Molly Pitcher facts for kids

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Molly Pitcher engraving
Molly Pitcher at the Battle of Monmouth, an 1859 engraving. Performing as a matross on the gun crew.

Molly Pitcher is the name given to a legendary Revolutionary War heroine. There is no record of a real person named "Molly Pitcher" in Revolutionary war records. Most historians agree it was a nickname for a person doing a particular job. It is thought the name came from a soldier's cry for a pitcher of water to drink or to cool their overheated cannons. Molly was a common woman's nickname at the time.

History of the legend

Stories about the American Revolution were first told by word of mouth. This allowed the storyteller to exaggerate or even invent history. The stories keep being told today even though recent scholarship has proved they are not authentic. Molly Pitcher is a composite of more than one person. A great many women helped soldiers on the battlefields during the Revolutionary war. Most were wives and children of soldiers. According to the legend, "Molly Pitcher" took over the firing of a cannon after her husband was wounded. The Battle of Monmouth is the most likely source for the rise of the legend. Her story was started many years after the war by writers and artists. A Currier and Ives print of a "Captain Molly" appeared in 1848. The first written mention of Molly Pitcher didn't appear until 1859. It wasn't until 1876 that someone published a genealogy claiming a local woman was the real Molly Pitcher. After that the cult of Molly Pitcher grew and grew.

The candidates

Molly pitcher stamp
George Washington 2 cent stamp, over printed "Molly Pitcher"

There is often a kernel of truth in every legend. Molly Pitcher is no exception. Molly Pitcher is as popular as ever and has found her way into grade-school and high-school textbooks. Many other sources just repeat one version or another of the legend. Internet sources even argue whether Molly Pitcher was a feminist. There are several women whose story may make up a part of the Mary Pitcher legend:

  • Mary Ludwig Hayes (also called Mary Ludwig Hayes McCauley) is a popular choice among several historians. She appears in records on June 28, 1778. This is when she signed up to serve with the Pennsylvania Artillery. She may have earned the nickname "Molly Pitcher" supplying drinking water to soldiers in the extraordinary heat at the Battle of Monmouth. When her husband suffered heat stroke (some sources say he was wounded) Mary took his place on the artillery piece. Like so many other patriot legends she was said to have been personally thanked by George Washington. Here again, there may be a kernel of truth. Washington made a comment during the battle, recorded by Dr. William Read. Washington said that he was admiring the manner in which Proctor was handling their right. He was referring to Captain Francis Proctor's artillery company. Mary Hays was the wife of a gunner in that company. The Battle of Monmouth started the myth of Mary Pitcher. The state of Pennsylvania gave her a pension of forty dollars some forty years after the battle for her heroism.
  • Margaret Corbin was serving with her husband at Fort Washington in present day New York City. Her husband John fell mortally wounded when she took his place at the cannon. She was hit by three rounds of grapeshot in her arm. Captured by the British she was handed over to the Americans at a Philadelphia hospital. She continued to serve as an invalid doing what she could. Her arm never healed and she was given a half-soldier's pension in 1779 for the rest of her life.
  • Deborah Sampson at 5 feet 8 inches was a tall woman. Dressed as a man she served with the 4th Massachusetts Regiment. Her fair features led to the other men (thinking she was also a man) calling him "Molly". She served for the rest of the war. Sampson was the only other woman who received a federal pension for military service. She had tried once before to join the army in 1782 by disguising herself as a man. She collected a bounty for enlisting as "Timmothy Thayer". She was turned in the following day and had to return the money.

Molly Pitcher was not just one person. She was inspired by the actions of several Revolutionary War women who made real contributed to the effort. They served in many capacities with patriotism and courage. The Revolutionary war was more a war of small skirmishes than full scale battles. It was not at all unusual for women to be drawn into a battles. Women filled many roles traditionally thought of as being filled only by men.

A written account

Joseph Plumb Martin was a soldier in the Continental Army. He kept a narrative of his experiences. This came to the attention of historians in the 1950s. Martin describes an incident at the Battle of Monmouth involving an unnamed woman:

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 on of her feet as far before the other as she could step, 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 ended her and her occupation.

This account has been changed in other sources to show he gave her a name when in fact he did not.

Images for kids

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