They most certainly did!
However, it was not the British accent we think about today! During the Revolutionary Era, there were many “British” accents depending upon what part of Britain you emigrated from to America. Once in America, the accents began to quickly diverge. However, the British accent we know today with the nasal soft R like “yahd” did not come into existence until after the Revolutionary Period.
For a discussion of how the Founders sounded, listen to John McWhorter’s podcast. John H. McWhorter teaches linguistics, philosophy, and music at Columbia University. His latest book is The Language Hoax.
For a written analysis of the diverging accents, see Mental Floss post by Matt Soniak.
It’s interesting to contemplate what role speaking and accents had on the reputations and acceptance of Revolutionary Leaders. For example,
- Did Charles Lee and Horatio Gates have better reputations going into the conflict as they were recent immigrants and their English was closer to “British” English?
- Did Israel Putnam receive lower esteem from his colleagues as he had a rough, rural accent which was further removed from the British sounds?
- Did city generals such as Benjamin Lincoln and Samuel Holden Parsons have advantages over rural generals such as John Stark and Daniel Morgan?
- There was considerable internal squabbles between northern and southern Continental Army officers. Was his rivalry enhanced by accent differences?
We may not know how these generals sounded, but just as today, ones accent does influence how we are perceived by colleagues and acquaintances.
Intriguing questions about regionality and class.
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