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Molly Pitcher. Lithograph by Nathaniel Currier, c. 1886. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-5030).


Pitcher, Molly (13 October 1754?–22 January 1832), revolutionary war heroine, was of uncertain origins; her birthplace, early family history, and heroic actions are all clouded in mystery and dispute. Only her actual first name, Mary, is accepted as definite. John B. Landis, in an influential 1911 study built on oral testimony, maintained that Mary was born near Trenton, New Jersey, that she was the daughter of John George Ludwig, a dairyman who came from the German Palatinate, and that she was employed as a domestic servant before her first marriage. However, these claims cannot be verified. There is better support for Landis’s claim, based on family testimony, that Mary married John (or John Casper) Hays, a Carlisle, Pennsylvania, barber, in 1769. C. P. Wing, who in 1878 had access to a family bible as well as to Mary’s granddaughter, who was thirty when Mary died, offered the same information about Mary’s first marriage. In addition, a marriage licence for a Mary Ludwick and Casper Hays was issued in the appropriate county in 1769. Nevertheless, D. W. Thompson and Merri Lou Schaumann, in a vital 1989 study, asserted that court records prove that Mary’s first husband was a William Hays and that she was never married to a John Hays. However, they do not have court records for the period before 1783. On balance, the evidence suggests that Mary did marry a John Hays of Carlisle in 1769. All scholars agree that Mary’s first marriage produced one son, John L. Hays (1780–1856)....