New Hampshire Inspired: "Yankee Doodle"

Battle re-enactment of American Revolution

The tune and words of “Yankee Doodle” are familiar to most Americans….

…but there are conflicting stories regarding its origin. Could the early verses of this tune have been New Hampshire inspired?

I believe so, read on…

The generally accepted story:
1. The title was originally called “Nankey Doodle.” This evolved over time to “Yankey Doodle,” then to the current day “Yankee Doodle.”
2. The lyrics are believed to have been written during the French and Indian War.
3. The composer of the words to the song is often attributed to Dr. Richard Schackburg, a surgeon in the British army.  Reportedly he composed it, at least in part, during the French and Indian Wars while at the home of the Van Rensselaer family in New York. [Note the spelling of the author’s surname is also frequently seen as Shuckburg, Shuckberg, etc.]
4. A reference to the tune was found in 1767’s The Disappointment, one of the first American operas.
5. The original intent of the song was to make fun of the colonials, (especially their dress) who fought alongside the British troops.
6. The music was composed by a different person — a song with a similar tune is believed to have already existed in the mid 1700s.
7. The tune was popular as martial music at least by 1768. When British troops arrived in Boston harbor, “The Yankey Doodle tune,” says a writer at that time, “was the capital piece in the band of music” at Castle William.
8. The original poem had several verses, but it grew considerably, as new ones were written by numerous individuals. There are said to be as many as 190 verses of Yankee Doodle.

Statue of General John Stark in Stark Park, Manchester NH. Since this photograph was taken, the statue has been cleaned and the sword in the general’s hand, replaced.

New Hampshire “Yankee Doodle” Facts:

1. According to the book “Manchester [NH], a brief record of its past..” by J.B. Clarke, published in 1875: “The Seven years’ War, between the British and French, began in 1754 and lasted until 1761, and in it the men of Derryfield bore a prominent part, the “Rangers,” under the command of Col. John Goffe, Capt. Robert Rogers and Capt. John Stark, being especially noted. It is a curious fact that Col. Goffe’s men, dressed in odd clothes, wearing their hair long or tied in queues, their heads protected by woolen nightcaps, suggested to Dr. Shackburg, a surgeon in the British army, the idea of writing to a tune called “Nankey Doodle,” which had come down from Cromwell’s time, a song in derision of these nondescripts, changing “Nankey” to “Yankey” and thus originating the title of the popular air of to-day.”

2. According to the book, “History of Hillsborough County New Hampshire,” published in 1885, indeed Colonel John Goffe commanded a New Hampshire regiment raised in this vicinity in 1760, and was present at the capture of St. John’s Montreal and Quebec. To his regiment,  mustered at Litchfield New Hampshire on 25 May 1760, he issued the following unique order:  “Colonel Goffe requires the officers to be answerable that the men’s shirts are changed twice every week at least; that such as have hair that will admit of it, must have it constantly tyed; they must be obliged to comb their heads and wash their hands every morning; and as it is observed that numbers of men accustom themselves to wear woolen nightcaps in the day-time, he allows them hats; they are ordered for the future not to be seen in the day-time with anything besides their hats on their heads, as the above-mentioned custom of wearing night-caps must be detrimental to their health and cleanliness.  The men’s hats to be all cocked or uniform, as Colonel Goffe pleases to direct.” [John Goffe, was also one of the justices of the NH court, and first judge of probate for Hillsborough County; he was one of the early settlers of Goffe’s Falls, on the Merrimack River, living at different times on both sides of the stream.  See John Goffe’s Family Tree]

 The documentation places New Hampshire men in the right place at the right time, and by all accounts, certainly looking “Nankey.”


A 1775 version of Yankee Doodle
Brother Ephraim sold his Cow
And bought him a Commission;
And then he went to Canada
To fight for the Nation;
But when Ephraim he came home
He proved an arrant Coward,
He wou’dn’t fight the Frenchmen there
For fear of being devour’d.

1845 Version of Yankee Doodle
Father and I went down to camp
A-long with Captain Gooding
And there we saw the men and boys,
As thick as hasty pudding
Yankee doodle keep it up.

Yankee doodle dandy
mind the music and the step,
And with the girls be handy.

And there we see a swamping gun
Large as a log of maple
Upon a duced little cart,
A load for fathers cattle.
Yankee doodle &c
[For more of this see]

Read the 1862 version of Yankee Doodle

Stanzas with music

First we’ll take a Pinch of Snuff
And then a drink of Water
And then we’ll say, How do you do,
And that’s a Yanky’s Supper

More on Yankee Doodle, from a 1824 article in The New Hampshire genealogical record…official organ of the New Hampshire Genealogical Society; Vol. III.


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