David Hoyt, Jr.

1757 - 1803
image: Portrait of David Hoyt, Jr.

David Hoyt, Jr.
© 2008 Bryant White


The family into which David Hoyt, Jr., was born was no stranger to war and turmoil. Deerfield, once known as Pocumtuck, had been hastily abandoned during King Philip's War (1675-1676), a no-holds-barred conflict with the dubious distinction of being the bloodiest war in American history. (1) The age-old European rivalry between England and France continued to make Deerfield a target for both the French and their Native allies. In 1744, David Jr.'s grandfather purchased the large, two-story "Indian House," so called because it bore the heart-stopping scars of forced entry from a devastatingly successful dawn raid by French soldiers and Native warriors on the town in 1704. (2)

image: Painting of the John Sheldon House

Old Indian House, painted shortly before it was taken down, about 1847.
Courtesy Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield, MA

It was Jonathan's son, David Hoyt, Sr., born in 1722, who turned this home into a tavern, and it was in this house that his second wife, Silence (King) Hoyt, gave birth to David Hoyt, Jr., in 1757. (3)

image: Page from the Hoyt Bible

David Hoyt, Sr., recorded his two marriages and the birth of his 12 children in this page of his family Bible.
Courtesy Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield, MA

David Jr. joined a large and still-growing family. He had five older brothers and sisters, four of them from his father's previous marriage. The household would grow still larger; by 1775, the Hoyts had 12 children. Big as it was, the house was crowded, especially because David Jr.'s father was a licensed tavern keeper as well as "a maker of wiggs and foretops." (4)

In common with preceding generations of Deerfield Hoyts, David Jr. was born in a time of war and unrest. The French and Indian, or Seven Years, War (1754-1763) was in full swing. Like other Massachusetts towns, Deerfield sent supplies and men, including David Jr.'s father, to join the armies commanded by British generals and to garrison the line of forts they hoped would protect them from raids by the French and their Native American allies. The complete conquest of French Canada by the British in 1763 signaled the end of over a century and a half of warfare between New Englanders and New France.


The end of the French and Indian War brought problems as well as peace. As David grew, so did the tension between England and her 13 North American colonies. In Deerfield, as in many other towns, community members and even families split over the question of how to deal with an unresponsive English Parliament. Pro-British, or Loyalist, sympathizers gathered at the Hoyt tavern. Their Patriot opponents, also known as Whigs, congregated at David Sexton's establishment. Tories cut in half the town's 45-foot-high Liberty Pole one dark night. Rowdy Whigs well-fortified with glee "and perhaps something else" left David Sexton's tavern and marched down the street singing verses that celebrated the dumping of the tea into Boston Harbor. The Deerfield minister and his family were outspoken in their loyalty to the Crown, which rankled the Whig members of the congregation. More ominously, mobs closed judicial courts across Massachusetts; on one especially tense evening, a group of men waited, guns loaded, to defend the home of Phineas Munn, a well-known Loyalist sympathizer. These scenes of unrest and underlying fear left their mark on the Hoyts and other Loyalists, strengthening a commitment to law and order that would persist long after the Revolution had ended. (5)

Despite his family's Loyalist leanings, David Jr. became an active patriot once fighting broke out and the Continental Congress declared independence. Twenty-one-year-old David Hoyt joined a group of militia mustered to meet the British invasion of New England via Canada. Corporal Hoyt's company was too late to participate in the battle of Bennington, Vermont, but did arrive in time to fight under General Benedict Arnold at Saratoga and witness the surrender of General John Burgoyne and 5,000 British soldiers. (6)

image: Painting of Burgoyne's Surrender by John Trumbull

Burgoyne's Surrender
By John Trumbull, 1817. Courtesy US Capitol Rotunda, Washington, DC

By 1781, the war had moved south. That winter David married Elizabeth Bull, the 20-year-old daughter of the Deerfield blacksmith and armorer John Partridge Bull. The young family was on a good footing once the war ended. In addition to helping his father with the tavern, David farmed and worked as a surveyor. (7) He stayed in the black with the local store keeper, John Williams, by selling produce and other goods. But not everyone was as fortunate as the Hoyts. Even in relatively prosperous towns like Deerfield, the optimism that accompanied the official end of the war in 1783 faded quickly. By 1785, many Massachusetts people, including Deerfield residents, were struggling to make ends meet in the face of a severe recession and rising taxes.


The third of the Hoyt's seven children arrived in March 1786, just as the state's economic and political crisis was approaching the breaking point. It was also at this time that anti-government conventions, protests and activities intensified and along with them, the threat of violence and perhaps even civil war. Like other former Loyalists, the Hoyts were strong supporters of the government. They had witnessed firsthand the destructive and extralegal mobs of the pre-Revolutionary 1770s. David and his father viewed with contempt extralegal gatherings and forced courthouse closings. David, Jr. did not hesitate to answer General William Shepard's call for militia in January 1787 to defend the United States Arsenal at Springfield from the men he condemned as an unruly mob. The next day, he favored his father with a thorough and spirited description of the routing of the "mob" of anti-government men at the Arsenal. It is one of the only surviving first-hand accounts of the action recorded immediately following the event.

image: David Hoyt's Letter to His Father Regarding Shays' Rebellion

David Hoyt, Jr., described the action at the Arsenal to his father, David, Sr., in this letter dated January 26, 1787, one day after the assault. More info
Courtesy Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield, MA

Following the arrival of additional troops under General Benjamin Lincoln, David apparently remained at the Arsenal. He may have been among a group of men sent out to attack a third group of insurgents in West Springfield who had not been in the Arsenal showdown. He seems not to have participated in the pursuit and rout of Captain Daniel Shays and his men at Petersham on February 3. That spring, as the government worked to restore order, David played an active role, collecting guns from local men who received government pardons by taking an oath of loyalty and turning in their weapons.

image: Caleb Phillips' Receipt for Firearm

David Hoyt signed this receipt for guns confiscated from local men who had taken the oath and turned in their weapons. More info
Courtesy Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield, MA


Life resumed its regular channels in the months and years following the dispersal and defeat of the men David had condemned as an unruly mob. He likely welcomed the proposed new federal constitution and rejoiced when Massachusetts voted to ratify it, despite the opinion of neighbors who had been sympathetic or even outright supporters of what came to be called the "Shays' Rebellion." "Captain" David Hoyt, Jr., died in 1803 at the age of 46, a death recalled as "untimely" by the 19th century Deerfield historian and descendent George Sheldon. David's daughter, Nancy Hoyt, expressed her sorrow at his passing in verses she included in a family register she embroidered shortly after he died:

Mourn dear children mourn in Solemn Strains
The name of him you loved alone remains
Your hopes from his support from hence give o'er
Your early friend and parent is no more.

image: Embroidered Hoyt Family Register

Nancy Hoyt embroidered this family register shortly after her father died in 1803.
Courtesy Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield, MA

David Hoyt's role in Shays' Rebellion was forgotten for two centuries, until a library researcher rediscovered the letter to his father detailing the action at the Springfield Arsenal among the Hoyt family papers. (8)

About This Narrative

Note: All narratives about people are, to the extent possible, based on primary and secondary historical sources.

See Further Reading for a list of sources used in creating this narrative. For a discussion of issues related to telling people's stories on the site, see: Bringing History to Life: The People of Shays' Rebellion