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On June 28, 1778, two years after American Independence had been declared, a young woman made her way through the sweltering heat of a Revolutionary battlefield carrying pitchers of water to heat-weakened men. Mary Ludwig Hays–Molly Pitcher, as she was called–looked up to see that one of the men who had fallen from heatstroke was her own husband, John. She resolutely made her way to his cannon just as an officer was preparing to order it retired for want of a gunner. Setting down her pitchers, Molly picked up the ramrod and took her husband’s place at the muzzle.
The story of the woman gunner was told and retold by the soldiers of the Revolution, and Molly Pitcher became a legend around battlefield campfires. She came to symbolize all of the women who took up arms for American Independence.
During the war, General George Washington made Mary Hays a sergeant, and afterward she was pensioned as a lieutenant by the Continental Army. Mary Hays lived into her 70s and is buried in Carlisle, PA.