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Who Was Yankee Doodle?

Yankee Doodle wasn't actually a real person, but a tune sung during the Revolutionary War! One of the first printed versions of the tune “Yankee Doodle” occurs in a 1730 tune book by Rev. James Pike. By the middle of the eighteenth century, a tune called Country Dance (which would later become the tune for "Yankee Doodle") had become popular enough in the colonies so that in 1767, words set to this melody appeared in an opera. In the period leading up to the American Revolution, while stationed in American towns or marching through the countryside, British troops began to use “Yankee Doodle” to mock the colonists.

On April 19th, 1775, however, the colonists turned the British taunts into a patriotic war tune. As British troops were marching through the countryside to re-enforce soldiers in Lexington, they taunted the Minutemen with “Yankee Doodle.” By the afternoon, the British were in full retreat to Boston, and not so fond of the song. At the surrender of Yorktown in 1781, American troops played “Yankee Doodle” to the shocked British. It has since become a source of American pride and an unofficial national anthem.

Yankee Doodle

Other Interesting Facts

  • In the eighteenth century , a “yankey” was a term for a New Englander. In old English dictionaries. A “doodle” is a sorry, trifling fellow.
  • Yankee Doodle appears in a 1777 fife manuscript under the name, “Thehos Gendar”.  Although the meaning of the title is not known, it may be a phonetic spelling of a phrase, such as “The Horse Grenadier”. 
  • In 1978, Yankee Doodle was adopted as the State Song of Connecticut.
  • For more information on Yankee Doodle, including a copy of the full lyrics, visit this page on the Library of Congress website.
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Spirit of '76
This famous painting was originally titled Yankee Doodle but was later changed to The Spirit of '76. It was painted by Archibald Willard (1836-1918) around 1875.
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