Good Golly, Miss Molly!
Molly Pitcher is described as a patriot who carried pitchers of water to soldiers and helped with cannon duty during the Battle of Monmouth in the American Revolution.
“Molly Pitcher” may be a combination folk hero inspired by the actions of many women who served in this role on the battlefield, and became known by this nickname. During the American Revolutionary War it was common for wives to be near their husbands in battle and help as needed.
Although historians conclude that Molly Pitcher cannot be definitely identified, most sources say she was Mary Ludwig Hays, born in Trenton, New Jersey in 1754. At the Battle of Monmouth, she earned this nickname as she carried pitchers of water to soldiers.
As the story goes, it was a brutally hot day in June, 1778. She made countless trips to a nearby spring to fill pitchers of cold water for soldiers to drink and to pour over their cannons to cool them down. When her husband William (John) Hays, the artilleryman, was wounded, she dropped her water jugs and took up loading the artillery in his place. She kept the cannon loaded throughout the rest of the battle until the colonists had won the victory.
According to the National Archives, there was a witness to Molly Pitcher’s actions. Joseph Plumb Martin, a soldier in the Continental Army, was there. His memoirs, discovered in the 1950’s, documented her heroic acts: Plumb relates:
“A woman whose husband belonged to the artillery and who was then attached to a piece in the engagement, attended with her husband at the piece the whole time. While in the act of reaching a cartridge and having one of her feet as far before the other as she could stemp, 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. Looking at it with apparent unconcern, she observed that it was lucky it did not pass a little higher, for in that case it might have carried away something else, and continued her occupation.”
With her actions on that day, Molly Pitcher became one of the most popular and enduring symbols of the women who contributed to the American Revolution.
George Washington is said to have seen her heroics and issued her a commendation. Mary was allegedly called “Sergeant Molly” for the rest of her life. But where history ends and folklore begins is up for debate. There is no record of such commendation from Washington. Martin’s account is the only real evidence available about her at Monmouth.
Mary Hays (“Molly Pitcher”) was honored by the Pennsylvania Legislature in 1822 for her wartime services. She was awarded $40 and an annual commission for rest of her life. A monument in Carlisle commemorates her heroic acts in battle.
Whether Molly Pitcher is one woman or a mixture of many, her legend tells the story of women’s heroism during the American Revolution.