Did you Ever Wonder...

Who is known as "The Heroine of Monmouth" during the American Revolution?

Click Image to Enlarge.

Shown in the photograph is the monument marking the grave of Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley (13 October 1744 – 22 January 1832), better known as "Molly Pitcher", at Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Molly (a common nickname for the name of Mary) was born as Mary Ludwig near Trenton, New Jersey and after moving to Carlisle as a maid, she married William Hays who enlisted in the Army in his hometown of Bristol, Pennsylvania, on 10 May 1777. During the Revolutionary War, Molly was one of the many women who followed their husbands as a "camp follower" as they moved between various battle camps. While it is believed that the couple were among those at Valley Forge during the brutal winter of 1777–78 (as both William Hays and Mary Hays are shown on the Muster Rolls at Valley Forge, from December 1777 to June 1778), it is known that her husband, a sergeant of artillery, was one of those manning the cannons at the Battle of Monmouth fought at Freehold, New Jersey on 28 June 1778. Molly assisted her husband at his gun station by bringing buckets (or "pitchers") of water to the men, both to quench their thirst and to cool down the hot cannon barrels. For this service, they called her "Molly Pitcher". Known to be a large woman, she reportedly carried wounded men away from the line to shade trees as she made her trip back to a well or nearby creek. At some point during that day, after her husband collapsed from either injuries or heat exhaustion and the unattended cannon was soon ordered to be withdrawn, she immediately seized the rammer and continued to help operate the cannon for the remainder of the battle. Her actions earned the attention of General George Washington (1732–1799), who issued her a warrant as a non-commissioned officer. Nicknamed "Sergeant Molly", she and her husband returned to Carlisle, where Mary earned a living as a general servant for hire. After his death in 1787, she married John McCauley, another Revolutionary War veteran. On 21 February 1822, the Pennsylvania Legislature honoured her war service and heroism with an annual pension of $40, whereby "a bill has passed both Houses of the Assembly granting an annuity to Molly McCauly (of Carlisle) for services rendered during the Revolutionary war. It appeared satisfactorily that this heroine had braved the hardships of the camp and dangers of the field with her husband, who was a soldier of the revolution, and the bill in her favor passed with a dissenting voice." She died ten years later in Carlisle. "Sergeant Molly" never trained to be a soldier but she was nonetheless laid to rest with military honours among the other veterans buried in the town's Old Graveyard.

As the centennial of the Declaration of Independence was approaching, an interest grew of all things related to the Revolution, including the accounts of "The Heroine of Monmouth". The citizens of Carlisle knew that Molly Pitcher could neither read nor write and wanted to record the memories and her real name in print. With the publishing of a number of articles in historic journals and The Carlisle Herald and noting that she had been laid to rest without a stone marker for her grave, this inspired the citizens of Cumberland County to rectify the situation and erect a marble headstone in the Old Cemetery on 4 July 1876 which included the inscription of "MOLLIE McCAULY / Renowned in history as / MOLLIE PITCHER / The Heroine of Monmouth". Nearly three decades later, in 1905, an effort was launched to lobby state lawmakers to budget $5,000 toward the installation of a cannon and a flagpole at her gravesite, but not everyone was supportive of this measure. Even so, on 28 June 1905, the 127th anniversary of the Battle of Monmouth, Nell Kramer – who was Molly's great granddaughter – had erected a flagpole and placed a cannon with the barrel over Molly's grave. Ten years later, in 1915, a broader movement of supporters led the charge to have a million Pennsylvanians petition the same lawmakers to release $10,000 from the Treasury to develop a monument to a Carlisle woman some say was no heroine of the Revolutionary War. Reaching out to diverse organizations and groups, legislative committees were formed, successfully allocated the money and coordinated the design and development of the monument. Accordingly, a 6-foot tall bronze figure of Molly Pitcher holding a cannon swab stands atop a granite pedestal overlooking a replica of a Revolutionary War cannon was unveiled on the anniversary date of 28 June 1916. J. Otto Schweizer (1863–1955), a prominent monument sculptor from Philadelphia was commissioned to design the statue. The face of Molly on this statue is said to be a composite of the faces of five of her great granddaughters. It is worth noting that Molly Pitcher's actual grave is behind the monument, marked with the 1876 grave marker.

On this day, 13 October 2021, we commemorate the 277th anniversary of the birth of "Molly Pitcher – The Heroine of Monmouth", more than 243 years since the Battle of Monmouth, and mark more than 105 years since the unveiling of the monument erected in her honour in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

André M. Levesque

Scroll To Top