Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Women and The Revolution - A portrait of Molly Pitcher

A True American Heroine

Pitcher, Molly (Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley)
Born: October 13, 1754, in New Jersey
Died:  January 22, 1852, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania
Vocation: Revolutionary War Heroine, Legendary Figure
Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Carlisle, Cumberland County.
Keywords: Battle of Monmouth; Revolutionary War
Abstract: Molly Pitcher was born on October 13, 1744, in New Jersey. She later moved to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, to work as a domestic servant in 1768 and later married John Casper Hays on July 24, 1769. She joined her husband as a camp follower during the Philadelphia Campaign (1777-1778) in New Jersey during the Revolutionary War. Her actions during the Battle of Monmouth on June 28, 1778, became legendary. Molly returned to Pennsylvania after the war in April 26, 1783, where, after the death of John Hays, she remarried to a war veteran named John McCauley. She was later honored by the Pennsylvania Legislature in 1822 for her “services during the Revolutionary war.” She died on January 22, 1833, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

Molly Pitcher’s real name was Mary Ludwig, the daughter of a German settler, John George Ludwig. On October 13, 1744, Mary Ludwig was born on a small farm between Princeton and Trenton in New Jersey. It was there where she grew up and helped her father, who was a dairyman, on the farm. She was raised to be a hard worker, and as typical hardworking farm girl—heavy-set, strong, and sturdy—she could do all the chores and tasks that a small farm requires. In 1768, Mary Ludwig was hired by a Mrs. Irvine from Carlisle, Pennsylvania, who wanted a young girl to help with the housework. Mary Ludwig lived with Doctor and Mrs. Irvine for some years, and it was there that she met her husband, John Casper Hay, a local barber. They married on July 24, 1769.

In 1775, the Revolutionary War began, and Hays enlisted in Colonel Thomas Procter’s First Pennsylvania regiment artillery, in which he served for one year. He then enlisted again in January of 1777 in Captain Alexander’s Company of Colonel William Irvine’s 7th Pennsylvania regiment. Mary Ludwig Hays followed her husband to war, a custom in the British Army and, to some extent, among the American troops. Following her husband’s regiment, she nursed the sick and assisted in cooking and washing. On June 28, 1778, in Freehold, New Jersey, during the Battle of Monmouth, Mary Ludwig Hays earned the nickname “Molly Pitcher,” becoming one of the most popular female images of the Revolutionary War. On that day, during the Battle of Monmouth, Molly Pitcher performed an act of unusual heroism, an act that would go down in history as legendary. That day in Freehold, New Jersey, it was told that Mary trudged back and forth from a nearby spring bringing water to the soldiers on that hot and smoky battlefield. Welcoming the sight of the sparkling water, the weary soldiers nicknamed her “Molly Pitcher.” According to some accounts, on one of her trips from the spring, Molly Pitcher, as she was always called thereafter, saw her husband collapsing next to his cannon, unable to fight. Molly dropped her pitcher and took over his position, and she was seen firing the cannon throughout the dreadful battle until victory was achieved. Her act of heroism on that day earned her a sergeant’s commission, given by General Greene

Until the close of the Revolutionary War, Molly Pitcher remained with the army and proved to be a beloved and valuable helping hand. Following the death of her husband, she lived at the Carlisle barracks, cooking and washing for the soldiers for many years. Molly also remarried a war veteran named John McCauley. They settled in Carlisle, where Mary went back to work as a domestic in the State House in Carlisle. Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley was known familiarly in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where she lived for the rest of her life, as Molly Pitcher. She lived on the corner of North and Bedford streets in a house which since has been demolished.

In 1822, the legislature of Pennsylvania awarded Molly Pitcher a sum of forty dollars and an annual commission of the same amount during her lifetime. On January 22, 1852, Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley died in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and was buried in the old Carlisle cemetery with military honors—a company of soldiers firing a salute. On the Fourth of July, 1876, the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, the citizens of Carlisle erected a white marble monument inscribed to “Molly Pitcher, the heroine of Monmouth,” over her grave. A poem by Laura E. Richards commemorating Molly can also be found on her grave. Molly Pitcher was a typical American woman during her time period, but her bravery and her dedication for the Country is nothing but exceptional. Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley, or simply Molly Pitcher, was a true heroine, and a true valiant American soldier.

The legend of Molly Pitcher has been told for many generations. Her stories have inspired many women of her time and captured the hearts of America. In 1928, Molly Pitcher was honored with an overprint reading “MOLLY / PITCHER” on a U.S. postage stamp. Molly was further honored in World War II with the naming of the Liberty ship SS Molly Pitcher, launched in 1943. It was used to encourage the use of the ration program and the purchase of treasury bonds during World War II. The stretch of US Route 11 between Shippensburg and Chambersburg, Pennsylvania is known as the Molly Pitcher Highway.

  • Humphrey, Grace. Women In American History. Freeport, New York: Bobbs-Merrill Company Inc, 1919.
  • Keenan, Sheila. Scholastic Encyclopedia of Women In The U.S. New York: Scholastic Inc, 1996.
  • McBroom, Robin. “Historic Valley Forge.” Molly Pitcher. 1998. 22, Nov. 2006. .
  • Stryker, William S. The Battle of Monmouth. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton UP, 1927.
For more information:
  • Archiving Early America. A Short Video On Molly Pitcher. 25 Nov. 2006

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