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The Soldier and his Cards

From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol II.  Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.

December 27.—A soldier in the American army being unfortunately surprised at a game of cards by a sergeant who owed him an old grudge, was carried before the colonel of the regiment, that he might be punished for gaming, against which general orders were very severe.1 The soldier being asked what he had to say in his defence, replied: That having been religiously educated, and well instructed in the Bible by his parents, and his pay so small that with the greatest economy he had not been able to save enough to buy one, he had therefore purchased an old pack of cards for a few dollars of one of his comrades, which not only served him for a Bible, but made a most excellent almanac besides; then taking out his cards he proceeded thus: “When I see a one, it reminds me that there is but one God; a two, of the Father and Son; a three, of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; a four, calls to my remembrance the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; a five, the five wise and five foolish virgins; a six, that in six days God created the heavens and the earth; a seven, that the seventh was to be kept holy; an eight, of the eight righteous persons that were preserved from the flood, viz.: Noah, his wife, his three sons and their wives; a nine, the nine ungrateful lepers cleansed by our Saviour; a ten, of the ten commandments; the queen reminds me of Queen Sheba, who came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and the king, of the great King of Heaven.” The colonel told him he had forgot the knave. “That,” replied he, “used to represent Judas; but from this time, when I see the knave, I shall always think of the sergeant who brought me before your honor.” “I don’t know,” interrupted the colonel, smiling, “whether he is the greatest of the two, but I am sure he is the greatest fool.”

The soldier then continued as follows: “When I count the number of dots on a pack of cards they are three hundred and sixty-five, for so many days there are in a year; when I count how many cards are in a pack, I find fifty-two, so many weeks are there in a year; when I reckon how many picture cards are in a pack, I find there are twelve, so many months are there in a year; when I reckon how many tricks are won by a pack, I find there are thirteen, this reminds me of the duty I owe to the thirteen United and Independent States of America. Thus they serve both for Bible and almanac.” The colonel called his servant, told him to treat the soldier well, and dismissed him, saying he was a very clever fellow.

Reader, be not ashamed of cards, since they may be applied to the best of purposes; the scandal consists not in the use, but in the abuse of them.2


1 See June 2, 1777 (Volume I, Chapter  X).
2 New Jersey Journal, December 27.