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Mary Hays: The Real Molly Pitcher

Many people have heard of the Revolutionary War hero, “Molly Pitcher,” who is known for bringing water to soldiers on the battlefield and performing aid on injured troops. But what many don’t know is that historians believe she is in fact a real person. Mary Hays is the person they speak of, and she was about 22 during the Revolutionary War. She was born into a modest German migrant family that lived in either Philadelphia or New Jersey. She married a barber named William Hays who enlisted into the 4th Pennsylvania Artillery when the war broke out, and she followed with him. She lived at the military camps washing clothes, performing first aid, and serving water and supplies.

She began to be known as “Molly Pitcher” because “Molly” was a common nickname for the name Mary, and “Pitcher” because she would bring pitchers of water to the troops. Women’s History explains that this was the troop’s opinion of her: ”twenty-two-year-old illiterate pregnant woman who smoked and chewed tobacco and swore as well as any of the male soldiers.” This name stuck in history, but the real woman is not forgotten either. At the Battle of Monmouth, Mary Hays was even said to have served water and aid to men on the battlefield until her husband was injured. At this point, under heavy fire, she took his place at the cannon and began firing upon the enemy with the troops. She gained every troop’s respect, even General George Washington’s, and was given the name, “Sergeant Molly.” Although it was long after her time when women began gaining their rights legally, Mary Hays became an early symbol of women’s independence and strength.

Mary Hays helping load the cannon to fire at the Battle of Monmouth

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