Historical Markers
Molly Pitcher Historical Marker
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Molly Pitcher

Hershey/Gettysburg/Dutch Country Region


Marker Location:
S . Hanover St., between South and Pomfret Sts., Carlisle

Dedication Date:
November 30, 1949

Behind the Marker

"Molly Pitcher" was a composite figure that expressed the reality of women's involvement in the War for American Independence. Her creation, like the earlier creation of France's Joan of Arc, both reinforced and celebrated the unity of the patriot cause among all ranks and social groups in their challenge to the existing order. "Molly Pitcher" reflected the fact that women served in the Continental Army, some fighting in place of kin who had become casualties. Others served alone while disguised as men. Still others followed the army, using their domestic skills to care for the troops.

It was not unusual for women to travel with armies in either Europe or America. But women's direct involvement in military engagements represented a major challenge to the old order. While the founding fathers aimed to challenge the prerogatives of patriarch king, George III, by asserting their independence from Great Britain, they certainly had no desire to invite their dependents - wives, children, servants, slaves - to overturn the social order.
In this image Molly Pitcher loads the cannon while wearing leggings, red skirt, and what appears to be a blue velvet coat with ruffles around the edge. Her hair is tussled. A wounded soldier stands behind the cannon and her dead husband lies dead and bleeding on the ground.
“The Women of '76: ‘Molly Pitcher’ the heroine of Monmouth,”...

Pennsylvania was an especially appropriate place for the creation of "Molly Pitcher," because both prototypes for "Molly Pitcher" were residents of the state. Best known is Mary Ludwig, who was born near Trenton, but married John Hays, of Carlisle, in 1769. Hays became an artillery gunner in the regiment of Col. Thomas Proctor, and fought at the Battle of Monmouth on June 28, 1778. Mrs. Hays, like other devoted wives, followed her husband into battle, to the vexation of General Washington, who only later came to see the benefit of the practice. According to legend, Mrs. Hays carried water to her husband's battery as the temperature rose to near 100 degrees. When he was wounded, she took his place at the gun mount and participated in the battle.

"While in the act of reaching for a cartridge," wrote Connecticut artilleryman Joseph Plumb Martin in his war memoirs, "a cannon shot from the enemy passed directly between her legs without doing any other damage than carrying away the lower part of her petticoat. Looking at it with apparent unconcern, she observed it was lucky it did not pass a little higher, for in that case marker it might have carried away something else."

Although the Battle of Monmouth was not the "proof of the forge" that some historians have claimed, American artillery forces were critical in salvaging a draw. After the battle Mary Hays allegedly was introduced to Gen. George Washington, who praised her for her courage. Returning to Carlisle after the war, Mary Hays, now a widow, was honored by American artillerymen for decades afterwards with the toast: "Drunk in a beverage richer and stronger than was poured that day from Molly Pitcher's pitcher!" In the 1780s she remarried a man by the name of John McCauley. In 1822, the state of Pennsylvania granted her a $40 annuity or pension for her services during the war. She died in Carlisle a decade later.

At some point, Mary Hays' battlefield heroics became entwined with those of Margaret Cochran Corbin. Born at Cumberland County in 1752, Cochran was orphaned during the French and Indian War when her parents were killed in a frontier Indian raid. Raised by an uncle, she in 1772 married John Corbin of Virginia. Like John Hays, Corbin also served in Colonel Proctor's artillery regiment during the British attack on Fort Washington, Manhattan Island, in November of 1776. When Corbin was killed beside his cannon, Margaret took his place and was soon wounded by three bullets that struck her shoulder and arm. She was probably captured when the British scooped up almost the entire garrison during the attack on Fort Washington.

After her return to Pennsylvania she received financial assistance from the Pennsylvania government, which also recommended her to Congress for a federal pension. In 1779, she became the first woman to receive a military pension. Enrolled in the Corps of Invalids - ailing soldiers who served in garrison duty - Corbin spent the last years of the war at West Point, New York. Known as "Captain Molly," she lived in the Hudson Valley after the war, and became a figure of some notoriety.

The legends of Hays and Corbin became meshed in the nineteenth century, as the Revolutionary generation was dying off and Americans struggled to hold on to the memory of the War for American Independence. At a time when cultural conventions about gender and sex role were changing rapidly, the stories of both women achieved great popularity. It should be remembered, however, that Pennsylvania also offered other important women who made important - and better documented - literary contributions to the American Revolution, including diarist Sarah Wister of Philadelphia, Jane Bartram of Philadelphia and Bucks Counties, Elizabeth Drinker of Philadelphia, and Grace Growden Galloway of Bucks and Philadelphia Counties.
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