Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Women in the Continental Army

In the summer of 1778, during the Battle of Monmouth, Mary McCauley Hays (1754 – 1832), the wife of John Hays, fetched water for her husband and his gun crew, earning her the moniker of “Molly Pitcher”. After her husband John was injured, she took his place in the gun crew. Most of you did not hear the dubious tale in grammar school about Mary and the cannonball. When a cannonball was said to have passed through Molly Pitcher’s legs it ripped off her petticoats. Molly remarked to this narrow escape, “It was a good thing it hadn’t been higher, or it would have carried away something else!”
Mary became a scrubwoman after the war. Because of her duty with the gun crew, the Pennsylvania Assembly granted her a yearly pension of $40.00.
Another American woman who wanted to serve her country was Deborah Sampson (1760 – 1827). Before the war began, Deborah was an indentured servant; however, in 1782 she joined the army under the name of Robert Shurtleff. Miss Deborah Sampson was the only woman in the Continental Army to serve during the American Revolution.
“Robert Shurtleff” was assigned to the Fourth Massachusetts. “He” earned the nickname “Molly” because “he” did not shave “his” face. This fact still did not reveal her gender. She was discharged in 1783 after she contracted a high fever, which gave away her identity. The next year Deborah married and did receive a small military pension.
After the war, Deborah Sampson began a lecture tour in 1802 by donning a soldier uniform and relating her military experiences. She was one of the first women in America to perform on the lecture circuit. Congress granted her heirs a full military pension in 1838.

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