Fiddle Tunes of the Lewis and Clark Era

Fiddle Tunes of the Lewis and Clark Era is a selection of tunes popular during the period of exploration and early European settlement of the Louisiana Purchase.

Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark explored and mapped the lands acquired by President Thomas Jefferson’s 1803 purchase of “Louisiana,” which extended from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains. Included in the expedition were two fiddlers, and they contributed much to maintaining the morale of the men and establishing good relations with the Indians. Fiddle Tunes of the Lewis and Clark Era contains fiddle tunes familiar in that period of our history.


Fiddle Tunes of the Lewis and Clark Era Tracks

1. Yankee Doodle Originally a Dutch folk song, this tune was used for dancing in Colonial times.. The words were written by Dr. Richard Shuckburgh, an Englishman, around 1755 to make fun of the colonials who helped the British regulars in the French and Indian Wars. By 1775 the piece was being played by British fifers and drummers to taunt the colonials. A British Army band played the tune near a church during religious services to annoy the congregation. After the American victories at Lexington and Concord the Colonials appropriated the tune to tease the British. Under the terms of the surrender agreement at Yorktown in 1782, the British were banned from playing the tune. When they turned insultingly away from the Colonials at the surrender ceremony, General Lafayette instructed the French bands to play Yankee Doodle as a display of solidarity with the Americans.

2. Believe Me if All Those Endearing Young Charms This air was published in England in 1775 in Vocal Music, or the Songster’s Companion under the title of My Lodging It Is on the Cold Ground, and is sometimes printed as a jig in 19th century collections. It is a favorite waltz of fiddlers all over Great Britain as well as Canada and the US today.

3. En Passant par la Lorraine/AuprPs de ma Blonde/Malbrough s’en va-t-en guerre These three tunes are French songs played by 18th century French fife and drum corps in the New World. Malbrough is well known today in several versions, including For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow, The Bear Went Over the Mountain, We Won’t Go Home Until Morning, and a Danish folk dance called Malebrok.

4. Miss McLeod’s Reel Did You Ever See the Devil Uncle Joe? is the title familiar to old-time fiddlers in the Missouri valley, while McLeod’s Reel is favored among Irish and northern musicians. Other titles include Enterprise and Boxer, and Hop High Ladies. The tune was known in America and Ireland in the late 18th century, and was first printed in 1809 in Scotland.

5. The Country Courtship/Jefferson and Liberty The Country Courtship is a 1688 English version of the well known Irish Washerwoman. Jefferson and Liberty is an old British Isles tune also known as The Gobby-O or Bay of Bantry. It was published in an 18th century American manuscript, and served as Thomas Jefferson’s campaign song in the presidential campaign of 1800. It is often played for contra dancing today.

6. Durang’s Hornpipe A German dwarf named Hoffmaster composed this tune in 1785 for popular stage performer John Durang (1768 – 1821), who was sometimes called the first American dancer. Durang claimed to have danced a hornpipe on thirteen eggs blindfolded without breaking one.

7. Road to Boston In 1853, 93-year-old Benjamin Smith of Needham, Massachusetts identified this as one of the most popular American army tunes of the Revolutionary War — that is, until their musicians learned “Yankee Doodle” and “The White Cockade” from hearing the British playing them. It was danced to in America in the 1790’s, and is still well known in Canada and New England.

8. Rye Whiskey This is a variant of the 17th century Irish tune Bacah Buidhe of which there are several 18th century British variants. Southern style fiddlers often play it in cross-tuned A; here it is played in G in standard tuning. Many 20th century commercial recordings were made of the tune as a popular song.

9. New Rigged Ship This dance tune was known in America by 1790 and fiddlers continue to play it for contra dances today.

10. My Love is but a Lassie. As Miss Farqharson’s Reel this tune first appeared in print in Bremner’s Scots Reels of 1757, and it became better known as My Love Is But A Lassie because of the song Robert Burns composed to it. It is well known in Scotland, England, Ireland, and all over North America, and was known in America in Colonial days. Over the years, this tune has been known by many names.

11. College Hornpipe In the 18th century, American dancer John Durang popularized the nautical-style hornpipe dance called the Sailor’s Hornpipe. This dance was so often performed to the tune College Hornpipe that the tune itself became known as the Sailor’s Hornpipe. It is one of the tunes played by the barrel organ (a mechanical instrument cranked by a handle to operate the bellows and rotate a cylinder from which pins project to play the tune) which English Navy Captain George Vancouver had on his ship when he explored the Northwest coast in 1792.

12. Rakes of Mallow This British Isles tune dates from the mid 18th century and was popular in America. The title may refer to roguish young men from the village of Mallow in County Cork, Ireland, or perhaps to rose mallow, a wildflower from which an herbal tea can be made.

