The origin of the term “swamp Yankee” may be muddy, but we know who they are.
By Barrett Featherston
Sep 30 2021
What is a “swamp Yankee”? Pretty much exactly what it sounds like. A “swamp Yankee,” according to American Speech, a language quarterly, is “a rural New England dweller who abides today as a steadfast rustic, whose stock has endured since the Colonial days.”
We know who they are. They are found back in the woods living in the Colonials and Capes their ancestors built, treading those same wide boards and sleeping under those same hewn rafters. They may be old-money rich; they may be old-money poor. Either way, they live with a rustic frugality that was instilled by equal measures of nurture and nature. A swamp Yankee is called such because an ancestor sold off the family’s “good” land to other farmers. Or because in modern times he has sold his legacy to developers. Squeezed by time and space, swamp Yankees are left with only the family home and — of course — the prerequisite piece of swamp.
Originally published in “The New England Sampler,” Yankee Magazine, August 1996.
This post was first published in 2015 and has been updated.