Part of the American History & Genealogy Project

Molly (Ludwig) Hays Pitcher 1744 ~ 1832

 

Among the true stories of the history of the American nation in the making none touches the blood with a warmer thrill of admiration than that of brave Molly Pitcher, whose heroism on Monmouth field has found lasting record in the pages of American history.

Sometime during the middle of the eighteenth century there came to America from Germany an immigrant by the name of John Gurex Ludwig, who settled in the colony of Pennsylvania. Here in the town of Carlisle was born to the wife of John Gurex Ludwig, October 13, 1744, a little daughter, whom he called Mary. The Ludwigs being poor, Mary became a servant girl in the family of Doctor William Irvine, a gentleman living in Carolina. It was while employed in Doctor Irvine's household, no doubt, that "Molly," as she was familiarly known, first learned to love the country of her birth, and there she developed that patriotism and loyalty that was one day to make the humble servant girl a soldier and heroine.

In July, of the year 1769, Molly left the roof of her master, and became the wife of a barber named John Hays. Whether or not Molly filled her husband with warlike ambition is an open question, but, at any rate, Hays was commissioned gunner in Proctor's first Pennsylvania Artillery on the fourteenth day of December, 1775, "changing the peaceful occupation of cutting of hair with shears to the more exciting one of cutting off heads with cannon balls.'' With a loyalty born of devotion and unselfishness, Molly determined to follow her husband, so when Gunner Hays marched off with Proctor's first, Molly marched with him.

Through the din of battle, the heat of summer and the difficulty of winter the gunner and his wife followed the fortunes of the American army. But it was not until the retreat of our forces at Fort Clinton that Molly's first deed of daring became a by-word in tent and camp. Finding that it was necessary to leave the enemy in Pennsylvania, Hays started to fire his gun as a parting salute to the British, but in the rush and confusion of the moment he dropped his lighted match. There was no time to lose, and there was danger of being captured, so he did not stop, but Molly, who was behind him, seized the match from the ground, ran to the gun, touched it off, and then scampered down the hill as fast as her legs could carry her, to join the soldiers. This happened some months before the famous battle of Monmouth.

Down in Monmouth Mountain the people never dreamed that there would be any fighting in their midst. The murmur of the sea on one side and the murmur of the pine forest on the other made a melody of sound that shut out the roar of warfare, so that the tramp, tramp, tramp of the British army that suddenly aroused them must have been a very great surprise. Sir Henry Clinton had succeeded to the command of the British army, with orders to New York and a line of march through the Jerseys. And so it happened that Monmouth became the scene of conflict, Washington, with his troops, having pressed forward to head them off. Halting at a little place called Allentown, the English commander found the American forces at his front. He pushed on, however, and on the twenty-seventh of June encamped at Monmouth Courthouse, on rising ground, hemmed in on all sides by woods and marshes.

General Washington, with grave deliberation, decided to risk the fight, and although the battle was heartily contested, the American army was victorious. That memorable Sunday, the twenty-eighth of June, 1778, was the hottest day that year. Yet, through the dust and heat and smoke, Molly, the gunner's wife, carried water to her husband and the soldiers on the field all day. The little spring from which she fetched the water was at the bottom of the hill and, instead of a pail, she brought it in a pitcher, and this was the origin of her name, "Molly Pitcher,"' among the soldiers, a name that, from that day has become historic. There had been a fierce charge of the enemy's cavalry on Hays' gun, and just as she was returning with a refreshing draught for the almost perishing men, she saw her husband fall, mortally wounded. Rushing forward, she heard an officer say, "Wheel back the gun, there is no one here to serve it!" Checking the blinding rush of tears, Molly threw down her pitcher and seized the rammer of the gun. "I will fire it," she said, and taking her place beside the dead gunner's cannon she filled his place during the rest of the day.

The next day General Greene sent for Molly and brought her up to General Washington, who praised her for her courage, and presented her then and there with the commission of sergeant in the Continental army. As the half-dazed Molly stood before the great General in her soldier's coat and cap cheer after cheer for "Sergeant Molly Pitcher" went up from ten thousand throats. It must have been a stirring picture. Stately Washington and the blood-stained, smoke-begrimed figure of the gunner's wife.

The battle of Monmouth was the only battle of the Revolution in which every one of the thirteen colonies was represented, so Sergeant Molly's heroism is a matter of National as well as local pride. For eight years she did her part in the great struggle and when the war was over she went back to her old home in Carlisle, where she engaged employment as a nurse, and where in later years she kept a little shop. To the soldiers she was always Captain Molly Pitcher and the French officers and soldiers admired the woman soldier so much that whenever she passed their lines her sergeant's cocked hat was always filled with French coins. By a special act of state legislature she was given a pension of eighty dollars a year.

There is more than a thrilling story in this woman's life; there is a lesson of loyalty and courage; a lesson of a life not to be spoiled by praise and popularity.

"Oh Molly, Molly with eyes so blue,
Oh Molly, Molly here's to you.
Sweet honor's role will aye be richer
To hold the name of Molly Pitcher.''

Women of America

Source: The Part Taken by Women in American History, By Mrs. John A. Logan, Published by The Perry-Nalle Publishing Company, Wilmington, Delaware, 1912.

 

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