During the Revolutionary War, it was not just the men who went to war against the British soldiers, thousands of women also took an active role in the war. It was common for wives of the officers and soldiers to follow their husbands to military camps to cook, sew, do laundry, and take care of the wounded and sick soldiers. Though the women also had to deal with the extreme weather conditions and died from diseases, they received less pay and less food than the men. Then there were the women who stayed at home, taking care of the farm and children, not knowing if their husbands were still alive. Then there is Molly Pitcher, a nickname for the women who provided water to the soldiers and to cool the cannons down. Two Molly Pitchers, Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley and Margaret Cochran Corbin, participated in battle by manning the cannons.
Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley was born in 1754 near Trenton, New Jersey. She married a barber named William Hays in 1769. When the Revolutionary War broke out, he enlisted in Proctor’s 4th Pennsylvania Artillery and Mary followed him to Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Mary became a Molly Pitcher, bringing water to the troops. During the Battle of Monmouth on June 28, 1778, Mary was bringing her husband water to cool the cannon when her husband was wounded. Seeing her husband was wounded, Mary loaded the cannon herself. When she was almost hit by a cannon ball that sped between her legs and ripped her dress, she said “Well, that could have been worse.” The legend is that General George Washington heard of her actions and made her a non-commissioned officer in the army. From then on, she called herself Sergeant Molly. On February 21, 1822, Pennsylvania awarded her an annual pension of $40 for her service.
Margaret Cochran Corbin was born November 12, 1751. When her and her brother were visiting their uncle, Indians attacked their home, killing their father and kidnapping their mother. In 1772, she married John Corbin. When war broke out, she followed her husband to war. During the Battle of Fort Washington on November 16, 1776, Margaret followed her husband to battle. When she was bringing her husband water for the canon (she was also a Molly Pitcher), she saw her husband’s partner die. She helped her husband load the cannon, and when he was killed, she took over firing the cannon by herself. Though the British ended up winning, her cannon was the last one to stop firing. She was found in critical condition with 3 musket ball injuries: the jaw, chest, and left arm. She would be unable to use her left arm for the rest of her life. On June 26, 1776, the State of Pennsylvania gave her $30.00 to help with her expenses. On July 6, 1779, the Continental Congress awarded her with a lifelong pension (though it was half the amount a man would receive.) She became the first American women to receive a pension. To help with her disability, General Henry Knox and Quartermaster William Price helped get her someone to help her bathe and dress. She died on January 16, 1800. In 1926, her remains were discovered and she was buried at West Point with full military honors, becoming the only Revolutionary War veteran buried this way.
During the Revolutionary War, women either stayed at home to take care of the household or they followed their husbands to camp to take care of the soldiers. Then there were a few women who unexpectedly saw combat, but demonstrated bravery on the battlefield. When Molly Pitcher’s husband was unable to fire the cannon, she took over and continued firing, knowing full well that she was risking her life. The two women became heroes, but their pensions were still less than men even though they saw action. The male soldiers had enlisted themselves in the army and were trained for months for combat, and these women were only there to take care of their husbands and yet, they risked their lives to protect the soldiers. The Molly Pitchers show how women are able to rise up to the occasion when their country needs them.