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New England Song Series No. 6:

"Father And I Went Down To Camp"

The Boston Yankee Doodle Ballad

by Roger Lee Hall

This song is sometimes confused with "The Yankee Doodle Boy" -- known by its opening line: "I'm a yankee doodle dandy," written by George M. Cohan in 1904 and made famous by James Cagney singing it in the Warner Bros. musical, YANKEE DOODLE DANDY (1942).

But this about the legends and facts of the 18th century Boston ballad beginning with these words:

 

Father and I went down to camp,
Along with Captain Gooding,
And there we see the men and boys
As thick as hasty pudding.

Chorus:
Yankey doodle keep it up,
Yankey doodle dandy;
Mind the music and the step,
And with the girls be handy.

 

The Ballad

The song known as "Yankee Doodle" has been shrouded in legends for several centuries and it is difficult to determine which versions are authentic.

Perhaps the most common legend is that Dr. Richard Shuckburgh wrote a ballad set to the "Yankee Doodle" tune to poke fun at New Englanders who served in the French and Indian War in Canada. It has been claimed that Shuckburgh included this verse:

With his commission he had got,
He proved an errand coward,
He dared not go to Cape Breton,
For fear he'd be devoured.


Obviously verses like that didn't please the New Englanders, or "Yankees," as they were called. Part of the legend is that Shuckburgh wrote his mocking ballad in 1755 or 1758 while a guest at the Van Rensselaer brick manor house also known as Fort Crailo near Albany, New York .

As mentioned in David Hackett Fischer's extensive discussion on "Yankee Doodle" in Liberty and Freedom, there are conflicting documents that support this claim though he assumes that Dr. Shuckburgh wrote it. But which version of the ballad did he write?

Are there any documents that can prove that "Yankee Doodle" was written down?

Yes, there are several.

One of these documents is sheet music published in London, titled: "YANKEE DOODLE, or (as now christened by the Saints of New England), THE LEXINGTON MARCH." This is undated but must have been printed after the battles at Lexington and Concord in 1775. Could some of it have been written years before by Dr. Shuckburgh? It is possible since the first verse tells a similar story as the one credited to him:

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 prov'd an arrant Coward,
He wouldn't fight the Frenchmen there for fear of being devour 'd.

But the most important document is a broadside sheet probably printed in or near Boston with fifteen verses.

In his fascinating though flawed book, America's Song: The Story of 'Yankee Doodle,' Stuart Murray mistakenly claims this Boston version of "Yankee Doodle" as being written by Dr. Shuckburgh. That is incorrect. This Boston ballad has this heading:



The Farmer and his Son's return from
a visit to the CAMP


In her excellent well documented book, Music for Patriots, Politicians and Presidents (1975), Vera Brodsky Lawrence, wrote about this ballad:

Attributed to Edward Bangs. a sophomore at Harvard who had served at Lexington as a minuteman, these words --with slight variations -- were often reprinted during the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The broadside, probably dating from 1775 or 1776, is the earliest known printing of this version.

Here are five of the fifteen verses of this ballad:

Father and I went down to camp,
Along with Captain Gooding,
And there we see the men and boys
As thick as hasty pudding.

Chorus:
Yankey doodle keep it up,
Yankey doodle dandy,
Mind the music and the step,
And with the girls be handy.

And there we see a thousand men,
As rich as 'squire David,
And what they wasted every day,
I wish it had been saved.

Chorus:
Yankee doodle etc.

And there was Captain Washington,
And gentle folks about him,
They say he's grown so tarnal proud,
He will not ride without them.

Chorus:
Yankee doodle etc.

And there we see a swamping gun,
Large as a log of maple,
Upon a deucid little cart,
A load for father's cattle.

Chorus:
Yankee doodle etc.

And every time they shoot it off,
It takes a horn of powder,
And makes a noise like father's gun,
Only a nation louder.

Chorus:
Yankee doodle etc.

pony,
macaroni.

According to James J. Fuld's authoritative The Book of World Famous Music:

The earliest known printing of the common words of Yankee Doodle relating to "pony, feather and macaroni" is in James Orchard Halliwell, The Nursery Rhymes of England (London, 1842).

Thus the text taught to schoolchildren for many generations is NOT the original text.

Fuld also wrote:

Most of the authorities now conclude that the song is American in origin.

The tune for "Yankey (or Yankee) Doodle" was known in America from the 1760s onward.

But it wasn't until the Edward Bangs version from 1775-76 that this most famous of early American songs became well known.

By the mid-19th century, this ballad was printed in Father Kemp's Old Folks Concert Tunes as "Yankee's Return From Camp (Yankee Doodle Dandy)" and this was the chorus:

Yankee doodle keep it up,
Yankee doodle dandy,
Beneath the fig tree and the vine,
Sing Yankee doodle dandy.

Notice that this is a cleaned-up version from the original chorus.

Though it may not be the best known version today, the Boston Yankee Doodle ballad attributed to Edward Bangs was the best known version during the American Revolution.

And his chorus ends with these suggestive lines:

Mind the music and the step
And with the girls be handy.

Edward Bangs (1758-1818) was obviously having some fun as a frisky young college lad presumably "handy" with the girls too.

He wrote a simple, somewhat awkward ballad about a farmer and his son as they "went down to camp."

Now his ballad is part of American history.

 

-- Roger Lee Hall

 

 

Resources:

The Book of World-Famous Music: Classical, Popular, and Folk (Fifth Edition, Revised and Enlarged)

The Book of World-Famous Music: Classical, Popular, and Folk
(Fifth Edition, Revised and Enlarged) (Paperback, 2000)
By James J. Fuld

 

Liberty and Freedom: A Visual History of America's Founding Ideas (America: a Cultural History)

 

 

Music for Patriots, Politicians, and Presidents

Music For Patriots, Politicians, and Presidents:
Harmonies and Discords of the First Hundred Years (Hardcover, 1975)
By Vera Brodsky Lawrence

 

 

America's Song: The Story of Yankee Doodle

AMERICA'S SONG:
The Story of 'Yankee Doodle' (Hardcover, 1999)
by Stuart Murray

 

 


 

The Recordings

 

These CDs are available from the American Music Recordings Collection (AMRC) and all contain an arrangement by Williams Arms Fisher of "Father And I Went Down To Camp" (YANKEE DOODLE):

American Choral Sampler (AMRC No. 3)

New England Song Treasury (AMRC No. 4)

"A Toast":
Music of George Washington's Time (AMRC No. 13)

New England Choral Sampler:
From The Pilgrims to Peace (AMRC No. 15)

 

 

 


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