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Molly Pitcher at the Battle of Monmouth - American Revolutionary War

Updated on June 6, 2017
Phyllis Doyle profile image

Early American history is of special interest to Phyllis, for it is what shaped our country.

Molly Pitcher at the Battle of Monmouth

Molly Pitcher, published by Currier & Ives, between 1856 and 1907.
Molly Pitcher, published by Currier & Ives, between 1856 and 1907. | Source

Battle of Monmouth

It was so hot that day yet Molly Pitcher continued her not so easy task at the Battle of Monmouth in June of 1778. Some say the temperature climbed to over 100 degrees. Molly, never tiring, carried buckets of water to the soldiers on the battlefield. Under heavy fire from the British troops Molly did not shirk her duty during yet another battle in the American Revolutionary War.

Molly was a water carrier and part of a group of women who were called "camp followers". They followed their husbands to battle, carried water to thirsty soldiers, and kept a bucket full of water by each cannon. These women worked hard and often under fire from the British. They made sure that the wounded men received care and drinks of water when needed. The cannon barrels had to be swabbed out and cooled down after each firing. Molly's husband was at one of those cannons. As she brought yet another bucket of water and sat it down by the cannon barrel, her husband, the soldier who swabbed and reloaded the cannon, collapsed either from heat stroke or from being wounded.

As her husband was carried off the battlefield, Molly grabbed the ramrod and in the heat of battle and sun, continued to swab and load the cannon. Even when a musket ball from the enemy tore off a large portion of her petticoat, Molly continued to keep the cannon cooled and loaded. She was very lucky, for apparently, according to an eyewitness in the battle, the musket ball passed right between her lower legs taking the petticoat with it.

Joseph Plumb Martin, a soldier in the Continental Army, wrote about his experiences in the American Revolutionary War. About Molly Pitcher he wrote:

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.

— Joseph Plumb Martin

Mary Ludwig Hayes

It was Mary Ludwig Hayes that Martin was referring to. This is just one of the stories that surround the legendary figure of Molly Pitcher, a woman who supposedly served in the Continental Army under Baron von Steuben during the Revolutionary War.

It was common for women named Mary to be called Molly during those years. Legends vary about who Molly really was. Soldiers, when thirsty, would call out "Molly! Pitcher!", meaning "we need a bucket of water over here." So, Molly Pitcher became her nickname. Various tales embellished the legends of Molly. Some attribute these heroic deeds to a woman named Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley.

General Washington Rallying the Troops at Monmouth

General Washington at the Battle of Monmouth, by Emanuel Leutze (1816-1868)
General Washington at the Battle of Monmouth, by Emanuel Leutze (1816-1868) | Source

Bas-relief Panel of Molly Pitcher

Engraving on the Molly Pitcher monument, by James E. Kelly (artist) (1884), on base of Monmouth Battle Monument, in front of   courthouse in Freehold, NJ.
Engraving on the Molly Pitcher monument, by James E. Kelly (artist) (1884), on base of Monmouth Battle Monument, in front of courthouse in Freehold, NJ. | Source

Mary Ludwig Hayes McCauley

Mary Ludwig was born in New Jersey in October 1744. She was the daughter of John George and Gretchen Ludwig who originally came from Germany. The Ludwig family owned a dairy farm. She had three brothers and worked alongside them with daily chores on the farm. It was common at the time to think that girls did not need an education, so Mary probably never attended any schools.

When Mary was about fifteen years old she was hired by Anna Irvine as a house servant. Anna and her husband, Dr. William Irvine, lived in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. This would take Mary 150 miles away from her home and family -- yet she accepted the job so she could send money back home to her parents.

During the time she was working at the Irvine home, she met a barber named William Hayes. Mary and William were married in the Irvine home on July 24, 1769. Mary worked for the Irvines for several years after her marriage.

William enlisted in the Continental Army in 1777. In 1778, Baron von Steuben, inspector general and Major General of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, re-trained the soldiers in teaching them the essentials of military drills, tactics, and disciplines. William Hayes trained as an artilleryman. Like many other women, Mary followed her husband to the battlefields and served as a water carrier.

One legend has it that after the Battle of Monmouth, George Washington heard about "Molly Pitcher's" brave act at the cannon. In commemoration for her bravery, he issued a warrant to Mary as a 'non commissioned officer'. After that honor she was called Sergeant Molly, a nickname she proudly used the rest of her life.

William Hayes died in 1786 and Mary married John McCauley in 1793. The marriage was not a good one and McCauley disappeared sometime around 1807. He was never heard from again.

