Dandy new theory suggests 'Yankee Doodle' is now 250

Associated Press
Published on: 07/05/08

Albany, N.Y. —- Wish "Yankee Doodle" a happy 250th birthday. Maybe.

The original lyrics to one of America's best-known songs, one associated with the American Revolution, were actually written a couple decades earlier during the French and Indian War, although an exact date has eluded historians. Some peg the year as 1755, when the war's first major battles were fought, or 1756.

The other year often cited is 1758. Now, a New York state archaeologist, Paul Huey of the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, believes he has narrowed down the date to sometime in June of that year, when a large British-led army was mustering at Albany for an expedition against the French.

Dr. Richard Shuckburgh, a British army physician, is credited with penning the "Yankee Doodle" lyrics to mock the ragtag New England militia serving alongside the British redcoats. As the story goes, Shuckburgh wrote "Yankee Doodle" while at Fort Crailo, across the Hudson River from Albany, after witnessing the sloppy drill and appearance of Connecticut troops.

In the spring of 1758, the largest British army ever assembled in North America up to that point was gathering for an assault on the French fort at Ticonderoga.

Thousands of ill-equipped and ragged New England militiamen were bivouacked around Fort Crailo. They were kept out of Albany lest the Puritan-raised Yankees be tempted by the bustling inland port's many taverns, brothels and Dutch merchants adept at separating country greenhorns from their shillings.

As they awaited orders to march north, the New Englanders were easy targets for the derision of the spit-and-polish redcoats, Shuckburgh among them. He and other British officers were the guests of the Van Rensselaer family, wealthy Dutch landowners whose holdings included Fort Crailo, a fortified manor house in what is now the city of Rensselaer.

According to Van Rensselaer family lore, Shuckburgh wrote the lyrics in 1758 while sitting on the edge of a well at the rear of the brick house, now a state historic site. Huey believes Shuckburgh wrote the ditty sometime before June 28, because the army had marched by then.

The lyrics attributed to Shuckburgh, an upper-crust wag, mocked the Connecticut fools —- "Yankee doodles" —- who arrived wearing hats decorated with feathers. An old English nursery rhyme provided the tune, which was also used in a musical play popular in the British colonies in the mid-1700s.

After the Revolutionary War began, British troops sometimes used the song to taunt the rebellious Americans. But the rebels later adopted "Yankee Doodle" as their own and struck up the tune after beating the redcoats in battle.

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