eXplorations>The Revolution> Music and the American Revolution>Yankee Doodle

Yankee Doodle

NOTE: This information is from the Library of Congress' Lyrical Legacy
http://www.loc.gov/teachers/lyrical/

Singing a song in Revolutionary America was not necessarily an innocent act. At the time, almost everyone sang in public on occasion, either for entertainment, for worship, or as part of their work. However, songs were also important instruments of satire and mockery. People used them to make fun of public figures, to pass ugly rumors, or to playfully insult their enemies—and sometimes their friends.

As opposition to British rule in the American colonies heated up, satirical songs took on a new edge. Rebellious colonists sang songs insulting Britain’s king, George III, as a drunken tyrant, and British soldiers answered with songs ridiculing the Americans as backwoods yokels.

One of these songs, which told the story of a poorly dressed Yankee simpleton, or "doodle", was so popular with British troops that they played it as they marched to battle on the first day of the Revolutionary War. The rebels quickly claimed the song as their own, though, and created dozens of new verses that mocked the British, praised the new Continental Army, and hailed its commander, George Washington.

By 1781, when the British surrendered at Yorktown, being called a "Yankee Doodle" had gone from being an insult to a point of pride, and the song had become the new republic’s unofficial national anthem.

Resources:


Hand colored song sheet published by Charles Magnus, date unknown. Library of Congress.
Yankee Doodle

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

There was Captain Washington
Upon a slapping stallion
A-giving orders to his men
I guess there was a million.

Chorus

And then the feathers on his hat
They looked so' tarnal fin-a
I wanted pockily to get
To give to my Jemima.

Chorus

And then we saw 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
It makes a noise like father's gun
Only a nation louder.

Chorus

I went as nigh to one myself
As' Siah's underpinning
And father went as nigh agin
I thought the deuce was in him.
We saw a little barrel, too
The heads were made of leather
They knocked upon it with little clubs
And called the folks together.

Chorus

And there they'd fife away like fun
And play on cornstalk fiddles
And some had ribbons red as blood
All bound around their middles.
The troopers, too, would gallop up
And fire right in our faces
It scared me almost to death
To see them run such races.

Chorus

Uncle Sam came there to change
Some pancakes and some onions
For' lasses cake to carry home
To give his wife and young ones.

Chorus

But I can't tell half I see
They kept up such a smother
So I took my hat off, made a bow
And scampered home to mother.

Chorus

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

Chorus

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

 

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