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“Yankee Doodle”

Flags were everywhere, and in the Square the band was playing ‘Yankee Doodle.’ The fifes tooted and the flutes shrilled and the drums came in with rub-a-dub-dub.” — Farmer Boy, Chapter16, “Independence Day”

There are as many different stories about the origin of “Yankee Doodle” as variations in the lyrics themselves. Whether you consider it a thoroughly American song or an English, Dutch, or Spanish import, it appears as the first song sung by Charles Ingalls in the Little House books: thoroughly American classics. Pa sings the song to Mary and Laura in her Pioneer Girl memoir and Little House in the Big Woods, and in Farmer Boy, Almanzo Wilder hears it played by the band in Malone.

The roots of “Yankee Doodle” in America can be traced back to at least thirty years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Both words and music were in general circulation in the colonies by the 1760s. The tune was probably brought to the colonies when the British were at war with the French and Indians. One story has Dr. Richard Shackburg, physician and musician, writing the lyrics about the militia, clad in uniforms of many styles and colors. “Yankee Doodle” was included in the first American ballad opera, The Disappointment, published in 1767. The origin of the word yankee may be a mispronounciation of the word English by American Indians. In the Farmer Boy version, macaroni refers to an 18th century English dandy who assumed mannerisms of the well-bred; it is also said to be the knot of cloth on headwear in which ornamentation (here, a feather) is attached.


1. Father and I went down to camp
Along with Captain Good’in,
And there we saw the men and boys
As thick as hasty pudding.

[chorus] Yankee Doodle, keep it up,
Yankee Doodle dandy,
the music and the step
And with the girls be handy.

2. And there we see a thousand men,
rich as Squire David,
And what they wasted ev’ry day,
I wish it could be saved.

3. And there was Captain Washington
Upon a slapping stallion,
A giving orders to his men;
guess there was a million.

4. And then the feathers on his hat,
looked so very fine, ah!
I wanted peskily to get
To give to my Jemima.

5. And there I see a swamping gun,
Large as a log of maple,
Upon a mighty little cart
A load for father’s cattle.

6. And every time they fired it off,
It took a horn of powder;
It made a noise like father’s gun,
Only a nation louder.

7. And there I see a little keg,
head all made of leather,
They knocked upon’t with little sticks
To call the folks together.

8. And Cap’n Davis had a gun,
He kind o’ clapt his hand on’t
stuck a crooked stabbing iron
Upon the little end on’t.

9. The troopers, too, would gallop up
And fire right in our faces;
It scared me almost half to death
To see them run such races.

10.It scared me so I hooked it off,
Nor stopped, as I remember,
Nor turned about till I got home,
Locked up in mother’s chamber.

(from Little House in the Big Woods)

Yankee Doodle went to town,
He wore his striped trousies,
He swore he couldn’t see the town,
There was so many houses.

And there he saw some great big guns,
Big as a log of maple,
And every time they turned ’em roung,
It took two yoke of cattle.

And every time they fired ’em off,
It took a horn of powder,
It made a noise like father’s gun,
Only a nation louder.

And I’ll sing Yankee Doodle-de-do,
I’ll sing Yankee Doodle,
And I’ll sing Yankee Doodle-de-do,
And I’ll sing Yankee Doodle!

(from Farmer Boy)

Yankee Doodle went to town,
Riding on a pony,
He stuck a feather in his hat,
And called it macaroni!

CLICK HERE to listen.



Click on the above images to view a copy of original sheet music of “Yankee Doodle.”    


“Yankee Doodle” (BW 2; FB 16; PG)
     “And I’ll sing Yankee Doodle-de-do”
     “And there he saw some great big guns”
     “Yankee Doodle went to town”