Swamp Yankee

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"Swamp Yankee" is a colloquial pejorative for rural Yankees (northeastern Americans with English colonial ancestry). The term "Yankee" connotes urbane industriousness, whereas the term "Swamp Yankee" suggests a more countrified, stubborn, independent, and less-refined subtype.


Ruth Schell claims that the phrase is used predominantly in Rhode Island by immigrant minority groups to describe a rural person "of stubborn, old-fashioned, frugal, English-speaking Yankee stock, of good standing in the rural community, but usually possessing minimal formal education and little desire to augment it."

Swamp Yankees themselves react to the term with slight disapproval or indifference…. The term is unfavorably received when used by a city dweller with the intention of ridiculing a country resident; however, when one country resident refers to another as a swamp Yankee, no offense is taken, and it is treated as good-natured jest.… [Swamp Yankees] were not among the religious and ambitious Pilgrims who had sailed to America on the Mayflower; but rather they were more often among the undesirables who had left England as the result of some form of misconduct and who retreated to the swamps when they arrived here.[1]

At one time, swamp Yankees had their own variety of isolated country music, according to Harvard professor Paul Di Maggio and Vanderbilt University professor Richard Peterson.[2] Playwright Arthur Miller uses the term in his play The Last Yankee to refer to a New England carpenter who was a descendant of one of the Founding Fathers. Rhode Island cartoonist Don Bousquet often parodies the Swamp Yankee in his cartoons. Kerry W. Buckley describes President Calvin Coolidge as a swamp Yankee in a 2003 article in New England Quarterly, defining it as the "scion of an old family that was no longer elite or monied".[3] "The term swamp Yankee is becoming less known and may be unknown in a few generations…. Probably the best reason for its disappearance is the vanishing of the swamp Yankee himself as society moves toward urban and suburban life."[4]

The town of Richmond, Rhode Island sponsors a festival every September named "Swamp Yankee Days". It features traditional fare such as clam chowder, clamcakes, and johnnycakes. Various local bands play during the event, and activities include an antique tractor parade, a baked bean eating contest, cow chip bingo, a flea market, and assorted activities for children.


The origin of the term "Swamp Yankee" is unclear. The term "Yankee" originated in the mid-17th century,[5] but the variation "Swamp Yankee" is not attested until the 20th century, according to "Etymology Online".. Several theories speculate that "Swamp Yankees" were the undesirable, troublemaking New Englanders who moved to the "swamps" of southeastern New England upon arriving in the New World in the 17th century. It is possible that the term also meant that a person was unwanted in an unestablished town for having a relationship with an Indian. Others[who?] speculate that the original "Swamp Yankees" were colonial-era indentured servants who were paid for their service with swamp land from the farmers to whom they were indentured. Still others[who?] claim that "Swamp Yankees" had relatives who fought in the Great Swamp Fight of King Philip's War.

Another theory claims that the term originated during the American Revolution when residents of Thompson, Connecticut fled to the surrounding swamps to escape a feared British invasion in 1776. When the refugees arose from the swamps several weeks later, they were ridiculed and called "Swamp Yankees".[6]

A 1912 Metropolitan Magazine article describes the son of a New England mill owner as a "Swamp Yankee".[7] In 1921, Modern Connecticut Homes and Homecrafts describes a "swamp yankee" living in an old unpainted home in New England but caring about his beds of flowers.[8] A bowling team in a 1922 Norwich, Connecticut newspaper was named the "Swamp Yankees".[9] In 1935, the New York Times labeled "Swamp Yankees" as those driven out of a New England mill town by immigrants.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ruth Schell, "Swamp Yankee", American Speech, 1963, Volume 38, No. 2 (The American Dialect Society, Duke University Press), pp. 121–123. Accessed through JSTOR.
  2. ^ Peterson, 499
  3. ^ Kerry W. Buckley, "A President for the 'Great Silent Majority': Bruce Barton's Construction of Calvin Coolidge", The New England Quarterly. Vol. 76, No. 4 (Dec. 2003), p. 594.
  4. ^ Schell, 121–123.
  5. ^ Etymonline.com
  6. ^ http://www.curbstone.org/index.cfm?webpage=80
  7. ^ [1] William Burns Weston, "Jimmie Pulsifer Walks Home"], The Metropolitan, July 1912, p. 15
  8. ^ Modern Connecticut Homes and Homecrafts: A Book of Representative Houses, Interiors, Gardens, Decorations, Furnishings and Equipment Appropriately Described and Illustrated by Several Hundred Beautiful Engravings, (American Homecrafts Company, 1921) p. 139
  9. ^ Norwich bulletin, March 23, 1922, Image 3
  10. ^ "Out of the Whirlwind", New York Times, May 26, 1935