One of the best ways to find out what soldiers were really up to, especially in their spare time, is to find out what their commanders forbade them from doing. Gen. George Washington’s orders to the Continental Army outside Boston on 3 Oct 1775 contain these instructions:
Any Officer, Non-Commissioned Officer, or Soldier, who shall hereafter be detected playing at toss up, pitch and hustle, or any other games of chance, in or near the camp and villages bordering on the encampments, shall, without delay, be confined and punished for disobedience of orders. . . .The George Washington Papers in the Library of Congress’s American Memory collections defines the first game this way: “Toss-up was played with a coin and heads or tails called while the coin was in the air.” Which is what we now do before we start to play some games. But those were simpler times.
The General does not mean, by the above order, to discourage sports of exercise and recreation; he only means to discountenance and punish gaming.
“Pitch and hustle” was based on a game also called “chuck-farthing,” “pitch-ha’penny,” “pinch,” and, these days, “pitching pennies.” But the “hustle” part was new to me. The Sports and Pastimes of the People of England explained it this way:
This is a game commonly played in the fields by the lowest classes of the people. It requires two or more antagonists, who pitch or cast an equal number of halfpence at a mark set up at a short distance; and the owner of the nearest halfpenny claims the privilege to hustle first; the next nearest halfpenny entitles the owner to a second claim; and so on to as many as play.The image above is from the Ormskirk and West Lancashire Numismatic Society’s article on coinage. It’s an “evasion” half-penny of the late 1700s, looking close enough to actual British money to circulate, but bearing a meaningless inscription so that the authorities could not charge the maker with forgery.
When they hustle, all the halfpence pitched at the mark are thrown into a hat held by the player who claims the first chance; after shaking them together, he turns the hat down upon the ground; and as many of them as lie with the impression of the head upwards belong to him; the remainder are then put into the hat a second time, and the second claimant performs the same kind of operation; and so it passes in succession to all the players, or until all the halfpence appear with the heads upwards.
Sometimes they are put into the hands of the player, instead of a hat, who shakes them, and casts them up into the air; but in both instances the heads become his property: but if it should so happen, that, after all of them have hustled, there remain some of the half-pence that have not come with the heads uppermost, the first player then hustles again, and the others in succession, until they do come so.