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A song was sung in England for many years before the American Revolutionary War began. It was variously known by the names of Lucy Locket, Nancy Dawson, and Kitty Fisher.
The song, under the title of Yankee Doodle, was first mentioned in the year 1767 in Andrew Barton's opera libretto, The Disappointment. It has also been attributed to Dr. Richard Shuckberg, a British army surgeon, who is claimed to have written it in 1775 to ridicule the American troops besieging Boston at the time.
The song was first published in England in 1775 under the title: "Yankee Doodle, or (as now Christened by the Saints of New England) The Lexington March." Instruction was given ~ "The Words to be Sung thro' the Nose, and in the West Country drawl and dialect." Initially, the song was sung by British troops to mock the Colonials. After the Battle of Bunker Hill, the Americans claimed the song as their rallying cry.
The origin of the word Yankee is as interesting as the song itself. According to some sources, the word Yankee is believed to be derived from a Flemish nickname for Dutchmen. The name used was Jan Kees, meaning "Johnny Cheese". The name "Little John", in Dutch, is translated as Janke. There are also some who suggest that the name came from the inability of the Indians of New England to pronounce the word "English", and instead pronounced it as Yangees.
The name of the song's original author was perhaps long lost by the time it reached the shores of the New World. But over the years a number of individuals penned lyrics for the catchy tune. It is believed that over 190 verses were written to the song. The following verse comes from the Netherlands, where it was sung as a reaper's song.
Yanker didel, doodle down, Diddle, dudel, lanther,
Yanke viver, voover vown, Bothermilk and tanther.
The chorus, as far as available records are able to show, remained fairly constant throughout the history of the song. Its refrain is:
Yankee Doodle, keep it up, Yankee Doodle Dandy!
Mind the music and the step, And with the girls be handy.
It might be noted that the lines Stuck a feather in his hat, And called it Macaroni, which appear in the most famous verse of the song, refer to a contemporary fashion fad. During the Eighteenth Century, a fad swept Great Britain and eastern Europe. Out of Italy came a style of dress which included the wearing of heavily ribboned and tasseled clothing accented by richly plumed hats. The name for the dandies who wore such clothing was macaronis. The New England Yankee, by placing a feather in his hat, was making a joke of the Englishmen who effected the macaroni style.
A few of the other verses, of which the most famous one is listed first, include:
Yankee Doodle came to town, A riding on a pony,
Stuck a feather in his hat, And called it Macaroni.
Father and I went down to camp, Along with Captain Gooding,
And there we see the men and boys, As thick as hasty pudding.
And there we see a thousand men, As rich as 'Squire David,
And what they wasted every day, I wish'd it could be sav'd.
The 'lasses they eat every day, Would keep an house a winter,
They have as much that I'll be bound, They eat it when they're a mind to.
And there we see a swamping gun, Large as a log of maple,
Mounted on a little cart, A load for father's cattle.
And every time they fired it off, It took a horn of powder,
And made a noise like father's gun, Only a nation louder.
I went as nigh to one myself, As 'Siah's underpining;
And father went as nigh again, I thought the deuce was in him.
Cousin Simon grew so bold, I thought he would have cock'd it:
It scar'd me so, I shrink it off, And hung by father's pocket.
And Captain Davis had a gun, He kind of clap'd his hand on't,
And struck a crooked stabbing iron Upon the little end on't.
And there I see a pumpkin shell As big as mother's bason
And every time they touch'd it off, They scamper'd like the nation.
I see a little barrel too, The heads were made of leather,
They knock'd upon't with little clubs, And call'd the folks together.
And there was Captain Washington, And gentlefolks about him,
They say he's grown so tarnal proud, He will not ride without 'em.
He got him on his meeting clothes, Upon a slapping stallion,
He set the world along in rows, In hundred and in millions.
The flaming ribbons in their hats, They look'd so taring fine, ah,
I wanted pockily to get, To give to my Jemimah.
I see another snarl of men A-digging graves, they told me
So tarnal long, so tarnal deep, They 'tended they should hold me.
It scar'd me so, I hook'd it off, Nor stopt, as I remember,
Nor turn'd about till I got home, Lock'd up in mother's chamber.
Sheep's head and vinegar, Butter milk and tansy,
Boston is a Yankee town, Sing hey Doodle Dandy.
First we'll take a pinch of snuff, And then a drink of water,
And then we'll say How do you do, And that's a Yankee supper.
Now Tories all, what can ye say? Come -is not this a griper,
That while your hopes are danc'd away, 'Tis you must pay the piper.
Yankee Doodle is the tune, That we all delight in;
It suits for feasts, it suits for fun, And just as well for fightin'.
This little song is often attributed as a derisive joke played by the British on the colonists. But, as O.G. Sonneck noted in his Report on "The Star Spangled Banner", "Hail Columbia", "America", and "Yankee Doodle" in 1909, the words are not as derisively satirical as one might expect if they had been coined by British troops desiring to taunt the colonials. "They breathe good-natured humor and they deal not at all with the uncouth appearance of American soldiery, but with the experience of a Yankee greenhorn in matters military who went down to a military camp and upon his return narrates in his own naive style the impressions made on him by all the sights of military pomp and circumstance." One verse, though, which must have been penned by some British soldier states:
Yankee Doodle came to town, For to buy a fire lock,
We will tar and feather him, And so we will John Hancock.
The surrender of the British troops under General Cornwallis at Yorktown on 19 October, 1781 prompted another set of verses, a follows. (For an enlargement of this variation, check The Cornwallis Country Dance.)
Cornwallis led a country dance, The like was never seen, sir,
Much retrograde and much advance, And all with General Greene, sir.
Greene, in the South, then danc'd a set, And got a mighty name, sir,
Cornwallis jigg'd with young Fayette, But suffer'd in his fame, sir.
Quoth he, my guards are weary grown, With footing country dances,
They never at St. James's shone, At capers, kicks or dances.
His music soon forgets to play, His feet can no more move, sir,
And all his bands now curse the day, They jigged to our shore, sir.
Now tories all, what can ye say? Come -is this not a griper,
That while your hopes are danc'd away, 'Tis you must pay the piper.