Wednesday, December 12, 2012

What is a Swamp Yankee anyways?

Swamp Yankee - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Swamp Yankee via the Word Detective

The origins of the term "Swamp Yankee" are unclear. The term "Yankee" originated in the mid-18th century, and the variation "Swamp Yankee" seems to have developed shortly after this period. 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.
Don't know what made me remember this phrase today, but it's how my maternal grandfather, with a big grin and no small amount of pride, used to describe his ancestry. I'd never looked it up though to see if it had any particular meaning. From what I can gather in this article, it seems like it's primarily a way for New Englanders with deep roots in the region to distinguish themselves as being of Protestant, Anglo-Saxon descent as opposed to those shifty Jean-come-lately French Canadian Catholics that filled up New England mill towns in the 1840s.


  1. I've never heard the term. Are/were there actual swamps in New England?

    1. Yes. Development has destroyed lots of the wetlands, a pattern of dredging, draining, and filling that's reduced the acreage of wetlands by more than 50% since colonial times, but New England still has swamps. I think Louisiana and maybe Florida are the states we typically think of as being swampy, so there's the perception of swamps as being sultry, warmer climate features, but New England is a heavily forested area with lots of lakes, ponds, streams, etc. so you have a lot of those transitional areas where the water table is at or near the surface. Our red maples and skunk cabbage aren't quite as atmospheric as they cypress trees and spanish moss down south, and we don't have Acadians living in them playing zydeco to give them the same kind of cultural appeal. :P


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