CONSTITUTION CORNER - Article 47
THEY CAME TO THE AID OF THE SOLDIERS – Part 1: MOLLY PITCHER
By Judy Leithe
Throughout the Revolutionary War, there were Colonial men, women and even children who put their personal safety aside to join in the fight for freedom, by whatever means possible. There were women, sometimes disguised as Minutemen, who took to the battlefield, and mothers who protected their families and homes from invading British soldiers. And there were women who travelled with the army, most of them wives of soldiers, who helped cook and care for the troops. One such duty for these women was to fetch pitchers of water and carry them to the soldiers fighting on the front lines; they were collectively known as “Molly Pitcher.”
In their winter encampments and battles, the army endured brutally cold weather. However, the heat and humidity of east coast summers presented equally difficult conditions for the army. In New Jersey, at the Battle of Monmouth Courthouse in late June of 1778, the heat was already unbearable. Twenty-four-year-old Mary Ludwig Hays was filling pitchers with fresh spring water and carrying them to her husband, William Hays, and other artillerymen on the front lines. After easing their own thirst, the men poured water over the overheated cannons to cool them down, as well. When her husband was wounded, Mary took his place and continued loading artillery into his cannon for the remainder of the battle. Because of Mary’s bravery, the soldiers began calling her, “Sergeant Molly.” Mary remained with the army until the war ended on September 3, 1783.
The National Archives has a document, written by a soldier who witnessed an enemy cannonball pass between Mary’s legs, tearing her petticoat but, leaving her unscathed.
Margaret and John Corbin were in the same regiment as Mary and William Hays. Margaret wore a uniform, so she was known as “Captain Molly.” When her husband was wounded, she took his place on the front lines where Margaret was also wounded, in addition to being taken prisoner by British forces. There were no British prisons set aside for women, so Margaret, like other captured Patriot women, was held in a poorly-kept prison along with male prisoners. She was eventually released and reassigned to perform guard duty at West Point.
Next week: Part 2-CHILDREN OF THE REVOLUTION