An American Icon

It is always fun to discover an ancestor that has some historical relevancy or has achieved some degree of fame but who knew that sitting on one of the branches of our family tree was a bonafide American icon? This Independence Day, I wanted to pay tribute to Col. Thomas Fitch, my son’s fifth great-grand-uncle.

The way one story goes, as a captain during the French and Indian war, Thomas Fitch assembled his new company of recruits outside of his family homestead in Norwalk, Connecticut. Upon seeing this motley crew of men dressed in unmatched and often threadbare clothing from their homes, Thomas’ sister Elizabeth remarked that they needed something that would help unify their appearance… to make it look like they were at least associated with each other. She presented each soldier with a chicken feather to wear in his hat.

As Fitch’s troops marched into West Albany in their forlorn clothes and feather-adorned caps, British surgeon, Dr. Richard Shuckburgh, who fancied himself a poet and musician, decided to mock this ragtag outfit in verse – dubbing them Yankee Doodles and Macaronies… macaroni being a word used in British society of the 1700s to describe a ornately dressed gentleman of high fashion. The insult being that the pathetic looking Americans were trying to “stick a feather in their cap” and pass themselves off as being well-dressed.

As it was put to song, this attempt at derision and mockery backfired on the British as the Americans adopted it as their own and even added verses to it that mocked the English troops and glorified George Washington. By 1781, the song had gone from insult to a source of national pride.

Thomas Fitch left the army at the close of the war to retire to a plot of land given to him by his father, the colonial governor of Connecticut. The house that was built for him was known as the Yankee Doodle House.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotape, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

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