On Gratitude

In honor of Thanksgiving, Historical Interpreter Brittany wrote this creative blog post on Tad Lincoln’s noble quest to save the life of Jack the turkey. Enjoy!


The young human calls me Jack. His name is Tad—short for Thomas—after his grandfather.  The grandfather died some years ago in Illinois. Illinois is where I happen to have some cousins, and also where Tad was born.  The turkeys murmur about another young human named Willie, who sadly passed in the year prior. Tad’s oldest brother Robert is most often away at Harvard University but makes occasional appearances around these parts, much to the fuss and joy of their mother, Mary. She wears skirts that rustle and often talks politics.

None of these details are of primary importance in my account here—you see, I just wish to provide familial context.

You’re likely familiar with Tad’s father, as he is the President of these United States of America. Many American humans know who their president is, and my guess is that you’re likely an American human. Tad spends his days here at the Executive Mansion running around with the goats and causing old humans in suits to bristle.

He runs amok, oblivious to the heightening social, political, and military crisis that envelop our times—tensions that result, among several conflicts, from two centuries of chattel slavery and sectional differences over economics—but  what do I know really? I’m just a turkey.

Anyway—Tad calls me Jack.[1]


I arrived here about a year ago, right before Christmas. At the time I indulged in a nihilistic ethos along with the other turkeys, not because it was en vogue and makes one appear mysterious, as I thought in my teen months, but because we were here for one reason. You know it well.

One crisp afternoon the other turkeys and I were minding our own business on the verdant mansion grounds. Tad charged forward out of the blue with a string in his hand. Startled, the hen to my right fled immediately—a familiar experience.  Anyway.

Tad flung the string around my neck in a loop. I resisted but to no avail; as a human he has the advantage of a dextral grip but does not comprehend my coherent vocal protest. Why, I was about to stare into a bush wistfully for ten minutes and now this!

Through the following hour I was subject to the boy’s whims as he led me in and out of the Executive Mansion, chattering nonsense, and forcing interactions with various (mostly bearded) humans. He led me to the cook, who cheerfully referred me as Christmas dinner.

Astonished, Tad pulled tightly on my neck string, and together we fled from the cook’s grin and ran-hobbled into his father’s office.

Here is where my mood softened. Like our mythologized interpretations of the Algonquin Pocahontas pleading with her father to let John Smith live, Tad begged his father for my life.[2]  He urged that I was a “good turkey,” and that I ought to live. Well. No kidding.

After listening patiently, his pale eyes shifting steadily between mine and his son’s,  the father conceded. He decided that as Commander in Chief, he would make the executive decision to pardon yours truly from an imminent fate.

So goes the story of how my position at the Executive Mansion transitioned from Christmas dinner to Tad’s right-hand gobbler—notably with little bureaucracy. I wonder if the next fellow in office will do this for some other poor bird.

Anyway—Tad calls me Jack, and for this I give thanks.

From my wing to yours, this holiday season.

[1] Sourced from Abe Lincoln Loved Animals (2008), written by Ellen Jackson, illustrated by Doris Ettlinger, and published by Albert Whitman & Company. In her notes, Jackson explains that the story of Tad and Jack “is recorded by Louis A. Warren in his book Lincoln’s Youth: Indiana Years, Seven to Twenty-One, 1816-1830.”

[2] Or Mataoka, or Amonute, or Rebecca Rolfe—you know.

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