Pitcher, Molly

views updated May 17 2018

Pitcher, Molly (1744?/1754?–1832), Revolutionary War heroine.The legend of “Molly Pitcher” is based at least in part on the actions of Mary (Molly) Ludwig Hays McCauley; the nickname may have applied to her alone, or may have been used collectively to describe all female “camp followers” who assisted the Continental army.

The daughter of German immigrants who settled in New Jersey, by 1769 Mary Ludwig was a servant of Dr. William Irvine in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. In that year she married a barber, John Casper Hays. He initially served in Col. Thomas Proctor's First Pennsylvania Artillery (1775–76), then reenlisted, in January 1777, as a private in Dr. (now Col.) Irvine's Seventh Pennsylvania Regiment. Sometime later, Mary joined him in camp.

On 28 June 1778, Mary Hays made a name for herself in the Battle of Monmouth, in New Jersey. She had been carrying buckets, or pitchers, of water to her husband's artillery crew; when he fell wounded, she replaced him at the cannon, helping to serve the gun for the remainder of the engagement.

John Hays died several years later, and Mary Hays married another veteran, John (possibly George) McCauley, around 1792. After being widowed a second time and experiencing increasing financial difficulties, she petitioned for a soldier's widow's pension; the Pennsylvania legislature on 21 February 1822 instead awarded her a $40 annuity in recognition of her own services during the Revolution. After her death she became a legendary figure, and a monument was later erected at her burial site in Carlisle.
[See also Revolutionary War: Military and Diplomatic Course; Women in the Military.]


William Davison Perrine , Molly Pitcher of Monmouth County, New Jersey, and Captain Molly of Fort Washington, New York, 1778–1937. 1937.
Linda Grant De Pauw , Women in Combat: The Revolutionary War Experience, Armed Forces and Society, 7 (1981), pp. 209–26.
Janice E. McKenney , ‘Women in Combat’: Comment, Armed Forces and Society, 8 (1982), pp. 686–92.

Holly A. Mayer