The Legend of Molly Pitcher
Many women participated in acts of patriotism during the American Revolution. Among those women, the tale of Molly Pitcher is one of the most well known. But who was Molly Pitcher? And why is there so much debate between historians about her?
Who was Molly Pitcher?
As legend has it, Molly Pitcher was a camp follower— a woman who had followed her husband to war and worked as a washerwoman for the soldiers. As the story goes, on a hot summer's day, Molly was carrying water for the troops during battle, but when her husband was wounded at his cannon, Molly deserted her jugs, hitched up her skirts and took his place in the fight. As she loaded a cartridge, an enemy soldier shot a cannon which passed directly between her legs, tearing the bottom half of her petticoat, but not injuring her at all. Molly continued to fight at her husband's cannon until the battle ceased.
Historians believe that Molly Pitcher was not a real woman, but the result of a collection of women who provided similar acts of bravery and whose stories collectively became the personification of Molly Pitcher. It was not uncommon for women to follow their husbands to battle and assist on the battlefield by aiding the wounded or bringing water to the parched soldiers. Molly, a nickname for both Mary and Margaret, could have been inspired by either Margaret Corbin or Mary Ludwig Hays. Both of whom were real women who did replace their husbands in battle and later received recognition for it. However, it is likely that more women than we know participated in battles during the revolution and Molly Pitcher is likely a combination of them all.
Sergeant Mary Ludwig Hays
Mary Ludwig Haws was born on October 13, 1754, to German immigrants in a modest household. When she was in her early twenties, Mary married a barber named William Hays. When William enlisted in the 4th Pennsylvania Artillery during the revolution, Mary joined him as a camp follower. Mary quickly became popular amongst the soldiers and was known for her hard work and to cuss as well as any man.
During the Battle of Monmouth on June 28 in 1778, Mary wrote her page in history. In the hot summer heat, just as many soldiers were dying from dehydration as were from enemy bullets. Mary left her duties as a washing woman and ventured onto the battlefield to bring water to soldiers and care for the injured. When Mary's husband, William, was wounded, Mary took his spot at the cannon and fired at enemy troops.
After the battle, George Washington asked who the woman on the battlefield was and promoted Mary to a non-commissioned officer, earning Mary the nickname "Sergeant Molly."
Captain Margaret Corbin
Born on November 12, 1751, Margaret was orphaned at the age of five when her home was raided by Native Americans who killed her father and kidnapped her mother who was never to be seen again. Margaret was raised by her uncle and married John Corbin in 1772.
In 1775, John signed up for the Pennsylvania military and Margaret joined him as a camp follower. On November 16, 1776, the army was stationed in Fort Washington on Manhattan Island when the fort was attacked by British troops. Margaret joined her husband in battle and assisted him at the cannon until he was hit by enemy fire and killed. Quickly, Margaret took his place and fired at British troops until she was also hit. The blow nearly tore Margaret's arm off and severely wounded her jaw and left shoulder. After the battle, Margaret was captured by the British but was soon paroled and assigned to the Corps of Invalids at West Point.
After the war, officers from Margaret's regiment petitioned Continental Congress in regards to the service Margaret provided at Fort Washington. On July 6, 1779, Congress awarded Margaret a lifelong pension equivalent to half of what a male soldier would receive, making Margaret the first woman in the United States to receive a lifelong pension for military service.
Margaret allegedly picked up the nickname "Captain Molly" on the battlefield and carried it with her until she died in 1800 at the age of 48.
© 2019 Sckylar Gibby-Brown