The first verse and refrain of Yankee Doodle, engraved on the footpath in a park.
Performed by Carrie Rehkopf
Choral version by United States Army Chorus
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"Yankee Doodle" is a well-known American song, the early versions of which date to before the Seven Years' War and the American Revolution (1775–83) It is often sung patriotically in the United States today and is the state anthem of Connecticut. Its Roud Folk Song Index number is 4501. The melody is thought to be much older than both the lyrics and the subject, going back to folk songs of Medieval Europe.
The tune of Yankee Doodle is thought to be much older than the lyrics, being well known across western Europe, including England, France, Holland, Hungary, and Spain. The earliest words of "Yankee Doodle" came from a Middle Dutch harvest song which is thought to have followed the same tune, possibly dating back as far as 15th-century Holland. It contained mostly nonsensical words in English and Dutch: "Yanker, didel, doodle down, Diddle, dudel, lanther, Yanke viver, voover vown, Botermilk und tanther." Farm laborers in Holland were paid "as much buttermilk (Botermilk) as they could drink, and a tenth (tanther) of the grain".
The term Doodle first appeared in English in the early seventeenth century and is thought to be derived from the Low German dudel, meaning "playing music badly", or Dödel, meaning "fool" or "simpleton". The Macaroni wig was an extreme fashion in the 1770s and became slang for being a fop. Dandies were men who placed particular importance upon physical appearance, refined language, and leisure hobbies. A self-made dandy was a British middle-class man who impersonated an aristocratic lifestyle. They notably wore silk strip cloth, stuck feathers in their hats, and carried two pocket watches with chains—"one to tell what time it was and the other to tell what time it was not".
The macaroni wig was an example of such Rococo dandy fashion, popular in elite circles in Western Europe and much mocked in the London press. The term macaroni was used to describe a fashionable man who dressed and spoke in an outlandishly affected and effeminate manner. The term pejoratively referred to a man who "exceeded the ordinary bounds of fashion" in terms of clothes, fastidious eating, and gambling.
In British conversation, the term "Yankee doodle dandy" implied unsophisticated misappropriation of high-class fashion, as though simply sticking a feather in one's cap would make one to be noble. Peter McNeil, professor of fashion studies, claims that the British were insinuating that the colonists were low-class men lacking masculinity, emphasizing that the American men were womanly.
Traditions place its origin in a pre-Revolutionary War song originally sung by British military officers to mock the disheveled, disorganized colonial "Yankees" with whom they served in the French and Indian War, apparently written c. 1755 by British Army surgeon Dr. Richard Shuckburgh while campaigning in upper New York. The British troops sang it to make fun of their stereotype of the American soldier as a Yankee simpleton who thought that he was stylish if he simply stuck a feather in his cap.
It was also popular among the Americans as a song of defiance. As per the American Library of Congress, the Americans added additional verses to the song, mocking the British troops and hailing the Commander of the Continental army George Washington. By 1781, Yankee Doodle had turned from being an insult to being a song of national pride.
One version of the Yankee Doodle lyrics is generally attributed to Dr. Shuckburgh. According to one story, Dr. Shuckburgh wrote the song after seeing the appearance of Colonial troops under Colonel Thomas Fitch, the son of Connecticut Governor Thomas Fitch. According to Etymology Online, "The current version seems to have been written in 1776 by Edward Bangs, a Harvard sophomore who also was a Minuteman."
A bill was introduced to the House of Representatives on July 25, 1999 (as referenced as H. CON. RES. 143) recognizing Billerica, Massachusetts as "America's Yankee Doodle Town". After the Battle of Lexington and Concord, 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 earliest known version of the lyrics comes from 1755 or 1758, as the date of origin is disputed:
(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 referred to here was Ephraim Williams, a popularly known colonel in the Massachusetts militia who was killed in the 1755 Battle of Lake George. He left his land and property to the founding of a school in Western Massachusetts, now known as Williams College.
It has been reported[weasel words] that the British often marched to a version believed to be about a man named Thomas Ditson of Billerica, Massachusetts. Ditson was tarred and feathered for attempting to buy a musket in Boston in March 1775, although he later fought at Concord:
There is another version attributed to Edward Bangs, a student at Harvard College, who wrote a ballad with fifteen verses which circulated in Boston and surrounding towns in 1775 or 1776. Yankee Doodle was also played at the British surrender at Saratoga in 1777.
On February 6, 1788, Massachusetts ratified the Constitution by a vote of 186 to 168. To the ringing of bells and the booming of cannon, 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 variant preserved in part three of the 1810 edition of Gammer Gurton’s Garland: Or, The Nursery Parnassus, as collected by Francis Douce, is
|The Spirit of '76 (aka Yankee Doodle)|
|Artist||Archibald MacNeal Willard|
|Dimensions||61 cm × 45 cm (24 in × 18 in)|
|Location||United States Department of State|
|Wikisource has the text of the 1879 American Cyclopædia article Yankee Doodle.|
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