This charming dialogue song is undoubtedly of English origin, but its widespread popularity in the United States and the variety of forms in which it has been sung entitle it to be considered as a traditional American song. The dialogue is amusing to act out, and furthermore it makes a sharp point. Colonial militiamen were responsible for their own outfitting with clothes, guns, and boots. The government in those days, in sharp contrast to our own times, assumed no responsibility in such matters. Militiamen often went ragged and when on active duty picked up what they could where they could. They had a reputation, evidently, as a down-at-heel, thieving lot.
The variant of the song as reproduced here was transcribed by Cecil J. Sharp from the singing of Mrs. Carrie Ford in North Carolina. The melody is sung on the five-tone, or pentatonic scale.