Women in the American Revolution played a deciding factor in the success of the colonists in winning their freedom from the Tyranny of England. Traditional roles of men and women had been heavily influenced by the teachings of Christianity in which men were above women and God was above men. The interpretation of this idea was taken rather literally during this time period and many men regarded women as lower beings. During the Revolutionary war women were not considered fit for battle and this was strictly a man's realm. Women were responsible for cooking, mending, sewing, soap making, and other forms of domestic tasks. The onset of the war forced some of these ideas to be loosened due to necessity. The war played a major role in re-defining women's roles in the late 18th century. These ideas began a long series of reforms, which later led to the suffrage movement.
Women played as important role in the American Revolution. Many who had husbands in the Military left their homes; some even with their children, and followed their husbands. The reason why they did this is that they no longer had the help provided by the man, and if the territory in which they lived was British occupied, the situation at home might not be safe. These women were commonly referred to as "Camp followers." If the women performed the duties of cooking, mending uniforms, or doing laundry, the Army paid them a salary for their services. Some of the women were not paid a salary, but received food rations instead.
One such "camp follower" is the legendary Molly Pitcher. There are many who dispute her very existence, yet there exist many variations of stories of her life. One of the more prevalent versions of the story goes like this.
An Artillery wife, Mary Hays McCauly (better known as Molly Pitcher) shared the rigors of Valley Forge with her husband, William Hays. Her actions during the battle of Monmouth on June 28, 1778 became legendary. That day at Monmouth was as hot as Valley Forge was cold. Someone had to cool the hot guns and bathe parched throats with water.
Across that bullet-swept ground, a striped skirt fluttered. Mary Hays McCauly was earning her nickname "Molly Pitcher" by bringing pitcher after pitcher of cool spring water to the exhausted and thirsty men. She also tended to the wounded and once, heaving a crippled Continental soldier up on her strong young back carried him out of reach of hard-charging Britishers. On her next trip with water, she found her artilleryman husband back with the guns again, replacing a casualty. While she watched, Hays fell wounded. The piece, its crew too depleted to serve it, was about to be withdrawn. Without hesitation, Molly stepped forward and took the rammer staff from her fallen husband's hands. For the second time on an American battlefield, a woman manned a gun. (The first was Margaret Corbin during the defense of Fort Washington in 1776.) Resolutely, she stayed at her post in the face of heavy enemy fire, ably acting as a matross (gunner)
For her heroic role, General Washington himself issued her a warrant as a noncommissioned officer. Thereafter, she was widely hailed as "Sergeant Molly." A flagstaff and cannon stand at her gravesite at Carlisle, Pennsylvania. A sculpture on the battle monument commemorates her courageous deed." 1
This version of the Molly Pitcher Story has most of the common elements present in the re-telling. One version has the bottom of her skirt getting ripped by a grapeshot ball and she nonchalantly says something about being "lucky." Other versions have her husband collapsing form heat exhaustion. In one version George Washington handed her a bag of coins. The variations of the details are numerous. In all of the versions, the common theme is present, her taking up the post for her fallen husband. There are several reasons why this cannot be considered a historical account. The many conflicting versions of the story that exist are only one of them. Molly Pitcher embodies the patriotic spirit 'of the American Revolution, however, there was never actually a person named "Molly Pitcher." Like most legends, however, this story is not an entire fabrication, but is based on some historical fact.
According to the renowned Revolutionary War historian, Dr. Linda Grant DePauw of the Minerva Center, Molly Pitcher was actually a woman veteran of the war, Mary Ludwig Hays McCauly from Carlisle, Pennsylvania. It is this person who is commonly believed to be the embodiment of Molly Pitcher. No historical sources exist for "Molly Pitcher" such as place of birth, place of death, or details of her life'. The real woman, Mary Ludwig Hayes McCauly was awarded a pension by the State of Pennsylvania "for services rendered" during the war. The amount awarded was $40, which was more than the typical wage for camp followers who performed services. Even this evidence linking Mary Hays McCauley to the Battle of Monmouth is questionable, according to Dr. DePauw. No mention of a cannon at the Battle of Monmouth is mentioned in her obituary, which would be unusual for such a heroic feat. There are two women in historical records who fought at the Battle of Monmouth. One was at an artillery position and the other was in the infantry line. Neither of these women were named, and there is no indisputable evidence that one was Mary Hays McCauly. 2 In addition, there are several suggested spellings of her last name. It is unlikely with so many discrepancies that the real truth will ever be known.
Mary McCauly was the second woman known to take up her fallen husband's arms. Margaret (Molly) Cochran Corbin, later known as Captain Molly, was the wife of John Corbin. John was an artilleryman in Captain Thomas Proctor's 1 str company of Pennsylvania Artillery. Margaret was a camp follower. Many of the women who were camp followers learned by watching the men do drills, and therefore picked up the training as well, On November 16, 1776 Margaret stood on the front lines with her husband. Her husband was mortally wounded and she took his position. She was injured in the battle herself. She was moved to Philadelphia, where she was paroled and pensioned by Congress. Corbin was later assigned to the Corps of invalids, where she remained until her death in 1800. "Captain Molly" was buried at the United States Military Academy. 3
It is believed that this accounts for the name Molly Pitcher. Molly Pitcher may be a generic name given to women who carried pitchers of water to the troops and cooled the cannon barrels. The men on the battlefield would often yell, "Molly bring me a Pitcher, " or simply,
Molly Pitcher!" This is the more likely source for the name Molly Pitcher.
In contrast to Dr. DePauw's opinion, Gillian Courtney, a park ranger at the Stony Point Battlefield State Historic Site, disagrees with the fact about Mary Hays ever receiving a military pension. According to this authority, Mary McCauly remarried after the death of her first husband. This marriage did not last long and she supported herself until her death in 1832 with grants. Courtney states that McCauly never received a military pension.
Another account goes like this.
A woman named Mary, widow of William Hays, who came to live in Carlisle in 1783 -- well after the battle of Monmouth. Her second husband had the variously spelled name beginning with the letter M. In January 1822,
Mary applied for a pension from the state of Pennsylvania as 'Molly McKolly [sic], widow of a soldier of the Revolutionary War.' The bill wound its way through three readings in the Pennsylvania Senate and passed without amendment, then went for two readings in the Pennsylvania House before being amended to read 'for services rendered' in place of 'widow of a soldier' before passing. There are no surviving papers or proceedings to explain why the change was made.
However less than a month later, on March 7, 1822, the following editorial was printed in the (New York) National Advocate. It is probably the best evidence we are ever likely to get as to what Mary's activity during the Revolution was believed to be while she was still alive.
There is no mention of the Battle of Monmouth or of a cannon although the fact that her story was told to win a pension would surely have encouraged her to put in anything that would improve her account.