Friday, May 26, 2023

Molly Pitcher - Fact or Fiction?

 by Cindy Regnier

Anybody remember learning about a brave lady nicknamed Molly Pitcher back in grade school? As I remember it, I heard that she carried water to the soldiers as they were fighting battles during the Revolutionary War. I remember a very young me thinking how cool it was that they nicknamed her Molly Pitcher, like a little play on words or something. I digress. 

In case you didn’t already know, Molly Pitcher was not a real person, but a composite folk hero inspired by many women who took on similar responsibilities. Though versions differ, most believe the term Molly Pitcher was first used to describe someone actually named Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley. Mary was the daughter of a New Jersey dairy farmer who married a barber named William Hays. William enlisted as a gunner in the Pennsylvania Artillery. Mary became what was known as a camp-follower in order to stay near her husband, even wintering with the army at Valley Forge. 

As the story goes, Mary was carrying water for the troops at the Battle of Monmouth in June, 1778, when her husband was wounded. When that unfortunate event occurred, she abandoned her water jugs and took over for William by loading the artillery. The memoirs of Joseph Plumb Martin, a soldier at the battle are the main source of this information.


Even George Washington is said to have known of her and gave her a commendation, after which she became known as Sargent Molly, however there is no record of this. The exact point where history turns into folklore is unknown, but it certainly is a great story, even if not all factual. After the war William and Mary Hays returned to Pennsylvania. They settled in Carlisle where William died in 1786. In 1793, Mary married John McCauley, who had also served in the war. She was awarded a pension in 1822 by the Pennsylvania State Legislature and it wasn't until the anniversary of the War in 1876 that a marker noting her exemplary service was placed on her grave. She died on January 22, 1832.

Another "Molly Pitcher" was Margaret Corbin who is said to have taken up a cannon when her husband was killed at Fort Washington on Manhattan Island, New York in 1776. She was seriously wounded there herself when her arm was almost severed and her chest was lacerated by grapeshot. She lived until 1800 after receiving charity payments from the Invalid Regiment and later a small pension from Congress. She was allegedly known throughout her community as a bad-tempered, hard-drinking eccentric by the nickname of "Captain Molly." 
Corbin and Hays were both real women who performed bravely during the war. "Molly Pitcher," in contrast, is a legend, a symbol of courage in the face of adversity. So there you have it. I leave it to your opinions to sort out the fact from the fiction, but the important point to remember is that Molly Pitcher did what she could for the soldiers and became an important part of the American war effort, no matter how many women comprised the legend.

 Rand isn't looking for love. What he needs is a wife to help care for his orphan nieces. Desperate, he sends an advertisement to a newspaper and hopes for the best. Fleeing her employer using her for his unlawful acts, an advertisement reads like the perfect refuge to Carly But the refuge of hiding on a Kansas ranch with a price—a husband. While marrying a man she doesn't know or love means sacrificing her dreams, it's better than being caught by the law. Or is it?


  1. Thank you for posting today. I had heard of Molly Pitcher but I'm not sure I knew she wasn't an actual person but a combination of many brave women. I had read before about the women who followed the troops to be near their husbands. That's bravery!

    1. Hi Connie - not sure I would have been that brave but I'm glad there were women who did this. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. I visited a Revolutionary War Reenactment years ago. One of the "soldiers" talked about the Mollies. He claimed you were more likely to live if they tended you rather than the camp daughter.

  3. That's interesting! It would have been a tough but rewarding task, I suppose, especially if you could feel like you were helping the brave soldiers. Thanks for stopping by!