Poultry, especially chicken, is a contributing factor to the economic well-being of the state of Delaware. The broiler industry in lower Delaware actually makes up for over half of the agricultural income on the entire state. So it would seem fitting that Delaware officially reserved the title of State Bird to a chicken.
They could have easily chosen the Buckeye, or Barnevelder. The Dominique is considered the oldest breed of chicken in the US, brought over from England. All these birds have origins in the US and are recognized as breeds by the American Poultry Standards of Perfection.
But not the Blue Hen.
It is not recognized as a breed of chicken and furthermore, doesn’t even originate in the United States.
However, on April 14, 1939, the Delaware General Assembly adopted it based on a legacy that is traced back to the open stages of American Revolutionary War. Colonel John Haslet and the 1st Delaware Regiment were reporting for duty in January 1776. There ferocity in battle had earned them the name, the “Fighting Delawares”.
Within the regiment, was a company composed of men from Kent County under the command of Captain John Caldwell. Legend has it, that Caldwell always went into battle bringing two birds to the battlefield. They were the male offspring of a blue feathered hen leading Caldwell’s men to be known as the “Sons of the Blue Hen”.
Another account, tells of how these men would amuse themselves during moments of down time by fighting the birds in cock fights which were a huge spectacle at the time. The blue hens quickly became known for their victories and fervor.
What’s more, the regiment itself stood out among most other regiments of the time due to its uniform. The men were impeccably attired and marched with great precision, wearing white pants, blue coats and black shoes. Their black hats held huge red feathers on the left side with high peaks in the center. It would go without saying that to watch them march might resemble a flock of gamecocks, thus lending to the legacy.
Over the years, the fighting men and their gamecocks grew among the state’s folklore. The Civil War would produce another Kent County Militia that would be known as the Blue Hen’s Chickens. A Wilmington newspaper would adopt the same name in 1845. In 1870 during the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, the State Building’s flagpole would be topped with a blue hen model. The theme of the blue hen would become the center point of numerous political campaigns. In 1910, the USS Delaware was presented with two blue hens during its formal flag ceremony.
In more recent history, the University of Delaware’s mascot, affectionately known as “YoUDee” is modeled after the bird. The University’s College of Agriculture & Natural Resources maintains a breeding group of the Blue Hens on the campus farm.
In today's society, being called a chicken often comes with the connotation that you're afraid to do whatever task has been set before you. In Delaware, it carries an entirely different meaning and often a great sense of pride.