Living History & Reenactment Music

Musical Rambles Through History © by Sara L. Johnson

Captain George Bush

Capt. George Bush Fiddle Tunes from the American Revolution, by Kate Van Winkle Keller, The Hendrickson Group, Sandy Hook, CT, 1992, ISBN 1-877984-16-7 (The Hendrickson Group, Box 766, Sandy Hook CT 06482)

In 1992, Kate Van Winkle Keller put out a wonderful little book called Fiddle Tunes from the American Revolution, all taken from the notebook collection of a young officer in the Continental Army by the name of Captain George Bush. He left no descendants (no, not even that George Bush), but the Bush family kept his notebook until 1990, when they donated it to the Historical Society of Delaware. His pocket notebook is apparently a goldmine of information about the musical interests, popular tunes, social life, and even the laundry list of a junior officer.

Born in Wilmington, Delaware in 1753, George Bush served as an apprentice to a merchant in Philadelphia before he enlisted in 1776 in the army as a Lieutenant, later becoming a captain. He saw action in encounters with Indians, and at Staten Island, Brunswick, Paoli, Germantown, and was wounded at Brandywine. He also served as a paymaster for the army.

Captain Bush carried his fiddle with him on his travels and in 1779 began collecting song lyrics, dance figures and tunes in a pocket notebook. He wrote some tunes out by ear, but others he copied from a now lost fife tutor printed in 1776 in Philadelphia which included "Yankee Doodle", the first American printing we know of before 1794. He played a lot of popular tunes from the stage and gardens of London, which shows how fast new fashions spread from England to America. George wrote out sentimental love songs, the lyrics to "O! say bonny lass can you lie in a barrack" and the music to an obscene song, minuets, and country dances, including the dance instructions. He had access to a lot of new publications, from which he copied the tunes. He dined and partied with other officers, mentioned hiring fiddlers for evenings he hosted, and in private evenings with his friends, they played music and sang current popular Scots songs.

Some of the tunes which folk musicians and re-enactors would still recognize today include Haste to the Wedding, La Belle Catharine (Come Dance and Sing), Over the Water to Charlie, Soldier's Joy, Yankee Doodle, and Malbrouk." Wait!" you're saying, "Do I know Malbrouk?????" Well, yes, you do, since Malbrouk is known to us today as "The Bear Went Over the Mountain" or "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow".

Some of his tunes of interest for the Revolutionary war period are: The Congress Minuet, originally named King George the Third's Minuet; General Washington's March and General Washington's Resignation; The Marquis of Granby's or 1st Troop of Horse Grenadiers March, named after the hero of the French and Indian War; Mr. Pitt's Minuet, possibly named for William Pitt, Earl of Chatham who sympathized with the colonists in the war; Saw You My Hero George, an American song which might refer to Lady Washington searching the battlefield for her husband; Stony Point, named for the fort stormed by Anthony Wayne in 1779; and Yankee Doodle.

Keller's book also has useful notes on the history of the tunes. Two other booklets have been published of songs and dances from Captain Bush's notebook. They are Social Dances from the American Revolution, and Songs from the American Revolution. These books are probably "must have" collections to find out what people were actually playing and listening to during the period.