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American Revolutionary War

Molly Pitcher at the Battle of Monmouth, lithograph

Molly Pitcher (1744-1832) was a nickname given to a woman said to have fought in the American Battle of Monmouth, who is generally believed to have been Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley. Since various Molly Pitcher tales grew in the telling, many historians regard Molly Pitcher as folklore rather than history, or suggest that Molly Pitcher may be a composite image inspired by the actions of a number of real women. The name itself may have originated as a nickname given to women who carried water to men on the battlefield during the war. Army base Fort Bragg holds an annual event called "Molly Pitcher Day" showcasing weapon systems for family members, Airborne Operations, and Field Artillery.

Legend and evidence

Molly Pitcher at the Battle of Monmouth, engraving by J.C. Armytage, c1859

The deeds in the story of Molly Pitcher are generally attributed to Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley.[1] Molly was a common nickname for women named Mary in the Revolutionary time period.[2] Biographical information about her has been gathered by descendent-historians,[3] including her cultural heritage, given name, probable year of birth, marriages, progeny, census and tax records, etc., suggesting a reasonably reliable account of her life. Nonetheless, independent review of these documents and the conclusions suggested by the family still needs to be done by professional historians; some details of her life and evidence of the story of her heroic deeds remain sparse.

Mary Ludwig was born to a German family in Pennsylvania. There is some dispute over her actual birth date. A marker in the cemetery where she is buried lists her birth date as October 13, 1744.[4] Mary had a moderate sized family that included her older brother Johann Martin, and their parents, Maria Margaretha and Hans Georg Ludwick, who was a butcher. It is likely that she never attended school or learned to read, as education was not considered necessary for young girls during this time.[5]

In Carlisle, Pennsylvania, while working as a servant for the wife of Dr. William Irvine, Mary met William Hays, a barber. They were married in 1769. Continental Army records show that William Hays was an artilleryman at the Battle of Monmouth in 1778. (It is often mistakenly reported that Mary's first husband was named John; however, this was the name of her second husband.) On July 12, 1774, in a meeting in the Presbyterian Church in Carlisle, Dr. William Irvine organized a town boycott of British goods as a protest of the British which was called the Tea Act. William Hays' name appears on a list of people who were charged with enforcing the boycott.[5]

Valley Forge

In 1777, William Hays enlisted in Proctor's 4th Pennsylvania Artillery, which later became Proctor's 4th Artillery of the Continental Army. During the winter of 1777, Mary Hays joined her husband at the Continental Army's winter camp at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. She joined a group of camp followers led by Martha Washington who would bake and deliver food, wash clothes and blankets, and care for sick and dying soldiers.

In the spring of 1778, the Continental Army was retrained under Baron von Steuben. During this time, William Hays trained as an artilleryman. Mary Hays and other "camp followers" served as "water girls" during the training, carrying water to drilling infantry troops on hot days. Also, artillerymen needed a constant supply of fresh water to cool down the hot cannon barrel and to soak the rag tied to the end of the ramrod, the long pole with which they cleaned sparks and gunpowder out of the barrel after each shot.

It is likely that Mary Hays earned her famous nickname, Molly Pitcher, during this time. During training, artillery and infantry soldiers would shout "Molly! Pitcher!" whenever they needed Mary to bring water.[5]

Battle of Monmouth

At the Battle of Monmouth in June 1778, Mary Hays attended to the Revolutionary soldiers by giving them water. Just before the battle started, she found a spring to serve as her water supply. Two places on the battlefield are currently marked as the "Molly Pitcher Spring." Mary Hays spent much of the early day carrying water to soldiers and artillerymen, often under heavy fire from British troops.

The weather was hot, over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Sometime during the battle, William Hays collapsed, either wounded or suffering from heat exhaustion. It has often been reported that Hays was killed in the battle, but it is known that he survived.[5]

As her husband was carried off the battlefield, Mary Hays took his place at the cannon. For the rest of the day, in the heat of battle, Mary continued to "swab and load" the cannon using her husband's ramrod. At one point, a British musket ball or cannonball flew between her legs and tore off the bottom of her skirt. Mary supposedly said, "Well, that could have been worse," and went back to loading the cannon.[6]

Later in the evening, the fighting was stopped due to gathering darkness. Although George Washington and his commanders expected the battle to continue the following day, the British forces retreated during the night and continued on to Sandy Hook, New Jersey. The battle was seen as a major victory for the Continental Army.

After the battle, General Washington asked about the woman whom he had seen loading a cannon on the battlefield. In commemoration of her courage, he issued Mary Hays a warrant as a non commissioned officer. Afterwards, she was known as "Sergeant Molly," a nickname that she used for the rest of her life.[6]

Later life

Following the end of the war, Mary Hays and her husband William returned to Carlisle, Pennsylvania. During this time, Mary gave birth to a son named Johanes (or John).[5] In late 1786, William Hays died.

