Around Town

Horace Vose: Turkey King of Westerly

How a 19th Century South County farmer kickstarted a modern presidential holiday tradition

So Rhode Island Magazine ·

Last November, President Obama pardoned two turkeys named Mac and Cheese from a “terrible and delicious fate.” The executive order to spare a turkey in the days just before Thanksgiving is one of those quirky American traditions, right up there with Punxsutawney Phil’s weather predictions, that make for softball news that the whole family can enjoy – even you, cantankerous conservative-leaning grandpa! While there’s still some debate as to which President started this tradition – many point to Truman for this super serious matter – there is absolutely no debating that the close relationship between the leader of the free world and Thanksgiving turkeys can be traced back to the 1870s and a turkey farmer from Westerly named Horace Vose.

In 1873, Horace sent then-President and future 50 dollar bill superhunk Ulysses S. Grant one of his turkeys. Never weighing less than 30 or more than 50 pounds, Horace’s birds were slaughtered, dressed and shipped express directly to the White House. I dare you to try sending a 40 pound dead animal to the President today (no guys, seriously, please don’t try that).

Westerly’s “Turkey King” had the honor of providing the First Family with their Thanksgiving and Christmas turkeys for 40 years until he died in December of 1913. His last Thanksgiving proved somewhat scandalous when a former congressman from Kentucky had the audacity to send President Woodrow Wilson a turkey of his own. Though no one knows which bird the president and his family feasted on that Thanksgiving, it’s worth noting that Horace’s bird, Rhode Island born and bred, beat out the pretender’s at a respectable 37 pounds.

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