Swamp Yankee

Swamp Yankee is a colloquial term for rural Yankees (northeastern Americans). The term "Yankee" connotes urbane industriousness, whereas the term "Swamp Yankee" suggests a more countrified, stubborn, independent, and less-refined sub-type.


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.[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] Kerry W. Buckley describes President Calvin Coolidge as a swamp Yankee in a 2003 article in The New England Quarterly, defining the term as the "scion of an old family that was no longer elite or monied".[3] Schell predicts that "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 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, trouble-making New Englanders who moved to the swamps of southeastern New England upon arriving in the New World in the 17th century. 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 ancestors 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. They returned from the swamps several weeks later and were ridiculed as "Swamp Yankees".[6]

A 1901 article published in the Mahoney City American and Waterbury Democrat refers to an undertaker and a wealthy coal dealer from Waterbury, Connecticut as "swamp yankees".[7] A 1912 Metropolitan Magazine article describes the son of a New England mill owner as a "Swamp Yankee".[8] 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.[9] A bowling team in a 1922 Norwich, Connecticut newspaper called themselves the "Swamp Yankees".[10] In 1935, the New York Times labeled "Swamp Yankees" as those driven out of a New England mill town by immigrants.[11]

See alsoEdit


  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. ^ "Swamp Yankee Loose in Town," Waterbury Democrat, July 22, 1901, g. 5, Image 5 (accessed on https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/)
  8. ^ [1] William Burns Weston, "Jimmie Pulsifer Walks Home"], The Metropolitan, July 1912, p. 15
  9. ^ 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
  10. ^ Norwich bulletin, March 23, 1922, Image 3
  11. ^ "Out of the Whirlwind", New York Times, May 26, 1935