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"Yankee Doodle" is a well-known Anglo-American song, the origin of which dates back to the Seven Years' War. It is often sung patriotically in the United Statesmarker today and is the state anthem of Connecticutmarker. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 4501.

History and lyrics

The first verse and refrain, as often sung today, runs:
Yankee Doodle went to town,
A-Riding on a pony;
He stuck a feather in his cap,
And called it macaroni.


The song's origin is unclear. Traditions place its origin in a pre-Revolutionary War song originally by Britishmarker military officers to mock the dishevelled, disorganized colonial "Yankees" with whom they served in the French and Indian War. It is believed that the tune comes from the nursery rhyme Lucy Locket. One version of the Yankee Doodle lyrics is "generally attributed" to Doctor Richard Shuckburgh, a British Army surgeon. According to one story, Shuckburgh wrote the song after seeing the appearance of Colonial troops under Colonel Thomas Fitch, Jr., the son of Connecticut Governor Thomas Fitch.

Etymology

As a term Doodle first appeared in the early seventeenth century, and is thought to derive from the Low German dudel or dödel, meaning "fool" or "simpleton". The Macaroni wig was an extreme fashion in the 1770s and became contemporary slang for foppishness. The implication of the verse was therefore probably that the Yankees were so unsophisticated that they thought simply sticking a feather in a cap would make them the height of fashion.

Early versions

The earliest known version of the lyrics comes from 1755 or 1758, as the date of origin is disputed:

Brother Ephraim sold his Cow
And bought him a Commission;
And then he went to Canada
To fight for the Nation;


But when Ephraim he came home
He proved an arrant Coward,
He wouldn't fight the Frenchmen there
For fear of being devour'd.
(Note that the sheet music which accompanies these lyrics reads, "The Words to be Sung through the Nose, & in the West Country drawl & dialect.")

The Ephraim referenced here was Ephraim Williams, a popularly known Colonel in the Massachusettsmarker militia who was killed in the Battle of Lake George. He left his land and property to the founding of a school in Western Massachusetts, now known as Williams College.

The tune also appeared in 1762, in one of America's first comic operas, The Disappointment, with bawdy lyrics about the search for Blackbeard's buried treasure by a team from Philadelphia.

It has been reported that the British often marched to a version believed to be about a man named Thomas Ditson, of Billerica, Massachusettsmarker. Ditson was tarred and feathered for attempting to buy a musket in Boston in March 1775, although he later fought at Concord:

Yankee Doodle came to town,
For to buy a firelock,
We will tar and feather him,
And so we will John Hancock.


For this reason, the town of Billerica claims to be the "home" of Yankee Doodle, and claims that at this point the Americans embraced the song and made it their own, turning it back on those who had used it to mock them. After the Battle of Lexington and Concordmarker, a Boston newspaper reported:"Upon their return to Boston [pursued by the Minutemen], one [Briton] asked his brother officer how he liked the tune now, — 'Dang them,' returned he, 'they made us dance it till we were tired' — since which Yankee Doodle sounds less sweet to their ears."

The British responded with another set of lyrics following the Battle of Bunker Hillmarker:
The seventeen of June, at Break of Day,
The Rebels they supriz'd us,
With their strong Works, which they'd thrown up,
To burn the Town and drive us.


Also on February 6, 1788. Massachusetts ratified the Constitution by a vote of 186 to 168. To the ringing of bells and the booming of cannons, the delegates trooped out of Brattle Street Church. Before many days had passed, the citizens sang their convention song to the tune of "Yankee Doodle." Here are the lyrics to their song...

The vention did in Boston meet,
The State House could not hold 'em
So then they went to Fed'ral Street,
And there the truth was told 'em...
And ev'ry morning went to prayer,
And then began disputing,
Till oppositions silenced were,
By arguments refuting.


Now politicians of all kinds,
Who are not yet decided,
May see how Yankees speak their minds,
And yet are not divided.
So here I end my Fed'ral song,
Composed of thirteen verses;
May agriculture flourish long
And commerce fill our purses!


