|First Kentucky Fried Chicken Restaurant (Tampa FL, 1961) from: tampapix|
For enslaved African Americans, this humble status proved a welcome boon. In 1692, after several individuals had bought their freedom with profits from animal sales, the Virginia General Assembly made it illegal for slaves to own horses, cattle and pigs. Masters often banned their human chattels from hunting, fishing or growing tobacco, and at Mount Vernon raising ducks and geese was an undertaking reserved solely for George Washington’s white staff. The chicken ‘is the only pleasure allowed to Negroes; they are not permitted to keep either ducks or geese or pigs’, one visitor there remarked.
On the expanding farms of the colonial South, African Americans began to breed, sell, buy and eat fowl as they saw fit. Many first-generation slaves came from West Africa, where the birds were widely raised and often used in ritual sacrifice. Chicken fried in palm oil is still a favourite meal there.
Owners granted slaves authority over chickens because the birds were of negligible economic importance and reduced plantation spending on feeding field hands. Just as European Jews gained expertise in moneylending, a profession disdained by Christians, poultry became an African-American speciality because whites preferred beef and pork.
Planters often paid their slaves cash for fowl and eggs, giving black cooks an economic incentive to encourage their masters to eat more chicken. By the middle of the 19th century, fried chicken was a quintessentially Southern dish.”
— Andrew Lawler, aeon