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Dictionary of Wisconsin History

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Term: Yankees in Wisconsin

Definition: The term "Yankee" traditionally refers to American born citizens from the New England states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and New York. With the opening of the west after the American Revolution, settlers poured across New York, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, and, by the early 1830s, into Wisconsin. Migration out of New England increased in the early 19th century, as people looked west for economic opportunity. Yankees, primarily from New York, began settling in Wisconsin after the Black Hawk War in 1832. Settling in the southeast, this area became known as "Yankee land." Milwaukee's early population was overwhelmingly Yankee in the 1830s and 1840s but this would change as more Germans came to Wisconsin. While some Yankees became businessmen, many more farmed wheat. Yankees were usually single males who bought land and then returned east to bring their families. One other early type of Yankee settler was the land speculator who moved well ahead of settlement and purchased land for future development. Of the 305,390 people in Wisconsin in 1850, 120,637 were from New York and 19,184 were from Vermont.

[Source: Wisconsin's Cultural Resources Study Units, Wisconsin Historical Society]
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