Molly Pitcher is a nickname given to a woman said to have fought in the American Revolutionary War. She is most often identified as Mary Ludwig Hays, who fought in the Battle of Monmouth in June 1778. Another possibility is Margaret Corbin, who helped defend Fort Washington in New York in November 1776.
Various Molly Pitcher tales have grown in the telling, and many historians regard "Molly Pitcher" as folklore rather than history, or suggest that Molly Pitcher may be a composite image inspired by the actions of a number of real women. The name itself may have originated as a nickname given to women who carried water to men on the battlefield during War.
Mary Ludwig Hays
The deeds in the story of Molly Pitcher are generally attributed to Mary Ludwig Hays, who was married to William Hays, an artilleryman in the Continental Army. She joined him at the Army's winter camp at Valley Forge in 1777, and was present at the Battle of Monmouth, where she served as a water-carrier. When her husband fell she took his place swabbing and loading the cannon, and after the action was commended by George Washington.
The incident was recorded by Joseph Plumb Martin in his memoir published in 1830.
The story of Margaret Corbin bears similarities to the story of Mary Hays. Margaret Corbin was the wife of John Corbin of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, also an artilleryman in the Continental army.
On November 16, 1776, John Corbin was one of 2,800 American soldiers who defended Fort Washington in northern Manhattan from 9,000 attacking Hessian troops under British command. When John Corbin was wounded and killed, Margaret took his place at the cannon, and continued to fire it until she was seriously wounded in the arm. In 1779, Margaret Corbin was awarded an annual pension of $50 by the state of Pennsylvania for her heroism in battle. She was the first woman in the United States to receive a military pension. Her nickname was "Captain Molly".
Deborah Sampson has also been posited as an inspiration for Molly Pitcher.
Sampson disguised herself as a man and enlisted under an assumed name; because of her smooth complexion and high-pitched voice she was nicknamed "Molly" by her comrades. After her discharge she successfully petitioned for a pension as a veteran, one of only two women (the other was Corbin) to receive such.
Historian Emily Teipe, in considering the identity of Molly Pitcher, has suggested these three possibilities, but has also pointed out 'The historical record presents other candidates too numerous to mention' and contends that 'the name Molly Pitcher is a collective generic term, much like "G.I. Joe"'; it serves as a common label for the 'hundreds, perhaps thousands, of women (who) served not only as ammunition wives, manning and firing the guns, but also in the army and colonial militia'.
In 1928, "Molly Pitcher" was honored with an overprint reading "MOLLY / PITCHER" on a United States postage stamp. Earlier that year, festivities had been planned to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Monmouth. Stamp collectors petitioned the U.S. Post Office Department for a commemorative stamp to mark the anniversary. After receiving several rejections, New Jersey congressman Ernest Ackerman, a stamp collector himself, enlisted the assistance of the majority leader of the House, John Q. Tilson. Postmaster General Harry New steadfastly refused to issue a commemorative stamp specifically acknowledging the battle or Molly Pitcher. In a telegram to Tilson, Postmaster New explained, "Finally, however, I have agreed to put a surcharged title on ten million of the regular issue Washington 2¢ stamps bearing the name 'Molly Pitcher.'"
The Field Artillery and Air Defense Artillery branches of the US Army established an honorary society in Molly Pitcher's name, the Honorable Order of Molly Pitcher. Membership is ceremoniously bestowed upon wives of artillerymen during the annual Feast of St. Barbara. The Order of Molly Pitcher recognizes individuals who have voluntarily contributed in a significant way to the improvement of the Field Artillery community.
- The State of Tennessee offers their women veterans a license plate honoring their service. The plate depicts Molly Pitcher, recognizing women in combat from the beginnings of the nation.
- Molly Pitcher Inn is a hotel in Red Bank, New Jersey, not far from the site of the Battle of Monmouth.
- Molly Pitcher Service Area is a rest area on the New Jersey Turnpike (I-95) in Cranbury, New Jersey.
- The Molly Pitcher Stakes is an American Thoroughbred horse race raced annually during the last week of August at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, New Jersey.
- The Molly Pitcher Club was a short-lived women's anti-prohibition organization in New York state.
- The Molly Pitcher Brewing Company is located in Carlisle, PA.
- Koestler-Grack, Rachel A. Molly Pitcher: Heroine of the War for Independence. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2006. ISBN 0-7910-8622-4.
- Will the Real Molly Pitcher Please Stand Up? Teipe, Emily J.
- Hotchner, William M. (2008-08-25). "The scandal surrounding the Molly Pitcher overprint stamp of 1928". Linn's Stamp News. Amos Press Inc. p. 6.
- United States Postal Cards UX77, multicolored, lithographed, issued September 8, 1978, in Freehold, New Jersey. Bicentennial of the Battle of Monmouth on June 28, 1778, and to honor Molly Pitcher (Mary Ludwig Hays)
- Wells, Sharilyn (13 July 2012). "Molly Pitcher Day at Fort Bragg brings out people in all shapes and sizes". U.S. Army. Retrieved 6 December 2019.
- Lakin, Matt (6 February 2009). "Metal of honor for women". Knoxville News Sentinel. Retrieved 6 December 2019.
- Gitt, Tammie (19 July 2018). "Molly Pitcher Brewing opens new Carlisle location". Carlisle Sentinel. Retrieved 6 December 2019.