Why is Connecticut Called the “Nutmeg State”?

No, the state does not actually grow the spice.
“Nutmeg State” isn’t actually Connecticut’s official nickname.
“Nutmeg State” isn’t actually Connecticut’s official nickname. / miniature/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images (map of Connecticut); Reed Kaestner/Corbis/Getty Images (nutmegs and mace)

Connecticut’s most popularly used unofficial nickname is the “Nutmeg State.” Yet despite the spiced sobriquet, Connecticut doesn’t actually produce nutmeg. The unusual nickname arose from a bit of confusion (or, depending on the story, some trickery).

How Connecticut Became the “Nutmeg State”

During the 18th and 19th centuries, several associations between the state and the spice emerged. Early sailors would bring the valuable seed back on their foreign voyages; over time, Yankee peddlers developed a reputation for selling fake nutmegs made of carved wood.

The first recorded instance of this accusation was in a popular newspaper column of the mid-1800s, “The Sayings and Doings of Samuel Slick, of Slickville,” which appeared in the Novascotian and featured the wry observations of a character created by Thomas Haliburton. In a column entitled “The Preacher that Wandered from His Text,” Samuel Slick accuses a fictional Captain John Allspice of Nahant of having “carried a cargo once there of [50] barrels of nutmegs: well, he put half a bushel of good ones into each end of the barrel, and the rest he filled up with wooden ones, so like the real thing, no soul could tell the difference until HE BIT ONE WITH HIS TEETH, and that he never thought of doing, until he was first BIT HIMSELF. Well, its been a standing joke with them southerners agin us ever since.”

Later, it was suggested that it was the confused Southerners to blame for these mix-ups. In a 1980 issue of Connecticut Magazine, Elizabeth Abbe suggested that Southern customers were unaware that nutmeg had to be grated, and instead wrongly thought that the Yankee merchants were trying to scam them.

She writes, “unknowing buyers may have failed to grate nutmegs, thinking they had to be cracked like a walnut. Nutmegs are wood, and bounce when struck. If [Southern] customers did not grate them, they may very well have accused the Yankees of selling useless ‘wooden’ nutmegs, unaware that they wear down to a pungent powder to season pies and breads.”

Finally, it’s possible that no one tried to sell wooden nutmegs and no one accused anyone of selling wooden nutmegs but that the term simply derived as reference to the fictional Samuel Slick column as shorthand for how shrewd Connecticut residents were—suggesting that, like Captain John Allspice, they would have attempted such a stunt.

What are Connecticut’s nicknames?

Technically, Connecticut’s “official nickname”—there is such a thing—is the “Constitution State” because of historian John Fiske’s claim that the Fundamental Orders of 1638/1639 were the first written constitution in history.

“The Nutmeg State” isn’t the area’s only unofficial nickname. In the past, Connecticut was also dubbed “The Provisions State” because of the food and supplies it provided for the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. It has also been known as “The Blue Law State” because of its early settlers’ Puritan beliefs, which led to strict rules about vices such as drinking and gambling. And in the early 19th century, Connecticut was known as “The Land of Steady Habits” because its residents had a reputation for their strong morals.

What do you call someone from Connecticut?

When it comes to referring to someone from a certain state, other New England places like Vermont (“Vermonter”) and Rhode Island (“Rhode Islander”) have it easy. Nicknames for people who live in Connecticut, however, are more of a mouthful. Modern dictionaries have used “Connecticuter;” other older options include “Connecticotian” and “Connecticutensian.” And of course, the simplest option is to just “Nutmegger.”

A version of this story originally ran in 2014; it has been updated for 2023.