On February 21, 1822, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania awarded Mary McCauley an annual pension of $40 for her heroism. She died January 22, 1832, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, at the approximate age of 87. She is buried in the Old Graveyard in Carlisle, under the name "Molly McCauley." A statue of "Molly Pitcher," adorned by cannons, stands in the cemetery.

Camp Followers

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Molly ! Pitcher !

Margaret Corbin

It is interesting to note that there were many other women who worked the same task as Molly Pitcher did and that history has mentioned other women who may have been called Molly Pitcher and received honors for their service in action.

One of these women was Margaret Corbin. Margaret was with her husband, John, stationed at Fort Washington They served under Captain Francis Proctor of the 4th Continental Arillery Regiment. When the fort was attacked by the British, Margaret fought by the side of her husband. John was killed in the battle and Margaret continued fighting and firing the cannon. Margaret was severely wounded in the battle. The Battle of Fort Washington was a victory for the British and Margaret surrendered along with the rest of the regiment. The British released Margaret because of her severe wounds and she returned to Philadelphia, disabled for life.

Margaret Corbin received financial aid of thirty dollars from the government for immediate needs. In July of 1779 it was granted that Margaret was to receive monthly pay of half a soldier's pay because of her service and bravery in action. This made Margaret the first woman to receive a military pension from the United States government.

Margaret never fully recovered from her war wounds and died in January, 1800. She was 48 years old. It is a heart-warming act of the Daughters of the American Revolution when through research in 1929 they found Margaret's forgotten grave. They had studied the papers of General Henry Knox and learned about Margaret's service and heroism. Margaret's remains were re-interred at the US Military Academy at West Point. She was buried with full military honors and a statue of her was erected in the west Point Cemetery. Her grave is behind the Old Cadet Chapel, along with her monument.

After the Battle of Fort Washington, Margaret had received the nickname of "Captain Molly".

~ ~ ~ ~

Walter Blumenthal Papers

A study carried out by Walter Blumenthal of women in the American Revolutionary War who served as camp followers shows that there were an average of three thousand in the field during given periods.

This is based on the orders of General George Washington that the number of women in the camps was to be no more than one woman per thirteen men. This takes into account that the Continental Army and Colonial militias never had over forty thousand troops in the field at the same time.

General Washington had issued orders that the women camp followers were to be treated with respect and as military personnel.

Molly Pitcher, a Legend at the Battle of Monmouth

© 2014 Phyllis Doyle Burns

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    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
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      Phyllis Doyle Burns 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Thank you very much, James. Glad you enjoyed the article about Molly Pitcher. I have not done any articles on the Civil War yet, but have written several on the Revolutionary War pertaining to the Northern campaigns. Alastar Packard, another writer here, has written on the Southern campaigns (a little agreement we made). I will be doing more articles on the Rev War.

      Thanks again, James.

    • JamespRichmond profile image

      James Richmond 2 years ago from Kent, Washington

      I sincerely enjoyed your article! I like how you allowed each woman their own section to tell their story. Despite my knowledge pertaining more toward the Civil War era, I find the Revolutionary era foreshadowed a lot of where we developed as a country. I wonder could you possibly do an article for each US involved war? That would be riveting!

      Cheers,

      James

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
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      Phyllis Doyle Burns 3 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Thank you very much, Patty, for this very kind comment. I love history and always try to go as deep as I can into all aspects of an event or a person's life. I so appreciate your visit and comment.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 3 years ago from North America

      I enjoyed the small bit of history about Molly Pitcher I had in school, but love all the detail, references, and different angles you have uncovered! This is the kind of history that I like to read!

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
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      Phyllis Doyle Burns 3 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Thank you, dyopxa. I am glad you enjoyed reading my hub and appreciate your comment.

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      dy0pxa 3 years ago

      Nice post.

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
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      Phyllis Doyle Burns 3 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      This hub just received an Editor's Choice Award. Thank you, Team HubPages -- I appreciate this.

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
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      Phyllis Doyle Burns 3 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Thank you for your visit and comment, MG Singh.

    • MG Singh profile image

      MG Singh 3 years ago from Singapore

      Nice post that brings out humanism, but I maintain women cannot be active combatants.

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
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      Phyllis Doyle Burns 3 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Well, thank you so much, Genna. I think women on our early history of America sacrificed a lot to support family and country. I am so glad to read your very nice comment. Thanks again -- I so appreciate your visits and comments.

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 3 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      You have opened a window into the Revolutionary War from the perspective of those who lived it. Molly Pitcher, and other women who worked this task, had such courage. When I think of the discipline and the hardships she and others had to endure, I am overwhelmed. We don’t hear very much about the women who sacrificed and risked so much during this period on our history. This hub is illuminating and breath of fresh air.

