A chronological account of the music that originated in Washington’s time forms something of a history of his career, and of American events generally. During his boyhood and early manhood, Washington heard chiefly English music. Of English patriotic airs, God Save the King was probably composed in England in 1740, and was no doubt known in the colonies soon after that time. Yankee Doodle originated in England or Europe before Washington was born. Dr. Schuckburg, who composed verses to the tune, and played a joke on the Yankee troops at Albany, dates from 1758, during the French-Indian Wars.
The year 1759 saw the composition of the first known song by a native American composer, for that is the date marked on the manuscript book containing Francis Hopkinson’s My Days Have Been so Wondrous Free. It is altogether fitting that this charming amateur should have been the first American composer of music, for, as we have already learned, he was a man active in political and cultural affairs.
The events of the French-Indian War were commemorated with music. A Thanksgiving Anthem, by William Tuckey, an English musician resident in New York, was performed December 8, 1760, in Trinity Church, “before his Excellency General Amherst, on his return to New York from the conquest of Canada”. The Peace of Paris, by which France ceded to England all of Canada and, with the exception of New Orleans, all of her region east of the Mississippi, was accomplished February 10, 1763. In the same year we find a number of musical celebrations to mark the event. On May 17th, at the College of Philadelphia, there was performed an Exercise, Containing a Dialogue and Ode, “on occasion of the peace”, written by “Paul Jackson, A.M.”, for solo voice and chorus. On September 28th, the senior class of Nassau Hall delivered an original Dialogue on Peace, “interspersed with music”, at its anniversary commencement. A number of years later, in the Pennsylvania Magazine of March 1775, a song was printed to commemorate the Death of General Wolfe, who fell during the taking of Quebec in 1759.
The music of this period shows the loyalty of the colonists. Even at a time when there were tremors of discord with England, poets and composers publicly paid homage to the sovereign and to the mother country. At the commencement of the College of Philadelphia, May 23, 1761, the students performed An Exercise Containing a Dialogue and Ode, written and set to music by Francis Hopkinson, “sacred to the memory of his late gracious Majesty, George II.” The next year Hopkinson wrote another Ode and Dialogue for the commencement, “on the accession of his gracious Majesty, George III.” Little did Hopkinson know that more stringent enforcement of the obnoxious Navigation Acts would be ordered in 1764, or that in 1765 the Stamp Act Congress would find it necessary to publish a “declaration of rights and grievances”.
There were other musical testimonials to the greatness of Britain. The Ode on the Late Glorious Successes of His Majesty’s Arms and Present Greatness of the English Nation, published by William Dunlap in Philadelphia in 1762, may have called for music, and it is highly probable that James Lyon composed the music for The Military Glory of Great Britain, “an entertainment given by the late candidates for bachelor’s degree, held in Nassau Hall, N. J., September 29, 1762”.