Cover image for America's song : the story of "Yankee Doodle"
America's song : the story of "Yankee Doodle"
Murray, Stuart, 1948-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Bennington, Vt. : Images from the Past, [1999]

Physical Description:
x, 233 pages : illustrations ; 20 cm
Title Subject:
Format :


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ML3561.Y2 M87 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



This is the first book ever to chronicle the origins of our most famous tune, recognized the world over as "America's Song." The legacy of "Yankee Doodle" is as rich as the heritage of America, originating in an ancient folk air brought to the New World by Dutch colonists in the 1600s. A century later, a British officer set his own verses to the melody, which mocked New England militia. "Yankee Doodle" was despised by colonials until the Revolution, when it was transformed from a song of insult into America's most stirring anthem of defiance and of victory. Illustrated with period art.

Author Notes

Stuart Murray is an author, editor, and journalist he resides with his family in New York's Hudson River valley.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

The latest proof that good things come in small packages traces the history of the song "Yankee Doodle." By Murray's lights, the song was a product of the seventeenth-century antagonism between the Dutch colonials and royalist English ("Yorkers") of New Amsterdam and the Puritans of New England. Ridiculing verses were continuously added in a process that the metamorphosis of New Amsterdam into New York didn't stop. When the revolution arrived, loyalists sang the song to annoy the rebels, who, after bashing the bejesus out of the British army a few times, adopted it to hurl back in the enemy's teeth. By the war's end, and with the civilian aid of the greatest musical of the eighteenth century, The Beggar's Opera, the song was a national anthem. New verses arose with new wars, down to the Civil War, where Murray breaks off "The Story," the book's purely narrative first part. The much shorter second part, "The Study," discusses Murray's sources, how he decided that "Yankee Doodle" was originally an insult aimed at New England, and how colonial Dutch-New Englander antagonism has been obscured over the centuries. Copiously illustrated, the pocketbook-size volume is terrifically entertaining and informative popular history, written with great panache. --Ray Olson

