AskDefine | Define sutler

Dictionary Definition

sutler n : a supplier of victuals or supplies to an army [syn: victualer, victualler, provisioner]

User Contributed Dictionary



From soeteler (modern zoetelaar).


  • (UK) /ˈsʌtlə/


  1. A person who follows an army, selling provisions.

Extensive Definition

A sutler or victualer is a civilian who sells provisions to an army in the field, in camp or in quarters. The word, like numerous other naval and military terms, came into English from Dutch, where it appears as soetelaar or zoetelaar. It meant originally "one who does dirty work, a drudge, a scullion", and derives from zoetelen (to foul, sully), a word cognate with "suds" (hot soapy water), "seethe" (to boil) and "sodden".
These merchants often followed the armies of the American Revolution to try and sell their merchandise to the men. Sutlers played a major role in the recreation of army men between at least 1865 to 1890. Generally, the sutlers built their stores within the limits of an army post or just off the defense line, and first needed to receive a license from the Commander prior to construction; they were, by extension, also subject to his regulations. Sutlers, frequently the only local supplier of non-military goods, often developed monopolies on simple commodities like tobacco, coffee, or sugar and rose to powerful statures. Since government-issued coinage was scarce during the Civil War, sutlers often conducted transactions using a particular type of Civil War token known as a sutler token.
Sutler stores off post-limits were usually also open to travellers and commonly facilitated activities such as gambling, drinking, and prostitution.
In modern use the term sutler is often used to describe businesses that provide period uniforms and supplies to reenactors, especially to reenactors of the American Civil War. These businesses will often themselves play the part of historical sutlers while selling their goods at reenactments.


  • Butler, Anne M. (1987). Daughters of Joy, Sisters of Misery: Prostitutes in the American West, 1865-90, University of Illinois Press, 137-139. ISBN 0-252-01466-9.
sutler in German: Marketenderin
sutler in Dutch: Marketentster
sutler in Japanese: 酒保商人
sutler in Russian: Маркитанты

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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