In 1793, Mary Hays married John McCauley, another Revolutionary War veteran and possibly a friend of William Hays. McCauley was a stone cutter for the local Carlisle prison. However, the marriage was reportedly not a happy one, as McCauley had a violent temper. It was McCauley who was the cause of Mary's financial downfall, causing Mary to sell 200 acres of bounty land left to her by William Hays, for 30 dollars. Sometime between 1807 and 1810, John McCauley disappeared, and it is not known what became of him.[5]

Mary McCauley continued to live in Carlisle. She earned her living as a general servant for hire, cleaning and painting houses, washing windows, and caring for children and sick people. "Sergeant Molly," as she was known, was often seen in the streets of Carlisle wearing a striped skirt, wool stockings, and a ruffled cap.[5] She was well liked by the people of Carlisle, even though she "often cursed like a soldier." [6]

On February 21, 1822, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania awarded Mary McCauley an annual pension of $40 for her service. Mary died January 22, 1832, in Carlisle, at the approximate age of 78.[2] She is buried in the Old Graveyard in Carlisle, under the name "Molly McCauley." A statue of "Molly Pitcher," adorned by a cannon, stands in the cemetery.

Margaret Corbin

The story of Margaret Corbin bears similarities to the story of Mary Hays. Margaret Corbin was the wife of John Corbin of Philadelphia, also an artilleryman in the Continental army. On November 12, 1776, John Corbin was one of 2,800 American soldiers who defended Fort Washington in northern Manhattan from 9,000 attacking Hessian troops under British command. When John Corbin was killed, Margaret took his place at the cannon, and continued to fire it until she was seriously wounded in the arm. In 1779, Margaret Corbin was awarded an annual pension of $50 by the state of Pennsylvania for her heroism in battle. She was the first woman in the United States to receive a military pension. Her nickname was "Captain Molly."[5]



1928 Molly Pitcher stamp.


Molly Pitcher (1884) by James E. Kelly, Monmouth Battle Monument, Freehold, New Jersey.

Molly Pitcher Spring Marker

Molly Pitcher Spring

In 1928, "Molly Pitcher" was honored with an overprint reading "MOLLY / PITCHER" on a U.S. postage stamp. Earlier that year, festivities had been planned to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Monmouth. Stamp collectors petitioned the U.S. Post Office Department for a commemorative stamp to mark the anniversary. After receiving several rejections, New Jersey congressman Ernest Ackerman, a stamp collector himself, enlisted the assistance of the majority leader of the House, John Q. Tilson.[7] Postmaster General Harry New steadfastly refused to issue a commemorative stamp specifically acknowledging the battle or Molly Pitcher. In a telegram to Tilson, Postmaster New explained, "Finally, however, I have agreed to put a surcharged title on ten million of the regular issue Washington 2¢ stamps bearing the name 'Molly Pitcher.'"[7]

Molly was finally pictured on an imprinted stamp on a postal card issued in 1978 for the 200th anniversary of the battle.[8]

"Molly" was further honored in World War II with the naming of the Liberty ship SS Molly Pitcher, launched, and subsequently torpedoed, in 1943.

The stretch of US Route 11 between Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, and the Pennsylvania-Maryland state line is known as the Molly Pitcher Highway.

The Field Artillery and Air Defense Artillery branches of the US Army established an honorary society in Molly Pitcher's name, the Honorable Order of Molly Pitcher. Membership is ceremoniously bestowed upon wives of artillerymen during the annual Feast of St. Barbara. The Order of Molly Pitcher recognizes individuals who have voluntarily contributed in a significant way to the improvement of the Field Artillery Community.


There is a hotel in Red Bank, New Jersey, not far from the site of the Battle of Monmouth, called the Molly Pitcher Inn.

See also


  1. Will the Real Molly Pitcher Please Stand Up!
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Pitcher, Molly." Encyclopædia Britannica. 13 February 2007. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "eb" defined multiple times with different content
  3. The Real Pennsylvania Dutch American, "Molly Pitcher"
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 Koestler-Grack, Rachel A. Molly Pitcher: Heroine of the War for Independence. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2006. ISBN 0-7910-8622-4.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Rockwell, Anne They Called Her Molly Pitcher. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002. ISBN 0-679-89187-0.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Hotchner, William M. (2008-08-25). "The scandal surrounding the Molly Pitcher overprint stamp of 1928". Linn's Stamp News. Amos Press Inc.. pp. 6. 
  8. United States Postal Cards UX77, multicolored, lithographed, issued September 8, 1978, in Freehold, New Jersey. Bicentennial of the Battle of Monmouth on June 28, 1778, and to honor Molly Pitcher (Mary Ludwig Hays)


  • Bohrer, Melissa Lukeman. Glory, Passion, and Principle: The Story of Eight Remarkable Women at the Core of the American Revolution. New York: Atria Books, 2003. ISBN 0-7434-5330-1.
  • Raphael, Ray. Founding Myths: Stories That Hide Our Patriotic Past. New York: New Press, 2004. ISBN 1-56584-921-3. Raphael regards "Molly Pitcher" as a myth that serves to obscure the actual (though less dramatic) contributions of women to the war effort.
  • The Real Pennsylvania Dutch American, "Molly Pitcher" - A Documented History. ISBN 1-4685-1019-3.

External links

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