Monday, August 22, 2011

Molly Pitcher vs Nancy Hart, The American Revolution's Badass Heroine Faceoff

Every school year millions of American students learn, to some extent, about the American Revolution. We have all heard about George Washington and his triumphant military victories, about the "shot heard 'round the world" at Lexington and Bunker Hill, the great minds of our Founding Fathers coming together in Philadelphia in creating our nation and so on and so forth. But not everyone is taught about the great women of the time. Sure, we all learn about Abigail Adams and her yelling "don't forget the women" to her husband John. But there are two women that are only taught about regionally and are often forgotten amongst the lesson plans about the Revolutionary War. I'm talking about no other then the legends of Molly Pitcher and Nancy Hart. Two of the heroines which helped the glorious cause of Independence and kicked some serious tail.

Nancy Morgan Hart was born in 1735 in North Carolina. Little is known about Hart's early life and background which makes her exploits during the Revolution seem more exaggerated and folkloric. However disputed, Hart's attitude matched that of a women who was raised on the frontier. Don't let the picture of Hart fool you, she was tough, brutish, short tempered and didn't take any crap. The only description of her states she was tall, red hair and rough hewn.Hell, she survived a case of smallpox in the middle of North Carolina. She was so badass that local Native American tribes nicknamed her "Wahatche," which meant "war woman." She scared Native Americans, that should be enough credentials to have a holiday named after you. But Hart wasn't all rough and tumble. She also was a devoted mother of 8 children. However, she did have her husband, Benjamin Hart, whipped and made him stay at home and raise the kids while she took the role of "man of the house." She was never formally educated but she was frontier smart. She was a skilled agriculturalist and expert hunter and was known for deadly accuracy with a musket.

Now, like her life before the Revolution doesn't cement her as the toughest chick of the 18th century, her actions during the war probably still can scare anyone she would face today. The Hart family decided to move to the frontier in Georgia a few years before the Revolution kicked off and this is when "Aunt Nancy" really earned her stripes as a hard ass. There are a few accounts of Hart's ass kicking achievements. First, and perhaps the most well known, is when she took on six Loyalist soldiers. As the story goes the soldiers came upon the Hart home and demand Nancy cook them a meal, mistake number one. So being quick on her feet she sent her daughter to warn her husband. So Hart cooked the meal and started serving up some booze to this cocky fools. During the meal she began to move the guns outside. Now these guys were getting pretty wasted, mistake number 2, and Hart saw that and knew her time to attack was nearing. So Hart then picks up a gun and basically takes these guys hostage. At first they were all laughing at Hart, think what a crazy woman. So what does Hart do, she blasts the first Tory to make a move for the door. Then another one tried to make a move for a weapon and she blew him away like Dirty Harry. Then she held the surviving four captive, mostly likely because they were scared senseless, until her husband got home. Now her husband gets home and wants to make these guys face the firing squad but Nancy steps in and is like no way this guys have to pay, so she has them hung, that's right she tied the noose herself. Now you might be thinking no way, but it is 100% true. In 1912 a railway being laid a mile from the Hart's cabin revealed six bodies buried in a row. One skeleton had a bullet lodged in it and three had snapped necks and estimated to have been buried there for somewhere around a century. Now if that isn't enough to make her the toughest women ever, I don't know what is...oh wait, yes I do its the next example of Hart's awesomeness. 


 Now if killing six Tories isn't enough to prove Hart's toughness I have another tale of Hart's toughness. Another account of Hart was passed down from her own son. One day as Hart was bringing home a bag of grain a Tory patrol came across her and harassed her. They took away her horse and knocked the bag of grain off and left. So instead of crying over some spilled grain Hart picked it up and walked home carrying what her son said was a bag of grain nearly fifty pounds. Still need more proof of her bad assness? Fine, I got more. Hart was well known for spending time on the Broad River and she wasn't there washing clothes. No, she was waiting on British and Tory patrols and was sniping a few of them off when she was bored. She one time was boiling water and caught a Tory spying on her through a crack in the cabin wall. Hart turns around and basically threw boiling hot water in this nosy bastards face. And then she went outside and hogtied the guy and he was never seen again...ok I made that part up. Hart was also known for dressing in drag and going to local Tory hang outs to see what she could find out. So not only was she off killing Tories, she was out there spying and gathering intel for the higher ups. Its pretty evident that Nancy Hart was bad ass. She did whatever she wanted  in the name of the cause and she helped secure the frontier and keep the Tories in check.

So what happened to Hart? Well after the war she found God and after all the killing and craziness she caused she need to. She sought relief for the sins she felt she committed in the time of war. She was known as a "shouting Christian" and had fought the devil as she had taken on the Tories. After lived out her life in peace and drifted out of the minds of historians studying the Revolution. She spent the last years of her life with family in Kentucky and passed away peacefully.

                                   National Archives

Now Nancy Hart's Yankee counterpart is none other then the first Jersey girl, Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley. I know the your all like who? But if you read the title you know that Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley is Molly Pitcher. Little is known about Pitcher and is even thought to be an American mythological creation. But there is evidence of Pitcher's existence, I mean she has to be real she has a rest stop on the Turnpike named after her.

