The Legend of Yankee Doodle Dandy

Yankee Doodle went to town, riding on his pony. Stuck a feather in his hat and called it macaroni. Catchy, isn't it? But what does it mean? There are actually a couple of different stories surrounding the origins of the Yankee Doodle song but one thing is for sure: Yankee Doodle was not an actual person but rather a figurative one created by the Brits to poke fun at American soldiers. Ironically, this same fictional character would later be adopted by American soldiers as a confirmation of being everything that the British despised. One version of the Yankee Doodle legend is that the tune was taken from a Surinam slave song. The story is that Americans liked the melody and just put their own words to it. Some say the tune was originally taken from a 15th century harvesting song in Holland that started with Yanker dudel doodle down and that it was also a nursery rhyme known as Lucy Locket in England. And yet, others believe that British army surgeon Richard Shuckburg wrote the lyrics while serving in the colonies in 1755 and put the words to the Doodle-doo song from The Beggar's Opera by John Gay. Macaroni was a derogatory term the British used to make fun of a fop, that is, a person who tried to dress in a certain fancy, Italian style that was all the rage in England. Doodle meant that the person was a fool and Yankee was another disparaging term used by the British when referring to the Scots. During the Revolutionary War, the British soldiers began using this term to describe American soldiers as well, an intended dig at the rag-tag colonists who seemingly lacked the refinement of the English. Around this same time, editorial cartoonists began drawing Brother Jonathan, a fictional character that epitomized the typical American revolutionary. Brother John quickly took on the Yankee Doodle Dandy image, proudly personifying those very traits that the British had mocked and many historians believe that Yankee Doodle is actually the transition of Brother Jonathan into Uncle Sam as the nation's symbolic mascot. The first several verses of the Yankee Doodle song were added by the British militia to make fun of the colonist army but in 1775, the British troops retreated into Boston and the American soldiers added some of their own anti-British lyrics: Yankee Doodle is the tune, That we all delight in, It suits for feasts, it suits for fun, And just as well for fighting.

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