Was Molly Pitcher a legend or a real woman? Some historians say she was a country woman named Mary Hays, who fought in the Battle of Monmouth, N.J., in 1778.
Still others believe that she was Margaret Cochran Corbin, who fought in the battle at Fort Washington, N.Y., on Nov. 16, 1776.
Indeed, both of these brave women were called Molly Pitcher by those who remembered their contributions.
And guess what? Molly Pitcher was also a legend, one name standing for many other daring women – women who fought alongside their wounded husbands when battles blazed, the Redcoats (British soldiers) advanced, and the huge iron cannons had to be manned.
These women were called "camp followers." All were poor women. Most of them were married to soldiers, and many had children in tow.
Sometimes families had no real choice. If the enemy had seized or burned down their homes and property, women had little recourse but to follow husbands and fathers into the Army. There at least they would be fed and protected from the enemy. At other times, husbands and wives simply did not want to part from each other when the men were called to duty.
But these women were of great importance to the Army.
Generally speaking, women were not allowed to fight as soldiers. Instead, they cooked and washed the soldiers' clothes. They gathered and preserved food and supplies, and they repaired (when possible) uniforms, blankets, and other items that would otherwise have become useless rags. They brought comfort to the fallen in battle and tended to the wounded.
When the cannons were fired in battle, the iron became so hot that if they were not cooled with water after every shot fired, they could explode. It was the women who hauled the water to cool the cannons, and it was women who brought drinking water to the fighting men and the wounded on the battlefield.
"Molly" was a widely used nickname for both the names Mary and Margaret. "Pitcher" describes the containers of water women carried on the battlefield to thirsty soldiers. The men affectionately hailed the water carrier who eased their thirst as a "Molly Pitcher."
So when these Molly Pitchers – Mary Hays and Margaret Corbin – found their husbands wounded, they helped them as best they could.
They threw down their pitchers and took the men's places at the cannon. They seized the fallen ramrods, shoving cannonballs down the cannons' mouths and lighting the fuse when need be – their long skirts tied out of the way, and their long hair flying.
And so the name Molly Pitcher comes down to us as a symbol of courage and resourcefulness under fire.
Deborah Sampson and "Molly Pitcher" weren't the only women patriots of the American Revolution. Here are other women who took risks to help the Colonies gain their independence from Britain in the late 1700s.
Betsy ross is believed to have sewed the first American flag at the request of George Washington and other prominent patriots in 1776. She was a widow who had an upholstery business and did sewing. Before then, the soldiers who were fighting the British used many different flags.
Kate Barry warned militiamen that British forces were coming just prior to the Battle of Cowpens in South Carolina in 1792. That helped the Colonial forces win the pivotal battle. The victory drove British forces north, out of the state.
Sarah Franklin Bache, the daughter of Benjamin Franklin, raised money for the Continental Army during the war. She also was involved with the Ladies Association of Philadelphia, where she helped make clothing for soldiers.
Abigail Adams was the wife of John Adams, who became the first vice president of the United States and later the second president. She was also the mother of the sixth president, John Quincy Adams. Although she had no formal education, she was always writing letters to her husband, who was a member of the Continental Congress. Her firsthand observations about the war and its effects were valuable to her husband and other leaders.