13. Haste to the Wedding This popular British Isles jig was first introduced in a pantomime in 1767, published in America in 1777, and was used as a quickstep for pre-war militia units in the colonies. In the Missouri Valley today it is one of the few jigs still being played on an everyday basis.

14. Devils Dream. The Scottish reel The De’il Among the Tailors, composed around 1790, was the original for this tune. It appears in the Scottish Kerr collection as Devil’s Dream, and has been commonly known in America since that time.

15. Old Molly Hare This is an American version of Fairy Dance, written by Scottish composer Neil Gow, published around 1802, and known in Colonial days. Howard recalls a set of risque words to the tune (not repeated here) that he learned from champion fiddler Lena Hughes of north Missouri.

16. Life Let Us Cherish The melody was written by Hans Georg Nägeli, a Swiss music educator and publisher, in 1796. The original German title is Freut euch des Lebens, and several versions were published in the US around 1800 with various English translations of the words. In the 19th century it became a favorite waltz in the Midwest, probably due to German immigration, and it is still important at old time dances in the German-speaking communities near St. Louis.

17. MacDonald’s Reel/Leather Breeches (Sir Alexander Macdonald composed this tune, which quickly became popular in Scotland. In 1790 it was published in America, and in the 19th century it was often used for the Virginia Reel. Leather Breeches is its American descendant. The title may refer to green beans dried in the pod and cooked, in addition to the more obvious reference to the kind of frontier garb worn by Lewis and Clark and other members of their expedition.

18. Sir Roger de Coverley This tune was published in Playford’s Division Violin in 1685, in the Dancing Master in 1696, and in many ballad operas popular in England in the 18th century. Charles Dickens describes the dance in A Christmas Carol, and it is performed in the old movie version starring Alistair Sims. During George Washington’s lifetime the dances held at Mt. Vernon always closed with this tune, which was his favorite. The dance Sir Roger de Coverley is the same as the Virginia Reel, still well known all over America although the tune is no longer used.

19. Ricketts Hornpipe John Bill Ricketts was a Scots immigrant who came to America from England in 1792 and promoted circuses in America until 1799. He danced hornpipes on the backs of galloping horses and toward the end of his career, Ricketts hired another famous American hornpipe dancer, John Durang, to produce pantomimes for his popular shows.

20. Columbus Cotillion The Drunken Sailor is another title for this English country dance tune, published in America around 1792 and popular in the early 19th century. It has been used for numerous songs, play party tunes and ditties, including Ten Little Indians and The Monkey’s Wedding and is also a well known French Canadian square dance tune.

21. Molly Put the Kettle On This tune of Irish origin, still a common hoedown in the Southern and Midwestern USA., was a common country dance and nursery song in the 18th century. In the late 18th century a set of pianoforte variations was published in America. It was played by Joe Politte and Charlie Pashia of the Old Mines French community south of St. Louis, Missouri in the mid 20th century.

22. Pop Goes the Weasel A weasel was a metal tool used by hat makers in England, and to “pop” it meant to pawn it. This English country dance and singing game may date back to the 17th century. This is a fairly simple tune to render, and was among the first tunes to be learned by previous generations of fiddlers in many parts of the U.S. It is often used for a trick fiddle exhibition in which the fiddler changes the position of his fiddle during the pop, playing it behind his back, over his head, etc.

23. Soldiers Joy This is possibly the best known fiddle tune in history, found all over North America, Great Britain, and Europe in nearly every tradition, including Scandinavia, the French Alps, and Newfoundland. Early versions can be traced to Scotland as far back as 1781. In England it is also known as The King’s Head and some old timers in Missouri call it Payday in the Army.

24. The White Cockade First published in England in 1687, this tune was widely popular from the 18th century on. A cockade was a ribbon in the shape of a rosette used as a decoration on hats, and a white cockade was worn by people sympathetic to Jacobite rebels fighting against the English monarch in 1715 and 1745, in both Scotland and Ireland. American patriot soldiers adopted the white cockade as their symbol during the American Revolution. The tune was played by fifer Luther Blanchard and drummer Francis Barker at the North Bridge in Concord, Massachusetts, on the morning of April 19, 1775, at the opening battle of the Revolution.

As a new fiddler, I am on the search for some new fiddle tines to listen to, and finding this one is like digging up a buried treasure. This album is fascinating journey to the roots of American fiddle playing, and the tunes form the bedrock of fiddle jams. These tunes are played very simply, as they must have been played during this era in our American history. It is traditional early American fiddle music at it’s best!

If interested, you can hear sample tracks from all the tunes and pick up the album from Amazon. If you decide to buy Fiddle Tunes of the Lewis & Clark Era, consider using my link to Amazon. Whatever small commission I make goes directly back into maintaining this website. Thank you.

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