Tempted to Enlist

The prospect of ready money tempted many middling men to enlist. Bryan Simpers and Bereni New interpret the Hoys at Colonial Williamsburg. July 30, 2007


Lloyd Dobyns: Hi! Welcome to Colonial Williamsburg: Past & Present on history.org. As we celebrate the anniversary of America's independence this month, we'll consider the Revolution from the perspective of Virginians from all walks of life.

Today, I'm with Bryan Simpers and Bereni New, and at Colonial Williamsburg, they interpret the married couple Alexander and Barbry Hoy. As Alexander and Barbry, they'll talk about their struggles as a middling family adjusting to the changes brought by the Revolution.

Middling family – you are actually a carpenter, are you not?

Alexander Hoy: I've been many things. I was trained as a carpenter, I was apprenticed as a carpenter.

Barbry Hoy: He's a very fine carpenter, sir.

Alexander: Well, a fine carpenter who can't get work. I've also done other things, "odd jobber" is sometimes what they call men like me.

Lloyd: Has the Revolution, or talk of the Revolution, or preparation for the Revolution changed your life?

Barbry: Well, sir, I suppose it's getting harder and harder.

Alexander: We were getting by before, and now with folks not knowing and no imports from England, and nobody knows where other stuff is coming from. Things that you used to take for granted are becoming scarce, which makes sense. And then other things that you think you would want to get, you're not sure where you can get them anymore. For example, there's plenty of cloth still on the shelves, but these merchants … you know, we have growing daughters, and you can only mend and patch and darn but so much.

Barbry: They're growing out of everything.

Alexander: And so, you're looking for cloth. But the cloth that you used to pay – I don't know, Barbry would know better than me – but say, six pence a yard or something like that, now it's 18 pence. It's more and more and more, things go up. As things go up in cost the money that you're … it's hard to say, it's a prideful thing …

Barbry: (Interrupts.)The money's not coming in as fast as the prices are going up.

Alexander: Folks are trying to pay in credit. Well, an odd jobber like myself is already extended. Credit isn't what I need. Money is what I need.

Lloyd: So, not to put words in your mouth, but try it this way: if the Revolution should go forward, and there's independence, you still need money, whether you're independent or not independent.

Barby: Yes, I don't think that's going to change much.

Alexander: I don't mean to sound disrespectful. Politics is a fine thing, but it don't fill your belly. As for myself, I could get by. But a man has a responsibility to his family. In particular, you've got two girls, in our situation. They see the soldiers, they see the drums, they hear the high speeches and the fine talk, and they think this war that we're engaged in is some sort of grand party, or barbeque.

Barbry and I are of an age where we remember the last war – the war against the French – and how times, particularly towards the end of that war, when we was just coming up and starting to try and make our way in the world, and how hard times were then and how relieved everybody was when the peace was called. Now – What did the man say? – now things can be ordinary again.

So, a man like myself feels that what we're doing as Virginians is right. Didn't nobody pick this fight with the British. They are the ones who started shooting in Massachusetts. Once the shooting starts, it doesn't really matter who started it. But we've got to do what's best. I look at the girls, and I think about what can a man like myself leave them? I can't leave them much in the way of stuff, but maybe we could do something that Barbry and I have been talking about. The wife and I have been going around the barn about what might be the right thing for me to do right now.

Barbry: We don't agree.

Lloyd: Somehow I could tell.

Barbry: You don't mind my knitting on this stocking, do you sir?

Lloyd: No, not at all. You don't agree, but what are you discussing? You're talking about something.

Alexander: They're offering good money for men to join the regiments. It's a year's enlistment as it stands right now. I told her, I was in the tavern the other day – I was in the Raleigh – and there was talk that the Congress up in Philadelphia might change it so that if you joined regulars, the Continental Army, before the end of the year, it's a year's enlistment, but if you wait, it could go up to three years, or even the length of the war. A man like myself, I mean, they're offering $10 ready money to join the regiment.

Barbry: We'll go through that, we'll go through it so fast.

Alexander: Well, at least we'll have it to go through. What do we have now?

Barbry: Well, we have you.

