It was so hot that day 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 battle field. Under heavy fire from the British troops Molly did not shirk her duty.
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. 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 the heat of the day or from being shot.
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 the hem of her skirt, Molly simply looked down at her dress then continued to keep the cannon cooled and loaded.
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.
Mary Ludwig was born in New Jersey sometime around October 13, 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 along side 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 Hays. 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, retrained the soldiers in teaching them the essentials of military drills, tactics, and disciplines. William Hays 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, which she proudly used the rest of her life.
William Hays 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.
Molly Pitcher, by Currier & Ives, 1907