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Molly Pitcher

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The American Revolutionary War in the Middle Atlantic States:
Battle of New York City | Washington's Retreat from New York City | Washington's Crossing of the Delaware River
Battles of Trenton and Princeton, New Jersey | British Capture of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania | Battle of Brandywine, Pennsylvania
The Paoli Massacre | Battle of Germantown, Pennsylvania | Battle of the Barrels | The Winter at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania
Battle of Monmouth, New Jersey | Battle of Stony Point, New York | Battle of Springfield, New Jersey | General 'Mad' Anthony Wayne
Molly Pitcher | General Lord Charles Cornwallis

A large monument marks the grave of Mary Ludwig1 Hays McCauly in the Old Graveyard of Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The statue of a woman holding a cannon ramrod honors the legend of the local woman who is better known to the world as 'Molly Pitcher'.

She was married to William Hays who served in the First Pennsylvania Artillery. Mary (who is said to have used the nickname 'Molly') travelled with her husband in the field. She endured the hardships at Valley Forge and accompanied him onto the battlefield at the Battle of Monmouth, New Jersey on 28 June, 1778.

The Legend

During the Battle of Monmouth, the summer heat was unbearable and both sides lost men due to heat exhaustion.

Legend has it that Molly carried pitchers of cool spring water to her husband's cannon to help keep the gun crew fighting the British. When her husband was incapacitated2, she took over his position at the cannon's mouth. She used the ramrod to keep the gun in service. These are the only facts that are consistent among all the accounts of the battle.

The Myths

Among the many myths surrounding Molly's actions at Monmouth, New Jersey on 28 June, 1778 are:

  • A British cannon ball passed between her legs without doing any damage other than carrying away the lower part of her petticoat.

  • She carried a wounded soldier on her back away from the battle lines on her way to the spring to fetch more water for her husband's gun.

  • She aimed and fired the cannon herself after its crew was too depleted to stay in the fighting.

  • The fighting was so intense that all the other women fled the battlefield and she alone provided water to the men.

  • In recognition for her heroism, General George Washington praised her. He issued her a warrant as a noncommissioned officer, earning her the nickname 'Sergeant Molly'.

Obviously, many of these accounts are exaggerations, if not outright falsehoods. However Molly did receive an annual pension of $40 from the government of Pennsylvania in recognition of her bravery at Monmouth. Something significant must have happened that day.

After the War

Molly and her husband moved to Carlisle, Pennsylvania where he opened a barber shop. Upon his death in the late 1780s, she lived alone collecting her pension and later married again.

Her second husband, John McCauly owned a small farm near Carlisle. When McCauly died in 1822, Molly moved in with a son from her first marriage, John Hays. She lived there until her death in January 1832.

The marker on her grave was erected in 1876 by the citizens of Cumberland County. The Cumberland County Historical Society has a pitcher that they believe belonged to Molly in their collection.

1At the time the gravestone was erected, it was thought that Mary's maiden name was Ludwig and that she was of German extraction. It is now thought that she was Irish, but her maiden name is unknown.2Either through heat exhaustion or because of a wound.

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