Alexander: It was a good trade to be in, I didn't have much choice in it when I was apprenticed. It's an honest trade, but carpenters are like tailors. There's a lot of them. They're like shoemakers. That's another thing that I could do.

Barbry: Well, we could put some kind of crop there, on the land. I've got my ducks.

Alexander: You've got your ducks. She's got a fine flock of ducks. They're very well cared for. It comes from living on land that's got snails and such crawling on it.

Barbry: And with the Army, look, I can be making stockings, I could perhaps make shirts and such, and that will bring in something.

Alexander: They need what she can do more than what I can do, nowadays.

Lloyd: How has the war affected how you run your household? We know that there's not enough money coming in, because nobody's got any money. But how else?

Barbry: Well, I suppose what I serve for supper … you were talking about the hominy, how many days in a row. But I have to stretch it out.

Alexander: But at least there's food on the table. I care more about the fact that the girls have something to eat.

Barbry: I'm trying to repair everything over and over – stockings. And when he does get work as a carpenter, he comes home every day – he has some work on a fence or something – he has ripped or torn something. There's always a new hole.

Alexander: I can't be dainty when I'm working.

Barbry: You could be a little more careful.

Lloyd: How long would $10 last?

Barbry: It wouldn't even pay the rent.

Alexander: It would last longer than having none. And it's ready money, and if you have ready money, as I've tried to explain to you, they are more willing to give you credit, because they know you have that clink. Pardon the vulgar tongue, but they know if you have the clink, then at least they'll get something out of it.

Barbry: But if you have to pay the rent, and all of it is gone in one big lump, then you don't have the ready money anymore, or that clink.

Alexander: You ask for an extension on the rent. Our landlord is a decent man.

Barbry: Well, we've also borrowed money from him.

Alexander: So we have the coins cut proper, and we give him some of the bits. But wouldn't you, sir, wouldn't you be more willing to extend credit to a man if you knew he had some money, if he could make a payment, as it were?

Lloyd: As bad fortune would have it, I am not a merchant, so I don't know how they operate.

Alexander: Well, I'm just asking as a man of the world. Wouldn't you be more inclined to trust a man who was giving you some money, as it were, up front?

Lloyd: Oh, sure.

Alexander: Of course you would. See? He understands. She don't understand. She's stubborn.

Lloyd: If I followed what you said, they give you $10 and they take you for a year?

Alexander: And they give you a land bounty, too.

Barbry: I knew you'd bring that up. Where is that land? It's so far out from everything.

Alexander: There's lots of land in the western counties, where people don't know who we are.

Barbry: And there's savages.

Alexander: Not that far. We can take the girls out there.

Barbry: People still haven't gotten their land bounties from the last war. We might be dead and gone by then.

Alexander: Well, then the girls would get it, wouldn't they?

Lloyd: If you enlist for the ready money, what do you [Barbry] do?

Barbry: I suppose I'll be there by myself with the girls, trying to get by as best as I can.

Alexander: You won't be by yourself.

Barbry: Yes I will. I have no family around here. Yours is all gone, as well. We really have no one here.

Alexander: We have friends. There's Henry.

Lloyd: Friends tend not to be as reliable as family.

Barbry: We have one man, his name is Henry. Oh, how old is Henry now? He's not much help.

Alexander: He would argue that he's 60 tobacco seasons.

Barbry: Yes, I'd say he's more like 70.

Alexander: He's a good man. He's good in a garden. You could make a bigger garden, for that matter.

Barbry: He is a good man. You just said that the land was all spent.

Alexander: Well it don't hurt to try.

Barbry: By myself.

Alexander: You're not by yourself, darling. How old is she, what, she's 11 now, isn't she?

Barbry: Eleven years old. She does what she can. We have good girls.

Alexander: They are very good. A man like myself considers himself well-blessed.

Barbry: How could you bear to leave them?

Alexander: Because I love them.

Lloyd: That’s Colonial Williamsburg: Past & Present this time with Bryan Simpers and Bereni New portraying Alexander and Barbry Hoy. Check history.org often, we’ll post more for you to download and hear.

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