also referred to “new” Dominiques which were undoubtedly Barred Rocks, in fact, many used “Dominique” to refer to the barred pattern of any breed. – Postell, Jehu Glenn. “All About Poultry”. 1911.
Let’s look at a few more quotes regarding the early origin of the breed under the name Dominique while noting that the multiple references to “the old gray hen” and the like may well have referred to these chickens. “This old fashioned breed is said to have been brought over by the early Puritans, and wherever bred in purity is acknowledged to be one of the best, hardiest, and most beautiful of all domestic fowls. They are without doubt the oldest of the distinctive American breed, being mentioned in the earliest poultry books, as an indigenous and valued variety.” -Profits in Poultry, Useful and Ornamental Breeds, 1886.
“The poultry-keepers of the country (USA) are ever hankering after something new. But it is not of any use to find a new breed unless it is manifest improvement, either in size, prolificness, good looks or some other respect, such as hardiness. The American Dominique is pre-eminently an old breed. Our great-grandfathers had these fowls.” -Poultry World, 1887.
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