Revolutionary War Hero
Mary Ludwig Hays was the daughter of John George Ludwig a New Jersey Dairy farmer. She was born on October 13, 1744 , near Trenton New Jersey . When Mary or “Molly ”, as she was nicknamed, was old enough to work, at the tender age of thirteen, she was employed as a house servant at Carlisle , Pennsylvania , in the family of General William Irvine. In the summer of 1769, when she was twenty-five years of age, Molly married to John Hays, a barber by trade. Soon after they were married, John enlisted in Proctor’s First Pennsylvania Artillery. Molly, not wanting to be separated from her beloved husband, decided to go with him when he went to war.
It was not unusual, during the American Revolution, for wives to follow their husbands to war. Generally, the wives of private soldiers would follow the armies into the field as laundry women. The women were assigned lodgings and wagons carried them from place to place.
The story of the battle of Monmouth is not complete without the telling of the story of Molly Hays. The battle of Monmouth was fought June 28, 1778 under the directive of General Washington while the enemy troops were commanded by General Clinton. The enemy had attacked the American regiment, which lined a hedgerow across an open field. Some American artillery took post on a hill in the rear of this fence, but the British cavalry had a large body of infantry, skilled in the use of the bayonet, and they charged upon the Americans and broke their ranks. It is for her part in this portion of the battle that Molly is remembered. It is here that during this she displayed the great courage and presence of mind, for which she is remembered.
Molly’s husband, John, was in charge of firing one of the cannons. The day was sweltering and the artillerymen were suffering from the heat. Molly was not far away from watching the fight and could see that the men were thirsty. She obtained a bucket – or “pitcher” – and began to bring water for them from a neighboring spring. Whenever the men were thirsty, they would call out, “Molly – pitcher.” And she would bring them the water they so desperately needed. This is how she became well known by the name of Molly Pitcher. In fact, “Molly Pitcher” became the nickname for all women who performed the duty of carrying water to the troops during the American Revolutionary War (Wheeler, Daughters of Destiny, p. 181).
The story doesn’t end here. While thus engaged, Molly saw her dear husband fall in battle. She ran to his aid, but he was dead when she reached him. Just then, poor Molly heard an officer order the gun removed because there was no one else to take his place. Despite not attaining a medal of honor Molly’s patriotism rose to the surface, even in her grief. Facing the officer, she asked to be allowed to take her husband’s place. Her request, though unusual, was granted, and she handled the job with skill and courage. She attended the cannon until the battle was won.
Excerpt from “History’s Women – The Unsung Heroines” by Patricia Chadwick, PC Publications, 2002. Available in ebook format at https://historyswomen.com/product/historys-women/