More Chicken Family History November 2, 2012

I loved Autumn’s post about Chicken Family History early this week. It reminded me of an old family letter I have. It’s a letter from my great great great grandma Virginia Jackson Marshall, written to my grandmother when grandma was eight and great granny was 92.

Chicken Family History

Great great great grandma Marshall

In the letter, there’s no punctuation to speak of, and the spelling is certainly nonstandard. Still, it touches my heart that my grandma saved this letter for so many years–perhaps the last she received from her great grandmother.

Chicken Family history


January 20 1935
Dear grand Daughter I will try
to anser yr ever welcom
letter I havent bin well or wold
of wrote but am mutch better
bin canen Chiken to day hope
This finds all of you well and
don well ? we air geten a deep
snow hear to day give my love
to all your folks and Judey
all so lots of love and I wish
I cold kiss you for I love you
Aunt Viola sends her love
to you all both of us to your
good mother Write when you
can lots love best wishes
grate granny Marshall

Alas, I wish the “Chicken Family History” part of it was a story about all her egg laying, but instead, as you see, she was canning chicken, not gathering eggs. In those days, it was common for families to keep small flocks, and like Shannon’s family, they would have eaten their old layers. I don’t know how far back my great great great granny Marshalls kept chickens, but as a young married woman she was quite poor, so it’s very likely she kept chickens for most of her life.

In 1860, just before the Civil War,  she married at the tender age of 14, and in opposition to her family’s wishes. Virginia was too young, her family thought, and also—horror of horrors—she was marrying Benjamin Marshall, a man with northern sympathies. The Jacksons considered themselves southerners. In fact, her father was Stonewall Jackson’s cousin. The Jackson family had numerous slaves, which was relatively unusual in West Virginia. So when she married out of her family’s political persuasion, they utterly disowned her.

Benjamin Marshall

Would you have wanted your 14 year old to marry this old guy? It wasn’t as scary as all that, in truth. This is the only photo I have of him, but when they married, he was 19, only five years older than Virginia.

Shortly after they wed, the war broke out and her new husband enlisted in the union army, specifically the 11th regiment of the WV volunteer infantry, leaving her at home alone. During the war she scraped by in a little cabin not too far from where I live now.  I’ve always thought she must have scraped by on egg money. I found out recently from an old newspaper article that touchingly, when she was especially desperate—and that must have been often—the slaves on her father’s farm would sneak out and ride horseback all night to bring her food and clothing. This would have been against her family’s wishes–they had disowned her.  When the war ended, her husband returned, and they eventually had 12 children, among them my great grandmother, also named Virginia.

I know many other of my ancestors must have kept chickens, too. For instance, my great great grandfather Chapman Carrell was a farmer… however no one seems to know what it was he farmed.

Chicken Family history - Jennie and Chapman Carrell

Great great grandparents Jennie and Chapman Carrell, farmers

Read a portion of his beautiful obituary, and you’ll see it sounds as if his farming was relatively diverse:

 … all his life has been spent on the Carrell farm here, which to him contained all the elements necessary to his enjoyment and happiness.

He was essentially and truly a lover of home, and while others dreamed of political honors, power, fame, position and social success, he was more than content by the fireside of his youth and at the home of his people, and to him the most pleasant society was that of his mother, his wife and children. The lowing of the cattle and the music of the birds had for him more charms than the artificial eloquence of men and the pomp and parade of political strife.

He saw more beauty in the growing grass and the fields ripe for harvest than in the artificial glitter and display of social life, and in his silent, quiet way he taught many of his associates that the noblest and grandest life that can be lived is the quiet, unobtrusive life “far from the madding crowd”: the life that is divested of the mean and petty ambition which takes from us the noblest and best impulses, and substitutes therefore a morbid and overweening desire to follow after things which, if attained, never satisfy an honest craving of the heart.

Did he keep chickens? Most probably. I like to think he did; I like to think he is a part of my Chicken Family History, too. I feel as if we would have gotten along, had we been contemporaries. Perhaps he and great great grandma Jennie would have come over to our farm, where we would have listened to the lowing the the cattle, the music of the birds… and the clucking of the hens and crowing of the roosters.

Jennie Carrell - Chicken Family History

Here’s great great grandma Jennie at her farm. I would have loved to sit on a porch swing with her.


Do you have any farmers in your family history? Did they keep chickens, or do you suspect they did? Please share in the comments.



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roberta November 2nd, 2012

My great grandmothers in Italy theme my grandmother, (nonna Zamira), continued here in USA, my mother shares the stories of her mothers’ chickens, used for eggs and then to feed the family, extra young roosters were Sunday dinner. She used the old time methods, deep litter, lots of ventilation, natural selection or careful culling to make a strong flock. Mom is 93, the reason I ordered chicks from My Pet Chicken, hoping to raise them the same way!

Coffeenut November 2nd, 2012

Those old photos are great and I also LOVE that porch swing. How great that you have so much of your family history documented. I kind of wish had had that canned chicken recipe, lol. Your gggggrandma probably had a good one!

Lissa November 2nd, 2012

I love that old porch swing, too, Coffeenut. My family owned that house for many years, and the extended family would all go out during the summer and stay there, long after it had any permanent residents. We used to pick concord grapes off the vine (which I think you can see the bottom of, just to the left of g-g-grandma in the bottom picture). There was no TV out there—and it was way before iphones, ipads, mp3 players and so on—so there was a lot of porch swinging going on in those days. 🙂

Dkvarvel November 2nd, 2012

I was born and raised on a farm in SE Kansas. We raised chickens, ducks, and peacocks. Loved the chickens! Had a lot of pet chickens too. We used to take eggs to town once a week and sell them, using that money at grocery store! Also had pigs, cattle and horses. Lots of cats too, always a dog or two also. The older I get the more I think about those days, I am now 65 and live in Arizon.

lauren scheuer November 4th, 2012

What wonderful treasures you’ve found in your family history! What a delightful story. Thank you.

Eleanore November 16th, 2012

I have no clue if any of my ancestors and grandparents kept chickens but my grandma ADORES THEM she LIVES in an OLD CHICKEN COOP SHE LOVES THEM SO MUCH! She has turned it into a lovely little house!

Eleanore November 16th, 2012

P.S. I love chickens too!

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