Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Seeking Out Molly Pitcher

The grave of Molly Pitcher
Carlisle, Pennsylvania, is a town caught between two periods of history.  While being modern enough to serve the needs of its residents today, it is a colonial town that dates from our nation’s earliest history.  It was laid out in 1751 by John Armstrong, Sr., and named after his home town of Carlisle, Cumbria, England.  The jail, which now serves as office space for Cumberland County, was built to resemble The Citadel in Cumbria. 
Carlisle was an important hub of commerce from the earliest fur trading days, welcomed pioneers to what was then the American frontier, and served as a point of origin for expeditions pushing further west. The Appalachian Mountains had pushed back against the Western Expansion for years, but it was from Carlisle that they were finally assaulted by the pioneers.  It was the point from which much of the settlement of the Ohio River Valley occurred, was critical in providing protection for settlers during the French and Indian Wars, and was a munitions depot during the American Revolution.  It became the site of the U.S. Army War College, which continues to operate to this day.
One of the local key figures of the Revolution was a Carlisle woman who became known as Molly Pitcher.   She was born Molly Ludwig on October 13, 1744.  She married John Hays in 1769.  As the British forces began to push south from Canada in 1777, John enlisted in Proctor’s First Pennsylvania Artillery.  Molly accompanied her husband into battle and served as a nurse.  She would aid in any way she could, even carrying water into the field of battle for soldiers.  Her acts of kindness and service became so common that Molly became known throughout the Army. The expression between soldiers about “here comes Molly with her pitcher,” became so common that she became best known among the combatants as Molly Pitcher.  When John was severely wounded in the Battle of Monmouth on June 28, 1778, he fell to the ground by the cannon he had been serving.  The gun was ordered to the rear, but instead Molly sprang into action and took her husband’s place and kept the cannon in the action.  After the battle, Gen. George Washington sought her out and thanked her personally for her bravery and valiant action.  She returned with her wounded husband to Carlisle to nurse his wounds until he passed away.  She was awarded a pension in 1822, and at her death on January 22, 1832, was buried in the Carlisle Cemetery with full military honors.
We went to the cemetery to seek out Molly Pitcher.  Several areas around the city remain much as they did in that era, including streets designed for horse and wagon.  I had to creep down the alley with only an inch to spare at the outer ends of the truck’s mirrors to avoid scraping them on the stone buildings and walls on either side.  As soon as we entered the gates of the cemetery, the worn path became obvious, and led us directly to her grave site.  Located directly behind her grave is that of the first American soldier to be awarded the rank of colonel, a member of Thompson’s Pennsylvania Rifle Battalion of 1775-1776.

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