There is some mystery and controversy about the exact origins of one of the most famous tunes in American tradition, "Yankee Doodle" . Elson (The National Music of America, 1899) finds that the first part of the melody was once quite familiar to Dutch musicians and “has been used in Holland from time immemorial as a children’s song,” however, the second part was not known. The Irish musicologist Flood (1906) maintains "Yankee Doodle" derives from a Jacobite era (early 18th century) song called "All the Way to Galway (1)." Claims have also been made for Spanish and even Hungarian musical origins. The earliest appearance of the complete melody was claimed by Dr. Rimbault (1876) to have been a printing in Walsh's Collection of Dances for the year 1750 where it he said it appears as "Fisher's Jig" (a reference to the ‘notorious lady’, Kitty Fisher, who died in 1771). Rimbault later wrote that it was a country dance found under the title “Kitty Fisher's Jig,” written in triple time, but that it was afterwards altered to common time, although the title remained the same (he printed what he said was the Walsh tune in the magazine Leisure Hour, see abc below). The problem is that no one has been able to locate the melody in either Walsh’s publication or in any of Thompson’s Country Dance Books of the same era. “Kitty Fisher” does exist in Thompson and Son’s Twenty-four Country Dances for 1760 but it is a different, duple-time tune, unlike anything resembling what we know as “Yankee Doodle.” A nursery rhyme exists that goes:
Lucy Locket lost her pocket,
Kitty Fisher found it,
Not a bit of money in it,
Only binding round it.
This contains Fischer’s name (misspelled, while Lucy Locket was presumably a name taken from a character in The Beggars Opera of 1727) and scans to the “Yankee Doodle” tune, but any direct relationship remains speculative.
If one discounts Rimbault’s claims, it was once thought that the earliest corroborated printed appearance of the “Yankee Doodle” tune was in James Aird’s Selection of Scotch, English, Irish and Foreign Airs, vol. 1 (1782, sometimes dated 1775–76), and George Colman’s opera Two to One (1784) as a song entitled “Adzooks, Old Crusty, Why so Rusty?” The tune's mocking connotations with at least a portion of the American colonial population were apparently well-established somewhat before that time. In fact, the tune paired with the "Yankee Doodle" title had been in circulation for some time in America. It was entered into the c. 1730 music manuscript copybook of the Rev. James Pike, a clergyman in Somersworth, New Hampshire, on a page with the "Freemason's March." J.A. Leo Lemay's researches ["The American Origins of 'Yankee Doodle'." William and Mary Quarterly, 33 (July 1976): 435–64] have uncovered that a comic ballad opera (and the first American play) by Andrew Barton, called The Disappointment; or, The Force of Credulity, was the first time the tune appeared in print (in New York and Philadelphia in April, 1767). "Yankee Doodle" appears as Air IV in Act 1, scene iii, sung by "brother Racoon," a dupe on his way to excavate for buried treasure. Unfortunately, Barton's satire proved a bit too biting—at least for Philadelphia, where it was thought that references to the Freemasons and some powerful personages brought too much risk on the production's sponsors—and the performance was cancelled.
Regarding the lyrics, there is little hard evidence for the derivation of the word Yankee, although it was in use as a term to identify New Englanders since the early 18th century. Doodle, on the other hand, has been traced to the Lancashire dialect, and means a trifler or shiftless individual. Of the song itself, Winstock (1970) writes "It is generally accepted that the words were written by (the Englishman) Dr. Richard Shuckburgh around 1755 in derision of the odd looking colonials who had come to help the British regulars fight the French, and the redcoats continued to use it in contempt...”. Elson (The National Music of America, 1899) traces this claim to an early 19th century publication called Farmer & Moore’s Monthly Literary Journal, although there are other, separate attributions to Shuckburgh (whose name is spelled various ways). The good and witty doctor did not live to see his satire used in the war of rebellion for he died in August, 1773, the New York Gazetter reporting: “Died, at Schenectady, last Monday, Dr. Richard Shuckburgh, a gentleman of a very genteel family, and of infinite jest and humour.” In October, 1768, the New York Journal gave the earliest notice of its performance:
The British fleet was bro’t to anchor near Castle William, in Boston Harbor, and the opinion of the visitors to the ships was that the ‘Yankey Doodle Song’ was the capital piece in the band of their musicians.
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X:1 % T:Yankey Doodle M:2/4 L:1/8 B:Rev. James Pike music copybook (1730, Somersworth, New Hampshire) Z:AK/Fiddler's Companion K:D d2ef|dfec|d2 ef|d2 cA|d2 ef|gfed|cABc|d2d2:| |:d2 BG|dB =c2|ABAG FG A2|d2 BG|Bd =c2|ABce|d2d2:|]
Although we are not trained musicologists and make no pretense to the profession, we have tried to apply such professional rigors to this Semantic Abc Web as we have internalized through our own formal and informal education.