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Tom Turkey (NOT named by Ben Franklin after Thomas Jefferson)

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

On my blog (the food glossary, not the political glossary), I just added the origin of “tom turkey.” A myth has it that the bird was given this name by Ben Franklin, who wanted the turkey to be our national bird and (after losing out to the bald eagle) nicknamed the turkey after Thomas Jefferson.

Just to set everyone straight:

Entry from November 23, 2011
Tom Turkey
A “tom turkey” (occasionally given as “thomas turkey”) is a male turkey. “Tom” has been used for the male of a species since the anonymous work The Life and Adventures of a Cat (1760) described the adventures of “Tom the Cat,” later giving the name “tom cat.” The name “Tom turkey” has been cited in print since at least 1848 and 1851.

A popular myth (since at least the 2000s) is that founding father Thomas Jefferson favored the bald eagle as the national bird, while Benjamin Franklin favored the turkey. After the eagle was selected, Franklin allegedly named it “tom turkey” after Jefferson. However, there is no evidence that the term “tom turkey” was ever used during the lifetime of Franklin (1706-1790) or Jefferson (1743-1826).

The Free Dictionary
Noun 1. tom turkey – male turkey

(Oxford English Dictionary)
Tom, n.
The male of various beasts and birds; perh. first for a male cat: see tom cat n.
1791 G. Huddesford Salmagundi (1793) 141 Cats‥Of titles obsolete, or yet in use, Tom, Tybert, Roger, Rutterkin, or Puss.
1826–8 Townley’s High Life below Stairs (acting ed.) , Your cat has kittened—two Toms and two Tabbies.
1884 Bazaar, Exchange & Mart 17 Dec. 2205/2 Hamburghs.‥ Redcaps, four hens and tom, prize strain, handsome birds.
(…)
In names of animals, denoting the male; see also tom cat n.
1772 T. Bridges Burlesque Transl. Homer (rev. ed.) v. 192 And, like Tom puss, o’er pantiles dance.
1859 J. R. Bartlett Dict. Americanisms (ed. 2) , Tom-Dog, male dogs, as well as cats, take the prefix ‘tom’, in some parts of the West.
1871 H. B. Stowe Oldtown Fireside Stories 92, I never heard that a tom-turkey would set on eggs.

tom cat | tom-cat, n.
In 1760 was published an anonymous work ‘The Life and Adventures of a Cat’, which became very popular. The hero, a male or ‘ram’ cat, bore the name of Tom, and is commonly mentioned as ‘Tom the Cat’, as ‘Tybert the Catte’ is in Caxton’s Reynard the Fox. Thus Tom became a favourite allusive name for a male cat (see quot. 1791 at Tom n.1 6); and people said ‘this cat is a Tom’ or a ‘Tom cat’.
A male cat.
[1760 Life & Adv. of a Cat 11 Chap. iv. Tom the Cat is born of poor but honest parents.
1760 Life & Adv. of a Cat 31 The single adventures of Tom the Cat only.]

Google Books
April 1848, American Agriculturist, “Yankee Farming—No. 3,” pg. 115, col. 1:
The Mournful Soliloquies of Uncle Sim and Aunt Nabby over their Favorite Tom Turkey.—After the affair of the owl, and the unlucky killing of the favorite cock turkey, I must confess I never saw a more dejected couple than Mr. and Mrs. Doolittle.
(…)
Thus repeating the comforting idea of her husband. that “Tom,” as the turkey was familiarly called, died bravely.

Google Books
The American Shepherd:
Being a history of the sheep, with their breeds, management, and diseases
By Luke A. Morrell
New York, NY: Harper & Brothers
1851
Pg. 419:
With one exception, and this was a Tom turkey, that would, in spite of me, keep himself perched high up into the top of an apple tree.

3 June 1858, Pittsfield (MA) Sun, pg. 3, col.1:
Six of his choicest breed of chickens had been ruthlessly slain by a tom turkey belonging to one of his neighbors, and in his wrath he had aught up a club and hurled it with great fury at the biped; contrary to his intention, the club took effect and laid the chicken destroyer prostrate in death.

