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The 240th Anniversary of the Battle of Monmouth and its Heroine, Moll of the Pitcher

By Rebecca Price Janney, Jun 21 2018 12:38PM

Have you ever been in a risky situation requiring fast action? What did you do? Here’s a story about a woman willing to give her all for a cause she believed in.


Molly Hays watched as her husband John marched off to battle on an aggressively hot June day in 1778. A sound like a violent thunderclap pierced her ears as other soldiers’ wives hastened to safety far behind the lines. When a cannon boomed, she knew her husband was at his post.


All too quickly, many Patriots began fading in the 100-plus degree heat. Molly heard their cries for water and realized if the men weren’t soon refreshed, the Americans might lose the battle. Without considering her personal safety, she hurried to a nearby spring and filled her pail with cold, clear water. Then, hitching up her long, hot skirts, she dashed toward the front, praying she wasn’t too late.


On the battlefield the acrid stench of gunpowder nearly overcame her, but she steadied herself, making trip after trip from the spring to the dehydrated soldiers. Their throats thick with dust, they opened their mouths like baby birds and drank greedily. As she worked, the young woman tried keeping track of her husband and only when she saw him, slumped over the cannon with heat exhaustion, did Molly abandon her trips to the spring.


She hurried to John’s side, took a rag, and plunged it into her last pail of water. Afterward she helped him into the cannon’s shade. Her husband’s partner at the cannon gaped as Molly then took up the ramrod John had dropped. “Load!” she hollered. “But—“ the man stammered. “Load!”


The gunpowder and ammunition fused in an explosive roar, sending black soot all over Molly’s sticky clothes. She served as the regiment’s cannoneer for the rest of the fight in spite of fatigue and blistered hands. The battle ended in a British retreat, and Molly earned a new nickname, “Moll of the Pitcher” or “Molly Pitcher,” as well as a place in American history.


Ten thousand men on each side had fought that day, with sixty-nine American fatalities and more than three times that many British. General Washington personally thanked Molly Hays and recommended to Congress that she be commissioned a sergeant and given half-pay for life. Early in 1822, she began to receive a $40-a-year pension by an act of the Pennsylvania Assembly, as a Revolutionary War widow. (John died in 1789; her second husband passed away around 1813.) Then on February 21st, the act was amended to honor her own service. She died in Carlisle, Pennsylvania on January 22, 1832.


(Adapted from GREAT WOMEN IN AMERICAN HISTORY, Rebecca Price Janney, 1996, Moody Publishing)


Molly Hays (Artist's Rendition from GREAT WOMEN IN AMERICAN HISTORY)
Molly Hays (Artist's Rendition from GREAT WOMEN IN AMERICAN HISTORY)
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