The term "Swamp Yankees" is a New England-ism used to describe the low-income, rural, farming/laboring families of eastern Connecticut, southeastern Massachusetts, and Rhode Island from the Colonial period through today. Originally meant as an insult, "Swamp Yankee" has evolved into a term of endearment and even pride for the more rugged Southern New Englanders.
As opposed to the blue-blooded "Boston Brahmins" who have been here equally as long but have benefited from great wealth, the Swamp Yankees (or "Swampers") have strong colonial roots but none of the fame and glory. Most Swamp Yankees came over during the Great Migration and subsequent generations, but usually as indentured servants or underpaid crew on the ships. Alternatively, they may have ancestors who were in the upper-class elite, but their branches may have splintered off and lost the wealth and cultural standing their ancestors had. They are true people of the earth, people who have made their living with their own land and their own hands since the 1600s.
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The term "Swamp Yankee" generally refers to low-income, farming people from the following counties:
- Middlesex County
- New London County
- Tolland County
- Windham County
- Bristol County
- Bristol County
- Kent County
- Providence County
- Washington County
As described by author Ruth Schell, the typical swamper is:
"...a rural dweller—one 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. ... 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.
The term is most frequently applied to older people and is often preceded by old. Sometimes it is shortened to swampy [or swamper]. ... [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. The typical swamp Yankee can be found in an old, rural general store...
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."