An early form of the tune dates to the early 17th century (in Skene's manuscript) with an earlier title of "I lov'd a handsome lady". The tune appeared in Playford's "Apollo's Banquet" as a Scotch Tune. The earliest appearance of the title Dumbarton's Drums appears to be in the 1720s and the tune was published in 1788 in "The Scots Musical Museum" (a collection of Scottish folk songs and music in six volumes, 1787 to 1803).
In his "Notes on Scottish Songs by Robert Burns" 1908 J.C. Dick quotes Burns as saying, "This is the last of the West Highland airs".
The Scots Musical Museum has an accompanying verse which Emerson's "Scotland Through Her Country Dances" identifies as appearing in the (earlier) Allan Ramsay's Tea Table Miscellany of 1723.
There is also a Scottish country dance called Dumbarton Drums.
My love is a handsome laddie – O,
Genteel, but never foppish nor gaudy – O:
Though commissions are dear,
Yet I'll buy him one this year;
For he shall serve no longer a cadie – O.
A soldier has honour and bravery-O,
Unacquainted with rogues and their knavery – O
He minds no other thing
But the ladies or the king;
For every other care is but slavery – O
Then I'll be the captain's lady – O
Farewell all my friends and my daddy – O
I'll wait no more at home,
But I'll follow with the drum
And whene'er that beats, I'll be ready – O
Dumbarton's drums sound bonny – O
They are sprightly like my dear Jonny – O
How happy shall I be,
When on my soldier's knee,
And he kisses and blesses his Annie – O
Dumbarton's drums they sound sae bonnie
And they remind me o' my Johnnie,
Such fond delight doth steal upon me
When Johnnie kneels and kisses me.
Across the fields o' boundin' heather
Dumbarton tolls the hour of pleasure,
A song of love that's without measure
When Johnnie sings his sangs tae me.
'Tis he alone that can delight me
His rovin' eye, it doth invite me,
And when his tender arms enfold me
The blackest night doth turn and flee.
My Johnnie is a handsome laddie
And though he is Dumbarton's caddie,
Some day I'll be a captain's lady
When Johnnie tends his vows tae me.