Governor Henry Martyn Hoyt



January 21, 1879 - January 16, 1883




June 8, 1830


December 1, 1892


Governor Henry Martyn Hoyt
Photo courtesy of Capitol Preservation
Committee and John Rudy Photography


Henry Martyn Hoyt was the third straight Civil War general to serve in the state's highest office. Hoyt was born June 8, 1830, on a farm in Kingston, Luzerne County, to a Presbyterian family with Connecticut roots dating back to about 1629. His father, Ziba Hoyt, was a farmer who had fought at Lake Erie during the War of 1812, and his mother, Nancy Herbert, is believed to have been related to General William T. Sherman.

Hoyt was educated at old Wilkes-Barre Academy, Wyoming Seminary, Lafayette College, and Williams College (Massachusetts). After graduating in 1849 from Williams, Hoyt taught school at the Towanda Academy, followed by a school in Memphis, Tennessee, and then was professor of mathematics at Wyoming Seminary. At the same time, he studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1853. On September 25, 1855, he married Mary Loveland and raised one son and two daughters. Hoyt was active in the Whig Party, ran for district attorney, and campaigned in 1856 for the Whig presidential candidate, John Fremont.

When the Civil War broke out, he became the colonel in charge of the 52nd Pennsylvania Volunteers, but was imprisoned during the expedition against Charleston, South Carolina. On July 3, 1864, Hoyt led about 1,000 troops by boat on the James River to Fort Johnson where they successfully entered the fort. However, Union reinforcements did not arrive in time. Hoyt's men could not hold the fort and Hoyt was captured. An attempt to escape was thwarted when bloodhounds ran him down, but later, a prisoner exchange allowed him to return to the 52nd until the end of the war when he was brevetted brigadier general.

After returning to his law practice, Hoyt resumed his climb on the political ladder. He was first elected to the school board of Wilkes-Barre in 1866 and then appointed as a law judge of Luzerne County in 1867, but lost an election for the same position after being nominated by the Republicans. In 1869, he was appointed collector of internal revenue for Luzerne and Susquehanna Counties. In 1875-76, he served as state Republican chairman, which, along with his Civil War hero status, helped position him to be nominated as governor. The Republican influence was weakening with the economic downturn that dated back to the Panic of 1873. After the Republicans lost control of both the General Assembly and a U.S. Senate seat, it appeared as though the Democrats might win the governor's race. The Democrats, however, were counting on a coalition with the new National-Greenback Party, a party that appealed to the huge voting block of farmers and labor. In the end, Republican Party bosses Robert Mackey and Matthew S. Quay convinced the Greenback Party to back off from supporting the Democratic candidate, Andrew H. Dill, and instead put forth their own candidate, Samuel R. Mason. Hoyt won by 22,000 votes.

Hoyt's administration did not begin smoothly. In the spring of 1879, public outcry met the passage of the General Assembly's "riot bill" that appropriated four million dollars to compensate Pennsylvania Railroad for property damages in the riots of 1877. Allegheny County had responsibility for the damage, but Pittsburgh politicians and special interests succeeded in placing the burden on all of Pennsylvania's taxpayers. A legislative investigation concluded that at least eight persons, including three members of the General Assembly, were guilty of criminal solicitation on behalf of the bill. The legislators were sent to jail, but the attorney general pardoned them.

A second scandal involved Matthew Quay, by then serving as secretary of the Commonwealth. Quay's choice for state treasurer, Samuel Butler, turned out to be an embarrassment for Quay and the former treasurer, Amos Noye. Butler proved to be a high-minded individual who demanded a strict accounting of state funds. He found that Quay and the former treasurer had engaged in speculation with state funds, which led Hoyt to cut his ties to the Quay machine. The Constitution of 1874 prohibited the governor from succeeding himself, but otherwise permitted reelection in the future. However, Hoyt's move toward independent Republicans resulted in alienation from the Quay-Cameron machine, thus his political career ended with his one term as governor. Even so, Hoyt's administration still managed a number of accomplishments.

Under Hoyt's governorship, state debt was reduced by one and half million dollars; mitigation reformed the cruel Pennsylvania solitary confinement prison system; the charters of "diploma mill" medical schools were revoked; a state medical board was established; delinquent taxes were collected; and railroads were prosecuted for rate schedules that were discriminatory. To give additional young male first offenders, between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five, a second chance, a new reformatory was built where they were taught a trade and allowed to further their education. Also during his administration, the Second State Geological Survey was launched, and the legislature banned school segregation.

On yielding his office to the first Democratic governor since the 1850s, Hoyt congratulated the people for taking government out of the hands of professional politicians and, therefore, seeking solutions that might conceivably restore honesty to the political scene.

Hoyt was also known for his 1879 published study of land claims in Controversy Between Connecticut and Pennsylvania and an 1885 book, Protection Versus Free Trade. Henry Hoyt returned to his law practice for several years before he died in Wilkes-Barre on December 1, 1892, from a protracted illness. He is buried in the Forty Fort Cemetery in Luzerne County.