Study Guide

Yankee Doodle Introduction

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 20 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'd 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? 

About the Song

ArtistN/A
Yearca. 1755–1758
Writer(s)Popular versions have been attributed to Richard Shuckburgh and Edward Bangs.
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Music Video

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Influences on N/A

“Yankee Doodle” was inspired by British troops in the 1750s who felt that American militiamen weren’t exactly in fighting shape during the French and Indian War. Twenty years later, though, the song became an inspiration. Colonial rebels sang “Yankee Doodle” to annoy British soldiers during the American Revolution, and children today still sing the song as a symbol of their patriotic pride.

Yankee Doodle Resources

Books

Stuart Murray, America's Song, The Story of “Yankee Doodle” (1999)
Aimed at ten readers, this first-rate book explores the people and history that converged to produce this song in the decades before the American Revolution. Dutch immigrants, New England Puritans, English prostitutes, British soldiers, and American revolutionaries all play a part in this well-constructed narrative.

Vera Brodsky Lawrence, Music for Patriots, Politicians, and Presidents (1975)
Lawrence provides an interesting review of the song and its history in a book that teachers in particular will find useful.

Fred Anderson, The War that Made America: A Short History of the French and Indian War (2005)
For those interested in learning more about the war that gave birth to the song, this is a great little book. It is thick with detail but still well paced and highly readable. It pays only passing attention to the European war, focusing instead almost exclusively on the contest in North America between the French, British, and Indians.

Images

No Yankee Fool
George Washington as a colonel in the Virginia Regiment, by Charles Willson Peale 1772.

Bungling Braddock
General Edward Braddock led British troops to a disastrous defeat at the Battle of the Wilderness in 1755.

Yankee Doodle, by Archibald Willard
Willard painted this for the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1875.

Movies & TV

The War that Made America (2006)
“Yankee Doodle” captured the disdain held by British soldiers toward American militiamen. This documentary on the French and Indian War reveals some of the resulting tensions within the English and American alliance. Through reenactments and dramatic readings of contemporary accounts, this four-part, four-hour series traces the war from George Washington’s mission to the Ohio Valley in 1753 to the postwar British policies that led to the American Revolution.

Websites

Archiving Early America
This excellent site provides a thorough and informed exploration of the origins of the song and its multiple renditions.

Library of Congress
The Library of Congress has posted a page on “Yankee Doodle” as part of its Lyrical Legacy project. Here you can find lyrics, audio files, and a brief background to the song.

Yankee Doodle Legacy
This site, part of the E Pluribus Unum Project, takes a short look at “Yankee Doodle” and its place in American culture over the centuries.

Video & Audio

Drums and Fifes play “Yankee Doodle”
If you ignore the microphone and lawn chairs, you can almost imagine yourself at Fort Ticonderoga during the French and Indian War. Almost.