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
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      Phyllis Doyle Burns 3 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      hThank you, Alastar. It was really interesting researching on Molly Pitcher. I knew about her and did not realize that she was very symbolic of many many women also served in the battlefields. There is a Deborah Sampson who had wanted to enlist as a soldier in the Rev War, but could not as a woman, so she enlisted with the name of her deceased brother, Robert Shurtlieff Sampson, and served admirably.

      Peter Francisco -- from your account, he took a lot of redcoats down with him, you mentioned this patriot soldier to me before and I thought it might be Francis Nash. Nash and Francisco both fought in the Battle of Brandywine. Francisco intrigues me and I will have to research about him. Thanks for the tip, Alastar -- and thank you kindly for the read and comment on Molly. Your kind words on my writing always motivate to do more.

    • Alastar Packer profile image

      Alastar Packer 3 years ago from North Carolina

      So glad you wrote such a fine article on Molly Pitcher and Margaret Corbin. was unfamiliar with Corbin's story. The woman of the Revolution should be written on more, thank you, Phyllis. The battle of Monmouth was one the war's biggest battles. It was either this battle or Brandywine that saw the patriot giant-in-stature Peter Francisco climbing up a tree and shooting down multitudes of redcoats till finally slain.

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
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      Phyllis Doyle Burns 3 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Hi cygnetbrown. You are so right, Molly Pitcher does indeed exemplify those courageous women who served in every battle. Thank you so much for the read and comment.

    • cygnetbrown profile image

      Donna Brown 3 years ago from Alton, Missouri

      It is truly amazing the number of women who put their lives on the line for our country. Molly Pitcher exemplifies the character of those women!

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
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      Phyllis Doyle Burns 3 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Hi Jodah. Thank you for visiting, reading and your kind comment -- I appreciate that and the votes, too. Anything about the Revolutionary War intrigues me. Alastar Packer and I once made an agreement that he would write on the southern campaign and I would write on the northern campaign (sometimes we cross over a little). He is very knowledgeable on that time in history and it is a great challenge and a lot of fun to keep up with him. Thanks again, Jodah.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 3 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Intriguing hub Phyllis. I too had heard of "Molly Pitcher" but didn't know it really referred to a number of women during the war. I found this very interesting as your hubs always are. Voted up.

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
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      Phyllis Doyle Burns 3 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Hi Sheila. It seems that the consensus has always been that Mary Ludwig Hayes was the only Molly Pitcher, yet there were so many women camp followers that I believe 'Molly Pitcher' was a general name for all the women who carried water to the soldiers. Thanks, Sheila, for reading and commenting, I appreciate it.

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
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      Phyllis Doyle Burns 3 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Hi Millionaire Tips. I do not recall learning about Molly Pitcher in school, but the name was familiar when I came across her story a few years ago. It is an interesting part of our history for sure. Thank you for the visit and comment. I appreciate your time.

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      sheilamyers 3 years ago

      I heard of Molly Pitcher when I was in school, but wasn't aware there were many other women who followed the army. I guess I should've expected that to be the case since the same thing happened during the Civil War, which is the period of history I most study.

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 3 years ago from USA

      I hadn't heard of women going to battle either, but it certainly does make sense. When there is fighting, the soldiers would have appreciated all the help they could get. Thanks for bringing this part of history to me.

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
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      Phyllis Doyle Burns 3 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Thank you, Eddy, for the kind comment. I read Blumenthals papers and the British women also followed their husbands to battle. Amazing women all. Have a wonderful evening.

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
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      Phyllis Doyle Burns 3 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Hi Jackie. thank you so much, I am happy you enjoyed it. I truly admire those women who followed their husbands to battle. Thanks again, I appreciate it.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 3 years ago from Wales

      I have to admit Phyllis that I had never heard of Molly Pitcher ;this was so interesting and voted up for sure. Well presented and informed also.

      eddy.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 3 years ago from The Beautiful South

      So interesting Phyllis. Thank you for that information I so enjoyed reading!

    • Phyllis Doyle profile image
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      Phyllis Doyle Burns 3 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

      Ah! Frank, my first commenter and such a kind comment at that. Thank you very much, I appreciate it. I did read somewhere in researching that even Martha Washington once followed George into battle and organized the other women to their tasks. The Revolution was an amazing time in our history. Thanks again, Frank.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 3 years ago from Shelton

      this such an entertaining and educational hub.. I don't think ive ever heard of women going into battle with their husbands.. as water carriers, and aide providers, but again I am taught something new :)