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. The British troops sang it to make fun of the Yankee simpleton who thought he was stylish if he simply stuck a feather in his cap. It was also popular among the rebels as a song of defiance. As per the American Library of the Congress, the rebels added additional verses to the song, mocking the British troops and hailing the Commander of the Continental army, George Washington. By 1881, Yankee doodle had turned from being an insult to a being a song of national pride.
It is believed that the tune comes from the nursery rhymeLucy Locket. One version of the Yankee Doodle lyrics is generally attributed to Dr. Richard Shuckburgh, a British Army surgeon. According to one story, Dr. Shuckburgh wrote the song after seeing the appearance of Colonial troops under Colonel Thomas Fitch, V, the son of Connecticut Governor Thomas Fitch.
The term Doodle first appeared in the early seventeenth century, and is thought to be derived from the Low Germandudel, meaning “playing music badly” or Dödel, meaning "fool" or "simpleton". The Macaroni wig was an extreme fashion in the 1770s and became contemporary slang for foppishness.Dandies were young English men who adopted feminine mannerisms and highly extravagant attire, and were deemed effeminate.
They were members of the Macaroni Club in London at the height of the fashion for dandyism, so called because they wore striped silks upon their return from the Grand Tour - and a feather in their hats. They also wore two fob watches: "one to tell what time it was and the other to tell what time it was not" ran their joking explanation. Their love of horse racing at Cheltenham and Bibury (both in England) can still be recognised today in the names of the 18th Century Macaroni Farm and Macaroni Woods near Eastleach, Gloucestershire, UK. The verse implies that Yankees were so unsophisticated that they thought simply sticking a feather in a cap would make them the height of fashion. Peter McNeil, professor of fashion studies, claims the British were insinuating the colonists were womanish and not very masculine.
For this reason, the town of Billerica is 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.
"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."
There is another version attributed to Edward Bangs, a student at Harvard College, who in 1775 or 1776, wrote a ballad with fifteen verses circulated in Boston and surrounding towns. 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 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...
President John F. Kennedy, from Massachusetts, bought a pony for his daughter Caroline while he was in the White House. The family named it "Macaroni", after the song Yankee Doodle, although the name refers to the feathered cap rather than the pony.
The children's cartoon series Roger Ramjet (1965) adapts "Yankee Doodle" as its theme song: "Roger Ramjet and his Eagles/Fighting for our freedom/Fly through in and outer space/Not to join 'em, but to beat 'em/Roger Ramjet, he's our man/Hero of our nation/For his adventures, just be sure/and stay tuned to this station". Ramjet's four child sidekicks, the "American Eagle Squadron", are named Yank, Doodle, Dan, and Dee.
A Sesame Street parody of the song was done by music writer Don Music, who centered the song around cooking macaroni. In the song, Yankee Doodle stayed at home and cooked macaroni in a pot for his pony.
^Luzader, John F. (2008). Saratoga: A Military History of the Decisive Campaign of the American Revolution. New York: Savas Beatie. p. 335. ISBN978-1-932714-44-9.
^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, NY.