Full version

A full version of the song, as it is known today, goes:
Yankee Doodle went to town
A-riding on a pony,
Stuck a feather in his cap
And called it macaroni'.


Chorus:
Yankee Doodle keep it up,
Yankee Doodle dandy,
Mind the music and the step,
And with the girls be handy.


Fath'r and I went down to camp,
Along with Captain Gooding,
And there we saw the men and boys
As thick as hasty puddin'.


Chorus


And there we saw a thousand men
As rich as Squire David,
And what they wasted every day,
I wish it could be saved.


Chorus


The 'lasses they eat it every day,
Would keep a house a winter;
They have so much, that I'll be bound,
They eat it when they've mind ter.


Chorus


And there I see a swamping gun
Large as a log of maple,
Upon a deuced little cart,
A load for father's cattle.


Chorus


And every time they shoot it off,
It takes a horn of powder,
and makes a noise like father's gun,
Only a nation louder.


Chorus


I went as nigh to one myself
As 'Siah's inderpinning;
And father went as nigh again,
I thought the deuce was in him.


Chorus


Cousin Simon grew so bold,
I thought he would have cocked it;
It scared me so I shrinked it off
And hung by father's pocket.


Chorus


And Cap'n Davis had a gun,
He kind of clapt his hand on't
And stuck a crooked stabbing iron
Upon the little end on't


Chorus


And there I see a pumpkin shell
As big as mother's bason,
And every time they touched it off
They scampered like the nation.


Chorus


I see a little barrel too,
The heads were made of leather;
They knocked on it with little clubs
And called the folks together.


Chorus


And there was Cap'n Washington,
And gentle folks about him;
They say he's grown so 'tarnal proud
He will not ride without em'.


Chorus


He got him on his meeting clothes,
Upon a slapping stallion;
He sat the world along in rows,
In hundreds and in millions.


Chorus


The flaming ribbons in his hat,
They looked so tearing fine, ah,
I wanted dreadfully to get
To give to my Jemima.


Chorus


I see another snarl of men
A digging graves they told me,
So 'tarnal long, so 'tarnal deep,
They 'tended they should hold me.


Chorus


It scared me so, I hooked it off,
Nor stopped, as I remember,
Nor turned about till I got home,
Locked up in mother's chamber.


Chorus


Variations and parodies

Many other variations and parodies have since arisen, including one taught to schoolchildren today:

Yankee Doodle went to town
A-riding on a pony
He stuck a feather in his hat
And called it macaroni


Yankee Doodle, keep it up
Yankee Doodle dandy
Mind the music and the step
and with the girls be handy!


Father and I went down to camp
Along with Captain Gooding
And there we saw the men and boys
As thick as hasty pudding.


Chorus


And there was Captain Washington
And gentle folks about him
They say he's grown so tarnal proud
He will not right without him.


Chorus


Media

Popular culture



Notes

  1. STATE OF CONNECTICUT, Sites º Seals º Symbols; Connecticut State Register & Manual; retrieved on May 23, 2008
  2. "doodle", n, Oxford English Dictionary. Accessed April 29th, 2009.
  3. J. Woodforde, The Strange Story of False Hair (London: Taylor & Francis, 1971), p. 40.
  4. R. Ross, Clothing: a global history : or, The Imperialists' new clothes (Polity, 2008), p. 51.
  5. Bobrick, 148
  6. The Billerica Colonial Minute Men; The Thomas Ditson story; retrieved on July 10, 2008
  7. [1]; Town History and Genealogy; retrieved on October 20, 2008
  8. Gen. George P. Morris - "Original Yankee Words", The Patriotic Anthology, Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc. publishers, 1941. Introduction by Carl Van Doren. Literary Guild of America, Inc., New York N.Y.
  9. Berg, Jerome S. On the Short Waves, 1923-1945: Broadcast Listening in the Pioneer Days of Radio. 1999, McFarland. ISBN 0786405066, page 104


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