McCauley, Mary ("Molly Pitcher")

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Mary McCauley ("Molly Pitcher")

Born October 13, 1754
Trenton, New Jersey
Died January 22, 1832
Carlisle, Pennsylvania

Domestic servant, camp follower

Mary McCauley ran a household and tended to children, the typical duties of a woman of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. But when her country needed her, she showed independence of thought and action. Nicknamed "Molly Pitcher," Mary McCauley demonstrated courage under fire and helped save American lives at a critical Revolutionary War battle.

The woman believed to be the Molly Pitcher of Revolutionary War fame was born Mary Ludwig on October 13,1754. Her parents were dairy farmers who lived on a small farm outside of Trenton, New Jersey. In some documents the name "Ludwig" is spelled "Ludwick." Many people in Colonial times were illiterate and so could not correct others who misspelled their names. Mary herself could not read or write, and signed documents as an adult with a simple "X."

Mary Ludwig's father was John George Ludwig. (Some historians believe the family's actual last name was Hass or Has, a name that was dropped when John arrived in America.) John Ludwig immigrated to America in about 1730 from an area in southwest Germany that was home to many people who practiced a Protestant religion. This fact is interesting first because many German American groups have claimed Mary Ludwig (Molly Pitcher) as a German heroine. Second, like the Pilgrims in the New England colonies, many Protestants also immigrated to America because of religious persecution in Europe.

Moves to Pennsylvania

Mary Ludwig's life was fairly uneventful until 1769, when at the age of fifteen she moved to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, to become a servant to the family of Dr. William Irvine. Ludwig's father apparently arranged for his daughter to have this job, even though it meant she would move far away (about 125 miles) from her parent's home. As a domestic servant, Mary cleaned house, washed clothes, and cared for the Irvine children.

Life as a soldier's wife

In July 1769, Mary Ludwig married William Hays, who had been born in Ireland, immigrated to America, and worked as a barber in Carlisle. William enlisted as a gunner in the Pennsylvania State Regiment of Artillery in May 1777. This date is significant because the Revolutionary War had been underway for about a year, and the American need for soldiers had grown.

Artillery is a term that includes weapons such as cannons that throw projectiles (bombs) across the field of battle. As an artillery man, William "served" the cannons. He prepared cartridges (cloth packets full of gun powder), hauled and stacked cannon balls, loaded the guns, aimed and fired them, and swabbed them out to wash away any lingering traces of gunpowder before reloading. It was heavy, hot, smoky, dangerous work, especially in the heat of battle.

As a soldier's wife who accompanied her husband from battlefield to battlefield, Mary Hays had many duties. She had to take care of her own and her husband's belongings and be ready to pack them at a moment's notice when the army was on the move. Hays also had to keep her family and clothing clean while on the move and find food wherever the army stopped. When her husband or an unmarried soldier became ill, Hays nursed them in addition to her other duties.

The Battle of Monmouth

Historical records report that William Hays and his regiment served with distinction at the Battle of Monmouth, New Jersey, in June 1778. It was the last major battle fought in the North during the Revolutionary War. When Hays's regiment was ordered from Pennsylvania to New Jersey, Mary Hays followed the army to stay with her husband. The move also allowed her to be near her family.

The stage for the battle was set when the British army evacuated Philadelphia on June 18, 1778, and marched eastward across New Jersey to the Atlantic coast. Their goal was to load their army and baggage onto British ships and sail north to New York City, a city still in the hands of the British.

American General George Washington (1732–1799; see entry) received news of the movements of the British army, however, and attacked on June 28. Washington claimed a victory, since the Americans forced the British from the field of battle. The British disagreed, pointing out that they escaped during the night after the battle and saved most of their men and belongings. The Americans lost an estimated 500 men, while the British lost about 1,000 men killed or wounded.

Molly Hays's courage at the Battle of Monmouth

Mary Hays was a young woman of twenty-four at the time her husband William served as a gunner at Monmouth. The battle actually took place in the small town of Freehold in northeastern New Jersey and is more accurately called the Battle of Monmouth County Courthouse.

The day of the battle was extremely hot and humid. Mary Hays helped her husband's regiment by carrying pitcher after pitcher of cool water from the Monmouth Courthouse well and serving the water to the thirsty soldiers. They began to call her "Molly Pitcher." She also offered first aid to the soldiers who fell in battle. And when her husband was overcome with the heat, she replaced him, helping his gun crew keep up their firing pattern. General Washington himself is said to have stopped after the battle to thank and congratulate "Molly Pitcher" on her brave service to his soldiers.

Receives army pension

After the war, Mary and her barber husband settled down in Carlisle. William died in 1788, leaving behind Mary and a young son, John, aged five. A year later, in 1789, Mary Hays married John McCauley. Many records indicate that this second marriage was not a happy one for Mary McCauley. She continued to work as a domestic servant. A tax record from around this time stated that the McCauleys owned a house, a half-lot, two cows, and a half-dozen teaspoons. John McCauley died about 1813, and Mary McCauley did not marry again.

Mary McCauley continued to work as a domestic servant for the rest of her life. Various people described her as a short, heavy-set woman who had an abrupt manner. She often wore the style of clothing that was popular in her youth, a white dress covered by a striped skirt that was split in the middle and gathered to each side, along with a white cap with a broad frilled edging. She was a talkative woman who loved children and was a tender, careful nurse to the sick. Mary McCauley did have a rough side, however. As the wife of a soldier, she had learned to swear and usually spoke her mind with some bluntness.