Pitcher was born Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley in  New Jersey, October 13, 1744. She spent her childhood on one of New Jerseys many farms. She worked her butt off and she work so hard a visitor was so impressed Pitcher's parents pimped her out. Pitcher went on to work for Dr. William and Anna Irvine of Carlisle, PA. Now the point of Pitcher going there was because the Irvine's were going to pay the young Pitcher pretty well, and that paycheck would be sent right back to her parent in Jersey. While working in Carlisle Pitcher met William Hays and the two married in 1769. The two lived a quite life in Carlisle for the next few years until, well you know what was going to happen.


Pitcher's military career started with an illustrious bang. Well not really. Pitcher's first taste of war was joining her husband at camp, Valley Forge (1777). She is what was known as a "camp follower." She received no pay and barely enough supplies. Her husband William served as an artilleryman, so naturally during combat Pitcher also served the artillerymen. She would run buckets of water back and forth which were used to cool off the cannons. This action is where the Pitcher nickname comes from, the artillerymen would yell for her "Molly!Pitcher!" every time they needed a refill.

                                                                     National Archives

Now Pitcher really earns her strips as a heroine in 1778. While chasing those damn Redcoats through New Jersey, General Washington decided to hit the British and hit the hard. The Battle of Monmouth was on and it was red hot. The day of the battle it was unbelievably hot (well of 100 degrees for most of the day), which is one reason Washington may have chosen to attack then, we all know those limey Brits can't handle hot weather, I mean England is all cold, foggy and raining all the time. It was so hot more men died that day from heat exposure then actual battle injuries. However, William Hays didn't die. There is evidence of his survival and that the truth is that he was either wounded or a victim of heat exhaustion. So instead of freaking out or caring for her husband, what does Pitcher do? She picks up a ramrod and yells at the other artillery men to load the cannon.


Pitcher didn't know squat about military tactics and definitely wasn't made aware of the importance of the cannons locations. However, she did know killing Redcoats was important and she had the biggest gun on the field and used it to it's full potential. She blasted away at British Regulars all day like a pro. At one point the British were like, enough of this chick and started firing at her. As the story goes a shot went right between Pitcher's legs putting a hole in her dress. Again, not being a sissy girlie girl she simple shrugged it off and said "Well that could have been worse." Can someone say bad ass? I mean I never have been shot at but if I ever am I high doubt that will be my reaction. News of Pitcher's actions reached Washington. He was so impressed he gave her a field commission as a non commissioned officer. The George Washington, America's original hero, gave Molly Pitcher props. That would be like today is Obama read my blog, found me and gave me a high five...ok maybe it isn't the same but you got where I was going with that. The news of Pitcher's actions during the battle and Washington's acknowledgement gave Pitcher the nickname "Sergent Molly," a nickname that stuck for the rest of her life. No longer was Pitcher just a water girl but a certifiable war hero.

After the war Pitcher and her husband returned home. They returned to their normal lives and started a family. Unfortunately,  William passed away and Pitcher remarried. She married a fellow veteran John McCauley. However, it is reported the marriage was never a success and could be compared to Sammi and Ronnie from the Jersey Shore. (that's right I just connected Molly Pitcher to the Jersey Shore) It was well known that Mr. McCauley was a tool and didn't have much respect for Pitcher. He mysteriously disappeared in 1810, and by disappeared I willing to bet that Pitcher killed him. Pitcher also had a reputation for having quite the potty mouth. So what are Pitcher's street creds for being a bad ass? Well, war hero (check), props form George Washington (check), mysteriously missing husband (check), and finally curses like a sailor (double check). So it can be seen that Pitcher held her own and didn't take to traditional roles of a women in the 18th century cementing her as one tough chick.


So what became of Pitcher. She lived out her days in Carlisle working as a maid. In 1822 the government finally recognized her awesomeness and sent her the pension she deserved. She died in 1832 and was buried in Carlisle. Pitcher's actions were so bad ass that another women was also later given the nickname of Molly Pitcher. Margarat Corbin basically lived the same life Pitcher did. Except, Corbin's battle didn't turn out so well. She took her husbands place defending Fort Washington as the British took over Manhattan. Corbin's action equally Pitchers, however, when George Washington hooks you up with a field commission history will remember you first and you get a monument that rivals the great generals of the Revolution.

So when looking at Hart and Pitcher what do we have? We have "girl power," the 18th century Spice Girls. Now I ask why are they always over looked? I am pretty sure the History Chanel can find to between Ice Road Truckers and Pawn Stars to actually show a historical documentary about these two fine ladies. And while we are on the subject, I am pretty sure we can also find a way to add the to history classes and give young girls an example of strong women who did what needed to be done, except looking to the cast of 16 And Pregnant. Bottom line is these two heroines need to have their stories retold and need it fast. I am 90% sure if I asked any female student to name a woman from the Revolutionary War I'd just get a confused look. In the end I just wanted to write and share these two women's stories with the hopes of you, my faithful audience sharing their stories.


  1. Thanks Mike for making these two women of the Revolutionary War come to life for my nine year old daughter and me. She is writing a research paper on this topic and your Blog is listed as two of her computer sources. (of course without the potty mouth language. Shame on you...LOL/ jk
    Great Job! Cheryl Smith

  2. Cheryl,

    Thanks for reading and I am sorry about the colorful language. I am glad I could help you and your daughter out, if you have any further questions about Hart, Molly Pitcher or anything else, please feel free to ask,

    Mike Maring

  3. good work-i liked to read the molly story-thanks

  4. This was both both educational and entertaining the way you wrote their stories. LOL
    ~ Cyndle Lynn (youtuber) ~