Revolutionary War Queen of Artillery Molly Pitcher
“While in the act of reaching a cartridge and having one of her feet as far before the other as she could step, a cannon shot from the enemy passed directly between her legs without doing any other damage than carrying away all the lower part of her petticoat. Looking at it with apparent unconcern, she observed that it was lucky it did not pass a little higher, for in that case it might have carried away something else, and continued her occupation.”- Soldier and diarist Joseph Plumb Martin
Mary Ludwig Hays was born on October 13, 1754, to German immigrants living in a small/modest home. Historians believe she was born in one of two places, Philadelphia or New Jersey. Why is this? Even though she would become “famous” for her heroic actions, women were not seen as “Warriors” or “War Heroes” and they have often been left out of history.
It is highly unlikely that she received the proper education and could not read or write. During her early twenties, she was married off to a barber name William Hays. When the American Revolutionary War started, William enlisted in the 4th Pennsylvania Artillery with the Continental Army. During that time, it was common practice for the wives of soldiers to accompany their husbands but Mary took it one step further. She decided to join her husband at the Continental Army camp. She helped wash clothes, treat the wounded and ill, and carried water in large pitchers to the soldiers. This is where the name Molly Pitcher came from. “Molly” was a nickname many use to call women with the name Mary at the time, and “Pitcher” for the large water buckets these women carried.
On June 28, 1778, Mary Hays joined the Pennsylvania Artillery, serving under Captain Francis Proctor. The men that knew Mary described her as a “twenty-two-year-old illiterate pregnant woman who smoked, chewed tobacco and swore as well as any male soldier.” She soon was respected by all for her bravery and ability to perform under fire. During the battle of Monmouth, men dying from dehydration were equal to the men dying from wounds. Knowing this, Hays risked her life running back and forth bringing men water so they could continue the fight. She did this until her husband was wounded in battle and she made the choice to take his place manning the cannon and began engaging the enemy.
The Battle of Monmouth was the longest single day of fighting during the American Revolution. After the battle, George Washington himself asked about the brave woman working with the artillery crew and promoted her to a non-commissioned officer. Mary would not serve directly in battle again, but enjoyed her new nickname of “Sergeant” Molly, and used it for the rest of her life.
Her husband died in 1786 from wounds he received in battle. Sergeant Molly remarried a man named John McCauley in 1793 who, after spending all of Molly’s inheritance, ended up running away and never was heard from again. Molly spent the remainder of her life in Carlisle, Pennsylvania where she worked as a domestic servant. In 1822 Hays was finally awarded a pension of $40 a year for her service in the war. Mary Hays McCauley “Molly Pitcher, Sgt Molly” died on January 22, 1832. She is buried in the Carlisle Old Graveyard under the name Molly McCauley where she has a cannon and a statue of “Molly Pitcher” above her tombstone.
According to historians, Molly could have been a combination of Margaret Corbin and several other women that were also out on the battlefield, but the woman actually manning her husband's gun was Mary Hays McCauley.
American Battlefield Trust (2010). Revolutionary War Molly Pitcher. Civilian Servant.Retrieved from https://www.battlefields.org/learn/biographies/molly-pitcher
Teipe, E. (1999) National Archives and Records Administration. Summer 1999. Will the Real Molly Pitcher Please Stand Up? Retrieved from https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1999/summer/pitcher.html.
New Jersey Historical Commission (1990). New Jersey Women’s History. Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley (Molly Pitcher). Retrieved from http://www.njwomenshistory.org/discover/biographies/mary-ludwig-hays-mccauley-molly-pitcher/
McBroom, R. (1999). Independence Hall Association. Historic Valley Forge: Molly Pitcher. Retrieved from http://www.ushistory.org/valleyforge/youasked/070.htm