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Military Slang of the Revolutionary War Era

Military Slang of the Revolutionary War Era

American rifleman c  1780

Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation collection.

There is nothing new about military slang. Soldiers, like other groups of people who have interests and associations that are not shared by society as a whole, develop their own special terminology. Here are some examples of American and British military slang that date to the period of the American Revolution.

“Yankee Peas” (British army term) – Buckshot. American troops, particularly militia, sometimes loaded their muskets with a few buckshot as well as a standard musket ball to inflict more casualties at close range.

“Grab” (British army term) – To loot a civilian house while the homeowner was still in residence.

“Lob” (British army term) – To loot a civilian house after the homeowner had fled.

“Georgia Parole” (American militia term) – To shoot an enemy soldier rather than take him prisoner. In the South much of the fighting took place between rival Patriot and Loyalist militias. Sometimes this conflict became very bitter and personal, with little attempt being made to take enemy prisoners.

“Crackers” (a term used by both British and Americans) – Poor frontiersmen in the southern colonies who served as irregular militia. British Army Colonel Archibald Campbell described Crackers this way: “irregulars from the upper country under the denomination of crackers, a race of men whose motions were too voluntary to be under restraint and whose scouting disposition (was) in quest of pillage.”


5 thoughts on “Military Slang of the Revolutionary War Era

  1. Tim Bernier says:

    Just came across this article. Is anyone familiar with the term “on returns”…or more specifically, “sick on returns”? I’ve come across this phrase with regard to someone who died while serving in the Continental army during the American Revolution. I’m trying to determine if he actually died while stationed with his light horse brigade in Ft. Lee, NJ, or if perhaps he actually just died while home recovering from an illness.

  2. Linda Leitaker says:

    What does RWP or Revolutionary War Patron mean?

    1. bobjeffrey says:

      Our curators have not heard of this acronym. Could it be Revolutionary War pension or pensioner?

  3. Julian says:

    The term “Fix bayonets” was a term that meant to attach bayonets to the soldiers weapon.

  4. Jim says:

    The term “Cowboy” also was from this period.

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