Tuesday, September 20, 2016
Molly Pitcher and the American Revolution, article in the NY Tribune 1907
Molly Pitcher and the American Revolution, article in the New York Tribune 1907
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Women have filled no unimportant place in military affairs from the days of Joan of Arc to those of the most modern of daughters of the regiment.
But few, however, have had any lasting memorials of the part they played. Some have figured in man's attire in both the army and the navy, and for all whose identity became disclosed there were doubtless many others who preserved the secret of sex, despite the proverbial tendency of feminine members of society to make known the facts which should be most sedulously concealed.
Of the American women who have taken part in warlike scenes, none is more widely known than "Molly Pitcher," the heroine of Monmouth. This battle was one of the most important conflicts of the Revolution, and was fought in the summer of 1778, when the British troops, retreating from Philadelphia, were overtaken and attacked in New Jersey by the Continental forces under Washington. Although no decisive result occurred from the battle, the fact that the American forces were not repulsed by the foreign foe gave heart to the colonies to continue the efforts begun two years before, and which were to last five years longer before success was attained.
In the troops from Pennsylvania was John Hays, a gunner in the First Artillery, Continental line. He had been accompanied by his wife when the troops to which he belonged had been sent to the field, and she busied herself in doing laundry work for the officers.
On that July day, when the fight raged on the New Jersey plain, the thermometer standing at 96 degrees in the shade, Mrs Mary Hays busied herself in carrying water in a pitcher from a spring to the hot and wearied troops.
"Here's Molly with the pitcher" was frequently heard from the thirsty Continentals, and finally it was abbreviated to "Here's Molly Pitcher," and the sobriquet was permanently substituted for her real name when she displayed gallantry and heroism which surpassed her limitations of sex.
The company in which Hays was fighting and in which he was a rammer was stationed on rising ground between the brigades commanded by Livingston and Varnum. In a dash by British cavalry and infantry Hays was shot down, but not killed, and a call was made for someone to fill his place.
No man appeared, but his wife dropping the pitcher, picked up the rammer which her husband had held and said she would avenge him. She served with the smoking cannon throughout the rest of the battle, and her courage was commended by the seasoned troops. The next day the brave woman, with her garments still soiled with the smoke of battle, was summoned by General Greene, who took her to Washington, by whom her gallantry was praised and who gave her a commission as a sergeant, under which she wore a cocked hat and the insignia of her rank. After her husband's death she continued to serve in the army, and she was finally placed in the list of half pay officers.
"Molly Pitcher" was born at Carlisle, Pa. in October, 1744. Her maiden name was Mary Ludwig, and her fath. er came to this country from Germany.
She was employed as a servant in the family of Gen. William Irvine in Carlisle, and there in 1769 she married John Hays who was a barber. He became an artilleryman in December, 1775. The story is told that his wife was with his troop at Fort Clinton, on the Hudson, in November, 1777, when that fortification was assaulted and taken by the British. The American garrison fled in such haste that Hays dropped a lighted match, with which he was about to touch off a cannon, and his wife picked up the match and put it to the touch-hole of the gun, and so fired the last shot before the surrender.
After the Revolution "Molly Pitcher" lived at the barracks at Carlisle, doing cooking and washing for the soldiers. She was also employed as a nurse by a number of families, as she was fond of children and gentle to them, although somewhat rough in her manner and stern in matters of discipline, demanding military obedience. For a considerable period in her later years she kept a small store, and is described as having been garrulous and querulous. Several years after the death of the gunner, Hays, she remarried, her second husband being Sergeant George McCauley.
He is said to have abused her and to have lived on her earnings. In 1822, a year before her death, the Pennsylvania legislature recognized her services in the war of the Revolution by voting her the sum of forty dollars at once, and the same sum as an annuity for life, to be paid half yearly. Her death occurred at her home in Carlisle in January, 1823, and she was buried with military honors. Her grave remained unmarked until the centennial year of American independence. A sum of money was then collected for the purpose and a shaft erected, on which appears this inscription:
Renowned in history as
The Heroine of Monmouth.
Died January 22. 1823,
Aged seventy-nine years.
Erected by the citizens of Cumberland
County, July the Fourth, 1876.
There is a bass-relief representing the battle heroine in the act of ramming a cannon on a monument on the battlefield of Monmouth. In the painting of "The Field of Monmouth," by George Washington Park Curtis, "Molly Pitcher" also figures.
New York Tribune.