Molly Pitcher

Molly Pitcher
As Americans began writing their history in the 1800s, they searched for heroes and heroines symbolizing America’s spirit and character. George Washington became “The Father of Our Country.” And America’s Revolutionary War heroine? Molly Pitcher. Bits and pieces of actual people and events, along with half truths and embellishments, evolved into the Molly Pitcher Legend that has been handed down from generation to generation.

The Legend:
On June 28, 1778, Continental and British troops clashed at the Battle of Monmouth, New Jersey. Reported as “one of the hottest days ever known,” soldiers dying of heat and thirst welcomed the sight of Mary Hays, wife of an artillery soldier, as she repeatedly brought water to the exhausted and wounded men. They nicknamed her Molly Pitcher. (Afterwards, any woman bringing water to soldiers on the field, was called “Molly Pitcher.”)

As the battle raged, Molly’s husband was wounded while manning his cannon. Molly rose to the occasion by picking up the rammer and servicing the cannon through out the remainder of the battle. Her heroic efforts were recognized by George Washington himself (as some stories claim) and by the State of Pennsylvania.

Carlisle’s Molly Pitcher:

The Basics
Mary Hays McCauley (McKolly or McCalla or McCawley or McAuley) was born c1753 and married William Hays. William was a gunner in Proctor’s 4th Artillery at the Battle of Monmouth during the American Revolution, and Mary, like many women, followed her husband to war. After the War, William, Mary, and their 3-year-old son, John L. Hays, settled in Carlisle purchasing lot #257. William entered the barbering business. William died in 1786 and by 1793 Mary married John McCalla, who dies or disappears by 1810. In 1822 Mary Hays McCauley applied for a pension from the State of Pennsylvania and was granted a yearly $40 pension by special act of the PA legislature. The initial bill, Senate No. 265, was entitled “An act for the relief of Molly McKolly, a widow of a soldier of the Revolutionary War.” Striking “widow of a soldier” and inserting “for services rendered” was a deliberate change to the bill and Mary thus received the pension in her own right. Molly and her son continued to live in Carlisle until her death in 1832. Mary Hays McCauley is referred to as Mary, Molly, and Polly in various tax and other records. Although oral accounts have been passed down that Mary Hays actually took her husband’s place at the cannon after he was injured at the Battle of Monmouth, there is no documentation – as yet – that she really did this.

Mixing it up
Also in Cumberland County at the time of the Revolutionary War, just north of Chambersburg,
(now Franklin County) was Mary Corbin. Known as Captain Molly, she fought at the Battle of Washington in 1776 and documentation verifies her firing a cannon and being wounded during that battle. She also received a pension in her own right. She is buried at West Point.

Was she the original Molly Pitcher?
FYI: Other women were also granted pensions for their services during the American Revolution by special act of the PA Legislature.

Does it matter?
Whether Carlisle’s Mary Hays McCauley or Margaret Corbin, visiting the Molly Pitcher Monument in Carlisle’s Old Graveyard is worth the visit to pay respects to all women who followed their loved ones to war and made heroic sacrifices in the cause of Independence – on and off the field of battle.

Compliments of Carlisle Guided Tours * Walking Tours of Carlisle * (717) 249-2926 (Not sure if they are in business now)

References:
Thompson, D.W. and Schaumann, Merri Lou. “Goodbye, Molly Pitcher,” Cumberland County History, Vol. 6, Number 1, Carlisle, PA, Cumberland County Historical Society,1989.

Echman, Walter. Program script on the history of the Carlisle Carpet Co., 1964.

Hoffer, Ann Kramer. Twentieth Century Thoughts-Carlisle: The Past Hundred Years, Carlisle, PA, Cumberland County Historical Society, 2002.

One thought on “Molly Pitcher

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *