Tuesday, June 9, 2015


A romanticized painting: Molly Pitcher Stands Her Ground
To most Americans interested Revolutionary War history, the folk heroine, Molly Pitcher's life is chronicled in numerous storytelling versions. The name  is generally attributed to Mary Ludwig Hayes, who was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1754-1832). The chances of celebrity never entered her mind. She never attended school or learned to read, and education considered a waste of money on young girls at that time. Yet, Molly Pitcher would prove her mettle and stand her ground as a true American heroine.
   Searching for the Real Molly: However, controversy surrounds the name and the question has often been asked: "Who was the real Molly Pitcher?"  Searching for the real Molly Pitcher has validity, but the name could also be a catchall nickname that really could be applied to many more untold heroines who served as camp followers.
  Camp Followers: The term camp followers also has a positive and negative connotation. It is a term used to identify civilians, wives, sweethearts, mothers and the children of soldiers who followed the army during the Revolution and provided services that the army did not supply---selling goods and services---including carrying pitchers of water to soldiers, cooking, laundering, nursing, sexual services.
   Cannoner Molly Pitcher may be a persona inspired by the actions of a number of real women. However, legend has it that the real Molly Pitcher is most likely a young soldier's wife named Mary Ludwig Hayes. During the American Revolutionary War, William Hayes (also known as John Hayes) enlisted as a gunner in the Continental Army. At that time it was not unusual for wives to be near their husbands in battle and assist as needed, even taking over the gun when the soldier collapsed. Pitcher followed William Hayes to New Jersey during the war's Philadelphia Campaign (1777-78) and Mary was one of a group of women, led by Martha Washington, known as camp followers, who would wash clothes and blankets, and care for sick and dying soldiers.
Battle at Monmouth On the day that Hayes fought in the Battle of Monmouth in Freehold, New Jersey, June 28, 1778, it was a scorcher. On the brutally hot day, his wife Molly made countless trips to a nearby spring to fill 'pitchers' of cold water for the battle fatigued and wounded soldiers. When her husband collapsed at his cannon he was carried off the battlefield; Molly dropped the pitcher and took his place and rallied on fighting with courage and conviction. In the heat of the battle, Mary continued at the cannon and at one point a British musket ball or cannonball flew between her legs and tore off the bottom of her skirt.  Mary supposedly said something to the effect, "Well that could have been worse," and continued to "swab and load"  the cannon using her husband's ramrod. Molly fought skillfully and heroically and so endeared herself to the men that it was during this time she probably received her nickname, as troops would shout, Molly! Pitcher!" whenever they needed her to bring fresh water.
After the Battle: George Washington asked about a woman who was seen loading a cannon on the
battlefield.  In commemoration of her courage, he issued Mary Hayes a warrant as a non commissioned officer.  Afterwards, she was known as "Sergeant Molly," a nickname she used for the rest of her life. At the end of the war, May and her husband William returned to Carlisle, Pennsylvania. After her husband William Hayes died, May Hayes married another Revolutionary War veteran John McCauley, and continued to live in Carlisle. In 1822, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvanian awarded Mary McCauley an annual pension for her service. She died in 1832, in Carlisle, and is buried in the Old Graveyard there.  A statute of "Molly Pitcher," standing alongside a cannon stands in the cemetery.
   Molly Pitcher has held a revered place in the patriotic lore of the American revolution and continues to be recognized in popular culture. For instance, there is the Honorable Order of Molly Pitcher bestowed by the U.S. Field Artillery Association (USFAA) to recognize women who have voluntarily contributed in a significant way to the improvement of the U.S. Field Artillery Communities. There is the Molly Pitcher Inn located in Red Bank, New Jersey, not far from the Battle of Manmouth. On 1-95 (New Jersey Turnpike) a service area is named Molly Pitcher Service Area in Cranbury Township, New Jersey. Postage stamps were issued and then, too, there are towns named after Molly Pitcher and even Mary Pitcher apartment buildings. Molly Pitcher became one of the most popular and enduring symbols of women who contributed to winning the War of Independence. An American Revolutionary heroine that inspires even today.


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