School Library Journal Review

YA-A fascinating and stirring study of "Yankee Doodle" from its inception during the 17th century when the Dutch settled in the New Netherlands (New York) to the Civil War. The tune's title joins a corruption of the Dutch word "Jankee," which means Johnny, with the term "Doodle," for fool. Thus, what began as verse of ridicule against the English evolved into a vigorous refrain sung by Colonists during the American Revolution as an anthem of bravado. The first part of the book tells the story of the song, and the second and much shorter segment is a detailed study of the changes and additions to the original verses. Unfortunately, the small format does not allow the many interesting black-and-white illustrations and the few maps to live up to the high standards set by the text. Nevertheless, this lilting volume is a must for school libraries and will likely be read for pleasure as well as for research on history, music, and popular culture.-Peggy Mooney, Pohick Public Library, Burke, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One NEW NETHERLAND AND NEW ENGLAND Thierry ... thinks our etymologies of the word Yankee are all wrong, and that, having arisen from the collision and jeerings of the Dutch and the English in New York and New England, it is from the Dutch Jan -- pronounced Yan -- with the very common diminutive kee.... George Ticknor, 1838, in his Life, Letters, and Journals. Though sometimes dragged into the discussion, the derivation of the word `Yankee' evidently furnishes no tangible clue to the origin of the song 'Yankee Doodle.' Oscar G. Sonneck, first head of the Music Division of the Library of Congress, in his 1909 research report on the origin of "Yankee Doodle." An atlantic breeze blew across the Dutch fields of Long Island, stirring the yellow grain where reapers scythed and stacked the harvest on this hot day in August 1664. Blades sliced and hands bundled and the folk joined in a cheerful old-country rune that encouraged everyone to work together. Wearing colorful shirts and broad-brimmed hats, the reapers sang louder whenever they came to the song's refrain, mostly nonsense words: Jonker, didle, doedel, down Didel, doedel, landheer, Jonker, viver, voover, vown, Botermelk en tanther.     Everyone in the colony of New Netherland knew this song and always had, although the refrain's original meaning had been forgotten long ago. In Dutch, jonker (pronounced "yonker") meant a country squire, and the jonker in the song was a doedel (pronounced "doodle"), a simpleton or fool. Other words recalled how jonkers often paid their laborers with buttermilk, botermelk , and one-tenth of the laborer's harvest, a tanther . The Dutch West India Company, which managed New Netherland, also dealt in tanthers -- charging its farmers a tenth of their production as a fee for renting company lands.     While they worked here in the grain fields of Middelwout (Midwood), the New Netherland harvesters made up their own verses to the jonker doodle tune. The jonker's silliness was a favorite theme, and in English, one might go like this: Jonker doodle came to town In his stripèd trousers, Couldn't see the town because There were so many houses.     Most colonists in New Netherland, like these at Middelwout, worked for the Company, and few could afford to own their own farms. Not so with the hundreds of prosperous settlers who had migrated to Long Island from New England and bought farms here. The first settlers from New England were seeking religious freedom, which they were not allowed in their Puritan-dominated home colonies. It was said that New Netherland had been populated largely because of New England's religious tyranny, which had driven many of its people to seek liberty in the Dutch colony. The iron-fisted laws of New Haven and Hartford forbade even freedom of thinking, but in New Netherland a man could mind his own business and be left alone with his faith and private thoughts.     Then more New England settlers had come to Long Island, but these were devout Puritans who were after the good land and mild climate. They had flourished, even establishing their own villages, until more than a dozen English villages grew up over the length of the island. There were only five Dutch villages on Long Island, all of them here on the western end, a few miles from the port of New Amsterdam. The Dutch West India Company, based in old Amsterdam, was willing to sell land to New Englanders, but it had done little to promote settlement from Holland. The Company was mainly interested in profits from the colony's fur trade, so it had not encouraged Dutch farmers to come over and plant communities of permanent settlers.     New Amsterdam was first and foremost a Company town, a trading port, where furs, timber, and grain were shipped, and where vessels put in for supplies and paid the Company dearly for harbor fees. The lords of the Company liked it that way and were not about to trouble themselves with developing a thriving Dutch colony. The Dutch-owned Long Island farms like this one at Middelwout were bountiful, but few in number compared to those of the English.     When trumpet blasts rang out across the Middelwout grain fields, the harvesters stopped singing to look toward the road. By now, this fanfare was a familiar sound to the harvesters, who had heard it all summer long -- the blare of trumpets announced once again the comings and goings of John Winthrop, Jr., governor of the newly established colony of Connecticut. Winthrop had been visiting English settlers on eastern Long Island, which his colony controlled; but now he often came to the New Netherland end of the island to meet with the English residents, many of whom wanted him to annex their towns to Connecticut.     