Google Books
Tell Tale Rag:
and popular sins of the day. In this book a cotton rag is made, as it were, a living oracle, giving its own history whilst serving as raiment on twelve different masters
By George W. Henry
Oneida, NY: G. W. Henry
1861
Pg. 110:
“It so happened,” said he, “as my master came strutting along the sidewalk like a tom-turkey in the barnyard, that one of his neighbors saluted him thus: ‘I understand, ‘squire, that you have had several letters, …’”

Google Books
My farm of Edgewood: a country book
By Donald Grant Mitchell
New York, NY: Charles Scribner
1863
Pg. 192:
Even a fighting propensity does not distinguish the cock, I observe; for the female bird is an arrant termagant, and has undertaken, in my own flock, a fierce battle with a tom-turkey, in which, though worsted, and eventually killed, she showed a fine chivalrous pluck.

21 December 1871, Indiana (PA) Progress, “How he Set the Turkey,” pg. 3, col. 5:
“Sure enough, there was the old Tom turkey a struttin; and a sidlin’ and a quitterin’ and floutin’ histail feathers in the sun, like a lively young widower, all ready to begin life over agin.”

Google Books
A Dictionary of the Sussex Dialect and Collection of Provincialisms in Use in the County of Sussex
By William Douglas Parish
Lewes: Farncombe & Co.
1875
Pg. 123:
TOM. Any cock bird, as a tom-turkey or a tom-parrot.

GoogleBooks
May 1879, Poultry World, “Huldah and I” by Solomon Solace, pg. 180, col. 1L
Victory gave to them dominion, the smiles of the snuff-colorcd flock, and all that life is worth to an ambitious Thomas-turkey. No wonder that he should follow instinct. He is a gobbler.

OCLC WorldCat record
Tom Turkey for Christmas.
Author: Marguerite De Angeli
Publisher: Philadelphia, Westminster Press [1965]
Edition/Format: Book : Fiction : Juvenile audience : English

OCLC WorldCat record
Tom turkey
Author: Jane Smisor Bastien
Publisher: Park Ridge, Ill. : General Words and Music Co., 1973.
Series: Music through the piano.; Piano solos for the very young pianist.
Edition/Format: Musical score : Juvenile audience : English

OCLC WorldCat record
Tom Turkey
Author: Dave Sargent; Jane Lenoir
Publisher: Prairie Grove, AR : Ozark Pub., 2000.
Series: Feather tale series, 20.
Edition/Format: Book : Fiction : Juvenile audience : English
Summary: Tom Turkey is shocked at the naughty behavior of a young Siamese kitten named Samone, who thinks that she can bully everyone around, but Samone is in for a big surprise. Includes factual information about turkeys.

Google Groups: alt.fifty-plus.friends
Newsgroups: alt.fifty-plus.friends
From: “VickieB”
Date: Thu, 23 Nov 2006 07:40:03 -0600
Local: Thurs, Nov 23 2006 7:40 am
Subject: Thankgiving Trivia

Who wanted to make the turkey the national bird of the United States of America?

Benjamin Franklin, but he was opposed by Thomas Jefferson. Legend has it that Franklin then named the male turkey a “tom turkey” to spite Jefferson. (The female is called a “hen turkey” and the baby a “poult.”)

OCLC WorldCat record
Tom Turkey and Erik Eagle : or how the eagle became the American symbol
Author: Sandra Calder Davidson
Publisher: New York : Arcade Pub. : Distributed by Hachette Book Group USA, ©2008.
Edition/Format: Book : Fiction : Juvenile audience : English : 1st ed
Summary: When the deadlocked Founding Fathers turn the selection of the national symbol over to Drew Duck, the wise quacker and his animal friends follow democratic principles in making their decision.

The Roanoke Times (VA)
Monday, November 24, 2008
Turkey folklore difficult to trace
By Tom Angleberger
Q: Just got this bit of info: Ben Franklin wanted our national bird to be a turkey, but Thomas Jefferson opposed him with the bald eagle. Franklin then coined the male turkey as “Tom” to spite Jefferson. Tom Turkey has been around ever since. I don’t know if it’s right or not.
— Mary Ann Angleberger, Staunton

A: This question is doubly appropriate for this week. Not only is it about turkeys, but it’s also from my sainted mother for whom I am, of course, extremely thankful.

She was right to wonder if it was true. Most likely it isn’t. While I’ve been unable to disprove it completely, I’ve stacked up quite a bit of evidence to suggest that Ben Franklin is innocent of this one.
(…)
The Oxford English Dictionary catalogs the first known written usage of words and phrases. For “Tom Turkey” they have nothing until Harriet Beecher Stowe used the phrase in 1869. Likely it had been in common usage for some time before that. But surely if a celebrity such as Franklin had popularized it nearly 100 years earlier, there would be some record of it.

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