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Yankee Doodle

Yankee Doodle

Yankee Doodle Introduction

In a Nutshell

During the French and Indian War, an English doctor wrote “Yankee Doodle” to ridicule America’s militiamen. Enthusiastically sung by British soldiers stationed in the colonies, the song labeled America’s citizen-soldiers simpletons and dandies. Yet within twenty years, everything changed. By 1776, “Yankee Doodle” had become a Revolutionary War anthem, sung by American soldiers after battlefield victories to taunt their British enemies and build morale.

The song underwent a pretty remarkable transformation. But then so did the Yankee Doodles singing it. When they first heard the song in the 1750s, some of them felt like doodles, simpletons and hicks living in a provincial backwater, but by 1775, these doodles felt different about themselves as Americans and different about the English they had let taunt them in the past.

What exactly happened between 1755 and 1775 that gave these former doodles the confidence to throw down with the British—militarily and musically? Read on and you’ll find out.

About the Song

Artist Musician(s)
Yearca. 1755-1758
Writer(s)Popular versions have been attributed to Richard Shuckburgh and Edward Bangs
Learn to play: http://guitar.about.com/library/ChildrensSongChords/bl-yankee-doodle.htm
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Shmoop Connections

Explore the ways this song connects with the world and with other topics on Shmoop
“Yankee Doodle” was first sung by British soldiers to mock American militiamen during the French and Indian War. Twenty years later, the song was sung by American soldiers to taunt their British enemies during the War for Independence. In essence, the song captures the remarkable transformation that took place within Britain’s North American colonies between 1755 and 1775. In 1755, American colonists were loyal members of the British Empire. They pledged allegiance to the King and fought alongside British regulars in defense of the empire. Yet by 1775, they were denouncing the King as a tyrant and firing muskets at the same British troops they had previously assisted.

The song also reveals something about American identity. As members of the Empire, many Americans felt self-consciously inferior to the Englishmen sent by the King to govern them. After all, these officials were educated in England’s better school and exposed to the cultural benefits that a great city like London had to offer. But by 1775, Americans had managed to overcome much of this complex. They would continue to draw upon their British heritage as they drafted a constitution for their new government, and for a time they would imitate British examples in literature and art, but eventually Americans would cultivate their own distinctive culture. Writers like Herman Melville and Edgar Allan Poe would produce a truly American literature while musicians would develop distinctively American forms of music like country and the blues.

On the Charts

“Yankee Doodle” has been a popular song in the United States for as long as there has been a United States. As such, it predates the modern method of charting popular music by well over a century.

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