Pay Respects to Molly Pitcher

Written on 07/29/2020

With her husband overcome during battle, "Molly Pitcher" took up his duties at the Battle of Monmouth in 1778, earning her George Washington's respect and forging her as a legend.

"Molly Pitcher" is the nickname given to Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley, a legendary camp follower during the Revolutionary War.  Mary and her family came to Carlisle sometime around 1770, after her widowed mother re-married.  In 1777, Mary married local Carlisle barber, William Hays.  William joined the Continental Army as an artilleryman soon after, and Mary joined him during the brutal winter at Valley Forge, where she served as a washerwoman and nurse alongside other wives, including Martha Washington.  

Mary, like other camp followers, continued her duties on the battlefield, bringing water to soldiers, in you guessed it, pitchers.  Water was an essential battlefield tool for artillerymen, who used it to swab sparks from inside cannon barrels between shots.  As "Molly" was the common nickname for Mary in the 18th Century, it's probable that Mary earned her nickname because soldiers would yell "Molly! Pitcher!" to call for more water.

During the Battle of Monmouth in 1778, Mary's husband was either wounded or overcome with heat exhaustion while manning his cannon, and it has become legend that Mary took up his ramrod duties and began to swab the barrel and load it in his place.  The next day, George Washington inquired about the woman he had seen loading cannon during the battle and made Mary a non-commissioned officer in his army.

After the war was over, Mary and her husband returned to Carlisle, where she became a well-known figure about town.  She received a pension for her service, and when she died, she was buried in the Old Graveyard.  Many decades later, a bronze likeness of Mary holding a ramrod was placed at her gravesite along with a cannon.  The grave of "Molly Pitcher" is perhaps the most iconic landmark in Carlisle today and should be on your list of things to see in downtown Carlisle.

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Source:  Georgie Lou's Retro Candy blog, CCHS Gardner Library website,