Cumberland County Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution

Patriot Mary Ludwig Hays: Nickname “Molly Pitcher”


Last updated: 9/30/2022                                                                                                                                             


Mary Ludwig was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to parents Maria Margaretha and Johanes Georg Ludwick/Ludwig. She married William Hays, a barber, and they settled in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. William enlisted in Proctor’s 4th Pennsylvania Artillery, which later became Proctor’s 4th Artillery of the Continental Army. During the winter of 1777, Mary joined her husband at the Army’s winter camp at Valley Forge, becoming one of the camp followers, who washed clothes and blankets and cared for the sick and dying soldiers. During drilling and battle, the artillery also needed a constant supply of water to cool the cannon barrel after each shot, and the camp followers would serve in this capacity as well. It is thought that Mary Hays received her nickname during this time. With Molly being a common nickname for Mary, the men would shout “Molly! Pitcher!” when they needed her to bring fresh water.

During the Battle of Monmouth in June 1778, Mary, along with the other camp followers, attended to the soldiers by giving them water, often under heavy fire from the British troops. During the battle William Hays collapsed, either suffering from heat exhaustion, or wounded. As he was carried off the battlefield, Mary took his place at the cannon where she remained the rest of the day, swabbing and loading the cannon using her husband’s ramrod. It is reported that during the act of reaching for a cartridge, a cannon shot from the enemy passed directly between her legs, ripping off the lower part of her petticoat. Fighting stopped in the evening, but was expected to continue the following day.

However, it was discovered that the British retreated during the night to New Jersey and the battle was considered a major victory for the Continental Army. It is said that after the battle George Washington asked about the woman he had seen loading a cannon, and to commemorate her courage he issued Mary Hays a warrant as a non-commissioned officer. She then adopted the nickname “Sergeant Molly.”


After the war Mary and William returned to Carlisle where they had a son, Johannes. William Hays died in 1786, and Mary Hays married John McCauley in 1793. It reportedly was not a happy union. John McCauley disappeared sometime between 1807 and 1810. Mary stayed in Carlisle working as a general servant for hire.


The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania awarded Mary an annual pension for her service on February 21, 1882, distinguishing her for military service as opposed to patriotic service. She is buried in the Old Graveyard in Carlisle under the name “Molly McCauley.”

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