Illuminations, Epiphanies, & Reflections
|Some mid-19th century accounts
surrender at Yorktown state that during the ceremony, the British fifes
and drums (or possibly even a band) played The World Turned Upside Down.
While that makes for a great story, it has never been proven. In
fact, contemporary accounts of the surrender make no mention of any
music being played other than to note "the drums beat a British air,"
suggesting that there was no music at all.
So, if there was a song called The World Turned Upside Down played by the British at Yorktown, what were the words and what was the melody? Some have suggested that after its original publication in 1767, a variation of The Old Woman Taught Wisdom, or The World Turned Upside Down may possibly have begun to be sung to another old tune, known as Derry Down. Still by 1781, few Americans would have remembered the 1767 broadside version of The Old Woman Taught Wisdom included The World Turned Upside Down in its title as the verses of the song didn't contain the phrase. It's even more unlikely that British military musicians would have made such a connection to a fourteen year old magazine.
However, what makes Derry Down--which was used as the music for many liberty songs including Fish and Tea--an intriguing possibility as the melody associated with the Yorktown tradition is that the tune was also used as the melody for one version of a popular, contemporary English children's rhyme, also known as The World Turned Upside Down, whose verses were especially apropos for the situation.
World Turned Upside
(to the tune of Derry Down)
If buttercups buzz'd after the bee,
If boats were on land, churches at sea,
If ponies rode men, and if grass ate the cows,
And cats be chased into holes by the mouse,
If mamma's sold their babies for half a crown,
Then all of the world would be upside down.