With every passing year, relations between the English and Dutch colonies had worsened, and it was no wonder, because New Netherland claimed much of New England, and New England claimed all New Netherland, which originally had stretched from the Connecticut River west to the Delaware. Twelve thousand New Netherlanders, who were scattered from Long Island northward to the Mohawk River and southward to Chesapeake Bay, could never hope to hold their colony against the New Englanders with their burgeoning population of more than forty thousand.     By now, the "English Johnnies" as the New Netherlanders called them -- Engelse Jankes in Dutch -- were determined to sweep away Holland's rule at New Amsterdam and open up the rich and beautiful country of New Netherland to their own kind. The Jankes, pronounced "Yahn-kes," who had colonized the Connecticut River valley had driven out the Dutch there and then had come over to settle on Dutch Long Island. They also had migrated just north of New Amsterdam in a place the Dutch called East Village ( Oostdorp ), but which the Jankes called Westchester. At first the English who came to live in New Netherland had sworn allegiance to the Dutch government and the Dutch West India Company, but that all had changed.     Now, here was the grim Governor Winthrop of Connecticut brazenly riding across territory that belonged to New Netherland, leading a column of armed Puritans in tall hats and long cloaks, some with chest armor and iron helmets, many carrying muskets and pikes. As the Dutch harvesters watched the passing of that column, it was a reminder that five years ago the Company had signed a treaty with the New England colonies, giving up the eastern half of the island because New Netherland did not have the strength to make war with them. The Dutch West India Company wanted profit from America, not war. On this summer day, Winthrop and his Janken retinue well knew there were no Dutch fighting men to oppose them, especially since so many had been sent up the North River to deal with Indian troubles. Furthermore, the outnumbered Dutch on Long Island feared their families, homes, and crops would be endangered if they mustered to fight the Jankes. Winthrop was organizing the English living on Long Island and was laying the groundwork for its final annexation to New England.     The English on the island could put more men under arms than could "Old Silvernails" -- peg-legged Pieter Stuyvesant, the Dutch director-general who ruled from New Amsterdam. Stuyvesant was a hard and warlike character determined to defend the rights of the Company that employed him, but he could not dictate to the English settlers the Company had allowed to come to Long Island. When some had risen up in rebellion a year ago, defiantly placing themselves under the protection of Winthrop and the arrogant Jankes, Stuyvesant could do nothing to oppose them. The rebels had bluntly warned that anyone who stood in their way would face fire and sword.     To New Netherlanders, the Puritan Jankes of New England could be unbelievably hardhearted. Some years ago, when New England families who had fled to New Netherland in search of religious freedom were massacred by Indians, the Puritans had looked heavenward, saying coldly that it was a "heavy example" of God's hand punishing those who had gone to live in the hotbed of sin that was New Netherland. Indeed, compared to pious-minded New England, with its sacred quest to make the most of their Promised Land, New Netherland was a money-minded Sodom, a hodgepodge of faiths and cultures.     The Dutch colony had as many religions as it did languages -- eighteen languages by one count. The official religion was Dutch Calvinism, practiced by Hollanders and by French-speaking Walloons from Belgium, but the people were allowed to worship in their own way as long as it was in their homes and not done in public. There were Lutherans from Germany and Norway; Anabaptists from Friesland; Catholics from England, Ireland, Italy, and Poland; Jews from Portugal, and a Moslem Turk or two; even Quakers were left alone if they did not openly proselytize. Among the English who had come to live in New Netherland most practiced their own personal brand of Puritanism; called Independents, they were dedicated to reforming the Church of England.     New Amsterdam, the colonial capital, was a key port lying on the triangular merchant route from the Caribbean to Europe and Africa. The town's three thousand inhabitants had their eighteen languages, and like the farm workers of Dutch Long Island were of almost every people, every race. The town swirled with fur traders and sailors, and many an enterprising homemaker kept a lively tavern. Often, New Amsterdam was mobbed with rowdy, unattached young men from ship crews and timber boats -- men who liked to drink and sing and wench, and whose brawls tumbled into the streets, where they fought with knives. To keep the peace, Stuyvesant had ordered the taverns to close up by nine in the evening, when all beer taps were to be turned off, "taps put to," and the city's night watch drummed out a warning "tap-to" signal.     These footloose men often could find work in the grain fields, where the harvesters included off-duty soldiers in need of a day's pay and freebooting mulatto adventurers whose ship was laid up in dry dock; or perhaps a work gang of Angolan slaves was there, hired out by their owner, who might recently have fled the surrender of some Dutch colony in South America. The workers reaping the harvest near Middelwout included whites and blacks, freedmen and bondsmen, indentured servants, slaves, Indians, and hired hands -- laboring for the farm owner and his family, who sweated alongside them.     