Yankee Doodle

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When was the song Yankee Doodle written?

It's a simple Open Source question when taken at face value, but the backstory behind the now-patriotic "Yankee Doodle" stretches deep into U.S. history.

As the country salutes Veterans Day today, it's worth looking back at the origins of a song that became such a staple of American culture.

According to an article published on the Kennedy Center website, the tune used in "Yankee Doodle" was well-known by the 1750s. The melody may go back to folk songs of Medieval Europe.

Tradition maintains, however, that in 1755, a British doctor named Richard Schuckberg wrote new words to mock his American allies. His "lyrics" portrayed colonists as rude, crude and cowardly, two decades before the American revolution.

As colonial soldiers and British soldiers fought side-by-side from 1754 to 1763 against the French and their Native American allies, Schuckberg's lyrics referred to Americans as "doodle," a country hick, and "dandy," a conceited jerk.

The origin of the term "Yankee" is not as clear, though some suggest it came from Dutch settlers of the time, going back to a 15th-century harvest song in Holland.

"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 errant Coward,

He wouldn't fight the Frenchmen there

For Fear of being devoured.

Yankee Doodle, keep it up,

Yankee Doodle dandy;

Mind the music and the step,

And with the girls be handy."

Those words, and other lyrics like them, came back to haunt the British on April 19, 1775, in the town of Lexington, Mass., as the Revolutionary War began.

Reports from before the battle began say the British fife-and-drum corps teased the colonists by playing "Yankee Doodle" as they marched from Boston to Lexington and then Concord and then back to Boston.

Legend has it colonial militia members, who attacked the British army column from behind trees and rock walls as it marched/retreated toward home, returned the musical insult.

"It was as if the Americans were singing, 'How do you like us Yankee doodles and dandies, now?,' " the Kennedy Center story said.

The revolution had begun and "Yankee Doodle" took hold as an unofficial anthem for what became the American Continental Army.

Over time, new verses have been added, changed, moved and removed. It's been used in nursery rhymes, popular patriotic songs and even a movie or two, including "Yankee Doodle Boy" starring Jimmy Cagney in 1942.

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City editor. 30-year plus journalist. Husband. Father of 3 grown sons and also a proud grandpa. Prior military journalist in U.S. Navy, Ohio Air National Guard. -- Favorite quote: "Where were you when the page was blank?"