Among the households where Mary McCauley was employed was the Miles home in Carlisle. Mary tended Mrs. Miles, who was ill for a year before she died in 1822. In addition to nursing Mrs. Miles, Mary cared for the family's two young sons. One son, Wesley Miles, published his recollections of "Molly Pitcher" in the May 18, 1876, edition of The Carlisle Herald, the town newspaper.

Years after the war ended, state governments began to grant money to soldiers and their widows, many of whom had fallen on hard times. In 1822, the Commonwealth of Penn sylvania passed a bill that immediately granted Mary McCauley forty dollars and the promise of forty dollars per month for the remainder of her life. At first, this pension was applied for because Mary McCauley was the widow of a soldier. However, the final wording of the bill makes it clear that McCauley received the pension in recognition of her own services. The act read: "For the relief of Molly McKolly for her services during the revolutionary war."

U.S. census records show that McCauley spent the last years of her life living in the Carlisle home of her son, John L. Hays, and his wife, Elizabeth. The Hayses had seven children, providing Mary with many opportunities to be with the children she loved.

Buried with full military honors

Mary McCauley is buried in the Old Graveyard in Carlisle. Her gravesite is marked by a stone that reads: "Mollie McCauley. Renowned in History as Molly Pitcher, the heroine of Monmouth. Died Jan. 1832. Aged 79 Years. Erected by the Citizens of Cumberland County. July 4th, 1876."

On June 28, 1905, the Patriotic Order of Sons of America unveiled an additional monument, a cannon planted over her grave. In Monmouth, New Jersey, a battle monument shows "Molly Pitcher" with a cannon and a pail of water.

Legend grows

Eyewitness accounts of the Battle of Monmouth were given by some of the soldiers who fought there, by their wives who heard the stories from their soldier husbands, and by the friends and family of Mary McCauley. It is difficult to prove which stories are true because of the large gap in time between the battle and when the stories began to be published.

Nevertheless, the stories do paint an exciting picture. One tale describes how Mary Hays carried an injured soldier on her back, away from the battlefield while under heavy fire from British cannons. Another tale tells how Mary Hays was servicing her husband's cannon. As she reached over for a cartridge, a British cannonball passed between her legs, leaving her uninjured but carrying away part of her skirt. Some believe that General Washington made Mary the only woman officer in the Continental army.

In 1876, at the one-hundred-year anniversary of the founding of the United States, many people became very interested in the Revolutionary War. They loved to retell stories of bravery from the war, and were fond of tracing their ancestors' activities during the war. At this time, the story of Molly Pitcher was retold and added to.

Molly Pitcher's story is retold

The story of Molly Pitcher is celebrated in numerous children's books, and she has an entry in most U.S. encyclopedias. She is also the subject of at least three plays. Edward Martin Walsh produced Molly Pitcher, the Monmouth Girl, a four-act play, in 1900, in Detroit, Michigan. In 1928, Molly Pitcher's story was retold in La Capitaine, which was published in Short Plays from American History and Literature, by Olive M. Price. "La Capitaine" is French for "the captain." In 1971, Marjory Hall published Molly Meets the General: Two Patriots of the American Revolution.

Mary McCauley's bravery at the Battle of Monmouth is also the subject of paintings and at least one poem, entitled "Molly Pitcher: The Battle of Monmouth—28 June 1778." The poem tells how General Washington's army survived the brutal winter at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, and then marched to the Jersey Shore to fight the British in the heat of summer. The poem describes Molly Pitcher, her nursing of the wounded, her pitchers of cooling water, and her firing of her husband's cannon after he fell ill from the heat.

For More Information

Malone, Dumas. Dictionary of American Biography. Vol. 6. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1933, pp. 574-675.

Purcell, L. Edward. Who Was Who in the American Revolution. New York: Facts on File, 1993, p. 219.

Rome, Ellen. "Molly Pitcher. An Ohio Schoolgirl's Essay." Daughters of the American Revolution Magazine. Vol. 109, 1975, pp. 903-05.

Smith, Samuel Stelle. A Molly Pitcher Chronology. Monmouth Beach, NJ: Philip Freneau Press, 1972.

Stevenson, Augusta. Molly Pitcher: Young Patriot. New York: Aladdin Paperbacks, 1986.

Web Sites

Lopez, Lilli. Molly Pitcher: The Battle of Monmouth, 28 June 1778. [Online] Available (accessed on March 9, 1999).

U.S. Field Artillery Association. The Story of Molly Pitcher. [Online] Available (accessed on February 19, 1999).

The Other "Molly Pitcher"

The name "Molly Pitcher" is sometimes applied to other Revolutionary War heroines. One such heroine was Margaret Cochran Corbin see entry or "Captain Molly," a woman who fought in the Battle of Fort Washington, New York, in 1776. "Molly" was a common nickname given to girls named Mary or Margaret. The "Pitcher" name was given because of the water they carried to soldiers on the battlefield.

Over the years, many historians have tried to verify which parts of the "Molly Pitcher" story are true. They have consulted official documents from Colonial and Revolutionary War times, including property deeds (certificates of ownership of homes and animals), letters, pension applications, newspaper articles, and congressional and military records. A good historical case can be made that Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley, sometimes called "Sergeant Molly," is the "Molly Pitcher" of legend.

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McCauley, Mary ("Molly Pitcher")

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