Molly Pitcher

Carlisle's Molly Pitcher

"Molly Pitcher." The simple account of a picturesque historic incident, especially if invested with the romantic interest a women's participation imparts, often becomes rapidly encrusted with so many traditional variations in details, which obscure the basis of historic truth, that the incredulous are inclined to regard the whole story as one of those pleasing myths that often embellish sober history.

Such is the story of Molly Pitcher, the heroine of the battle of Monmouth. But in Carlisle, from which place she went, to which she returned after the war, where she died among her descendants and where she is buried, there is no doubt about the leading facts of her life. The Molly Pitcher, of Lossing, the heroine of Ft. Washington, buried along the Hudson, is a different individual though frequently confounded with the heroine of Monmouth.

The substantial facts seem to be: that during the battle of Monmouth, June 28th, 1778, lasting through "one of the hottest days ever known" when soldiers were dying of heat and thrust, the wife of John Hays, a sergeant of artillery, was carrying water in a pitcher to the thursty soldiers, who called her familiarly, by reason of this grateful service, Molly Pitcher. Her husband during the battle was struck down insensible, but not killed as is frequently stated, and the piece was ordered to be withdrawn. She at once stepped to the front, seized the rammer and continued to assist in serving the piece effectively till the close of the battle.

Tradition, among other things, says that the attention of General Washington was attracted by her and he complemented her and made her a sergeant on the spot and the soldiers thereafter called her sergeant or Major Molly. At all events her husband recovered and she continued with him in the army, nursing the sick and wounded and making herself generally useful.

At the close of the war she returned with him to Carlisle, where he shortly afterwards died. She was then married to John McCauly, a friend and fellow soldier of her husband. He did not live very long and their marriage was not a very happy one.

She survived her husband many years, known of course as Molly McCauly, and the statements so frequently made that Molly Pitcher was a young Irish woman, originated from this name derived from her second marriage. The fact is she was of good Pennsylvania-German stock. Her maiden name, Mary Ludwig, would almost justify this statement; but, in addition, her granddaughter, Polly McCleester, who knew her well, when it was suggested, that she was Irish, replied indignantly: "No, she was Dutch as sauerkroat; her maiden name was Mary Ludwig!"

Her first husband, John Hays, was a barber in Carlisle at the outbreak of the war, and enlisted in the artillery. She soon joined him in the field at his request, and with the permission of Colonel Proctor, commanding the regiment. They had been married several years before.

As a girl of about 20, she had been "hired" in the family of Gen. William Irwin, of Carlisle, and her granddaughter recollected an account given her of the short and amusing courtship, commenced whilst she was sweeping in front of the Irwin home, in her short gown and petticoat. She was still with the Irwin family at the outbreak of the war. After the war she lived in the family of Dr. George D. Foulke, and served other families in Carlisle.

The notice of her death in the "Volunteer" states: "For upwards of forty years she resided in this borough, and was during that time recognized as an honest, obliging and industrious woman." In person, it is said, by those who remembered her, she was not very attractive. She was rather short and masculine in appearance and manner, but kindhearted and helpful to the sick and needy.

Her descendants, all by her first husband, have been highly respectable citizens. Her son, John L. Hays, the middle initial being that of his mother's maiden name, was sergeant in the old infantry company of Carlisle, and was in the war of 1812. He died in Carlisle about 1853 and was buried with the honors of war, the band of music and a large escort of U. S. troops having been furnished by Capt. May, then in command at the U. S. barracks. His sons, John and Frederick, lived in Carlisle, the former being street commissioner in 1883. His daughter, Polly McCleester, lived at Papertown, Mt. Holly Springs. She remembered her grandmother very well, and in her 81st year unveiled the monument to her erected in the old cemetery at Carlisle. It bears the following inscription: "MOLLY McCAULY, Renowned in history as MOLLY PITCHER, The Heroine of Monmouth, died Jan 1833, aged 79 years. Erected by the Citizens of Cumberland County, July 4, 1876."

She died in Carlisle, Jan 22, 1832, nearly ninety years old. The date of her death on the monument is unaccountably incorrect. Various statements are made in regard to the recognition accorded her by the Government. The following extract from the American Volunteer, Feb. 21, 1822, under head of "Legislature of Pennsylvania" not only shows what was done by the State, but, also incidentally, shows that by common consent, at a time when many were living who could have disputed the facts, the general statements in regard to her history were accepted. It is credited to the Harrisburg Chronicle as follows: "A bill has passed both Houses of the Assembly granting an annuity to Molly McCauly (of Carlisle) for services she 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 without a dissenting voice.-Chronicle." According to the records at Harrisburg, no application was made for this pension after Jan. 1st, 1832, a fact, if any were needed, corroborative of 1832 as the year of her death.

The foregoing statements are believed to be reliable. They are based mainly upon exhaustive investigations of that painstaking and authoritative local historian, Rev. J. A. Murray, D. D., and include the results of personal interviews with many who were acquainted with the heroine.

Some accounts say that Molly may have come from a farm near Trenton, New Jersey. Visit the Monmouth County, NJ USGenWeb Page for the New Jersey viewpoint!

Additional Information:
On Feb 21, 1822, an act was signed by Governor Joseph Hiester, that had been passed by the House of Representative and the Senate of Pennsylvania, and signed by Joseph Lawrence, Speaker of the House of Represatives, and William Marks Jr., Speaker of the Senate.

That the State Treasurer be, and he is hereby directed to pay to Molly M'Kolly, of Cumberland county, or her order, forty dollars immediately, and an annuity of forty dollars to commence on the first of January, one thousand eight hundred and twenty two, payable half yearly during life for her services during the revolutionary war.


Biographical and Portrait Cyclopedia of the Nineteenth Congressional District, Pennsylvania containing Biographical sketches of prominent and representative citizens of the district together with an introductory historical sketch edited by Samuel T. Wiley, Esq. Second edition. Philadelphia: C. A. Rioff Company, 1897.

Contributed by Shirley H. Shope.

Source of Additonal Material:

Laws of Pennsylvania 1821/1822 and the 46th year of Independence
Harrisburg Pennsylvania, 1822
Contributed by Vi P. Limric