Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Mary Hays McCauley: Revolutionary War Hero

Currier and Ives painting
of Molly Pitcher
Mary Hays McCauley was an American Revolution heroine who earned herself the nickname “Molly Pitcher” for her brave actions during the Battle of Monmouth. Her dedication and fearlessness are legendary.

Molly Pitcher was born near Trenton, New Jersey on October 13, 1754. Her parents were German immigrants, whose names are not known. Her maiden is not known for certain either, but it may have been Ludwig.

In 1769, at the age of fifteen, Mary Hays McCauley went to work for future Colonial Army colonel and Brigadier General, Dr. William Irvine. She worked in his household as a maid, but she was not happy in her position. She soon fell in love with a barber named John Casper Hays and left her place of employment to marry him. John soon enlisted in the artillery of the Continental Army. When John went off to war, Mary followed.

During the Revolutionary War, it was common for women to follow their men so that they may do chores such as washing and cooking for them. They were also handy for tending the wounded. Mary Hays McCauley was present with her husband at Valley Forge, but it was at the Battle of Monmouth that she proved that she could do far more than cook and clean. The temperature was very hot on the battlefield, so Mary decided to begin collecting pitchers of water from a nearby water source and bringing them to the men on the battlefield. This is what earned her the fond moniker Molly Pitcher.

At some point during the battle, Mary Hays McCauley’s husband collapsed beside his canon. Some reports say that he had been wounded but that Mary noticed that he would survive. The men around her watched as Molly Pitcher took up her husband’s post and began firing his canon. She supposedly did this for the remainder of the day. Joseph Plumb Martin, who had witnessed Mary’s bravery, wrote of her in his memoirs. He stated that an enemy canon ball had gone straight between Mary’s legs. She behaved as if nothing untoward had happened and continued firing her canon. She did however remark upon what would have happened had the canon ball been a little higher.

The story goes that, after the battle, brave Molly Pitcher was presented to George Washington himself, who commended her for her efforts. He supposedly also gave her a new nickname, “Sergeant.” She soon became legendary among the colonial troops.

After the war, Mary Hays McCauley and her husband moved to Carlisle, Pennsylvania. John Casper Hays died there in 1789. Mary remarried shortly thereafter, to a man named George McCauley. Reportedly, McCauley was not particularly kind to his wife and treated her as if she were a servant. Their union was not a happy one and they were not well off financially.

An answer to some of Mary Hays McCauley’s troubles came in 1822. The local government decided that she earned herself a lifetime annuity for her services. She collected that annuity every year until her death in Carlisle, Pennsylvania on January 22, 1832.

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