At harvest time women and children worked, too. With their gaily colored skirts and half-bare legs, hair plaited boldly down their backs, and wearing the large earrings for which they were so well known, the women of New Netherland were proud and independent. They had rights under Dutch law that made them legally the match of men in most matters. New Netherland was the direct opposite of one-peopled, one-souled New England with its plain clothing, its harsh denial of the flesh, and severe regulations restricting singing and dancing or any show of ostentation.     It was a natural animosity. The Puritan colonies had been established around the same time as New Netherland, and there had always been conflict over who owned what lands, who had the right to the rich fur trade with the Indians, whose charter from their home government was legitimate. The Dutch and English even accused each other of stirring up the Indians to attack the other's settlers.     The ways of the New England Jankes could dismay the Dutch, especially when the Puritans persecuted women as witches and executed some. The madness of the witch hunts swept New England, but no one in New Netherland had been harmed. It had come as a shock recently when Stuyvesant's own sister-in-law, who had married an Englishman and lived in New England, had been accused of witchcraft. Only the director-general's desperate personal intercession with highly placed acquaintances among the Puritan leaders had saved her life. Undeniably, the case might have been contrived as a way to torment Stuyvesant, the indomitable bulwark holding New Netherland against the encroachment of the New Englanders.     In 1654, when there had been worldwide war between England and Holland, an English fleet had come to America, about to pounce on New Amsterdam, but news of the treaty to end the war had arrived to prevent it. Now, ten years later, there was more trouble brewing between the home governments, and no one in New Netherland knew what to expect next. With all this militant movement of Winthrop and his dark-clothed, armed followers, however, it was obvious that the Dutch colony's existence hung on a thread.     Still, though there were worries, folk had to bring in the bounty of the fields at harvest time while the sun shone. Singing made the work easier -- and also teased the sober Puritans with Winthrop. In a barn near the Middelwout fields, young people of all ages husked corn, stripping away leaves and corn silk and tossing the ears into a cart to be taken away by the older boys, then scorched before being ground into flour.     As they worked, they sang other verses to the old harvest melody. Corn stalks, twist their hair off, Cart wheels all around them, Great wagons carry them off, And mortar pestles pound them. Corn stalks, twist your hair off, Cart wheel frolic 'round you, Fiery dragons take you off And mortar's pestle pound you.     Some of the older boys dared sing the more risqué verses about the joyful celebrations at end of harvest time and the intoxicating round of parties and dancing that always followed completion of the work. Now, when husking time is o'er, They have a deucèd frolic, There'll be some as drunk as sots, The rest will have the colic.     It was not a verse for Puritan Jankes.     As the harvesters turned away from the passing of the hated Winthrop and his soldiers, it was simple enough to change the harvest song's "Jonker doedel" to "Janke doedel," and to make up verses about those fools of Connecticut Johnnies who were bent on taking over all New Netherland once they had the military might to do it. The Dutch even had a few more meanings for "Jan doedel," who could also be the town drunk, John the Fool; and a glass of gin was known as a "Jan doedel." Puritans did not drink gin, of course, but some of the more inquisitive ones were known to secretly visit New Amsterdam from time to time and partake of the bright lights and taverns. There was also the Dutch word janker, which signifies a howling cur, a yelper, growler, a complaining person, or worse, a dog. The New Netherlanders could mispronounce "Janke" as "janker," meaning a howling cur.     So the harvesters in these fields near Middelwout had more than one way to sing their "Jonker didel doedel" tune, but on this day the Connecticut Jankes were more dangerous than foolish doodles, for word came that Winthrop was meeting an English war fleet that had entered Nayack Bay, near Coney Island.     The crisis was upon them at last.     The New Englanders and their English cousins intended to march on New Amsterdam. Within hours, four hundred heavily armed English soldiers had disembarked from the ships and crowded into the muddy, narrow streets of the village of Gravesend. Already, the English settlers from Long Island were mustering their militia companies to join the soldiers and attack Stuyvesant.     The harvesters of Middelwout could only look on in dismay as the drums began to beat, and many a Janken was heard to boast that they would take New Amsterdam within days and then pillage and loot the city of all it was worth. (Continues...) Copyright © 1999 Stuart Murray. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Preface: Our Songp. ix
Prologue: Hudson's Riverp. 1
Part 1 The Story
Chapter 1 New Netherland and New Englandp. 6
Chapter 2 Yorkers and Jankesp. 32
Chapter 3 Song of Insultp. 54
Chapter 4 Song of Victoryp. 89
Chapter 5 A Tune for Fightingp. 116
Chapter 6 Revolutionary Anthemp. 143
Chapter 7 America's Songp. 171
Part 2 The Study
Musicology, Etymology, and Mythp. 189
Acknowledgmentsp. 223
Bibliographyp. 225
Sources of Illustrationsp. 228
Indexp. 229